'Preschools are vital to build strong foundation for the future'

Every toddler should have some sort of group experience before s/he starts school. Patricia Mascarenhas tells you why.

Is your baby boo set to be out of diapers? Does s/he seem to enjoy playing with peers? Are you wondering when or if to send your toddler to preschool? Some find it crazy to pay someone to teach their child something that can be done at home. But what’s not to like about being off-duty while knowing that your child is in a safe, caring environment? Happily, that’s just one of many preschool perks. 

As your child approaches that age, you may find yourself ponder over the question of preschool. Quality preschools are designed to set up young scholars up for future academic, emotional, and social success. For most kids, it's an experience that should not be missed, say experts.

The first five years of a child lay the foundation for the rest of his or her life. “Neuroscientific studies have shown that playful activity leads to synaptic growth, particularly in the frontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for all the uniquely human higher mental functions,” says Beverly Dsa, child psychologist. This means that the human brain is at its most plastic during the first five years, and skills learned and developed in these years enable further learning. At the same time, areas of the brain not developed in the first five years lose some of their ‘plasticity,’ making it that much harder to pick up new skills later on.

In India, it is much more common now than it ever has been before to send children to preschools. There is an increasing recognition that the first few years of a child’s life are a particularly sensitive period in the process of development, laying a foundation in childhood and beyond for cognitive functioning; behavioral, social, and self-regulatory capacities; and physical health. “There has definitely been an increase in the number of mother-toddler programmes here as parents are becoming more cognizant about the importance of giving the right guidance and education to their children,” informs Shy Mudakavi, CEO and founder, Safari Kid.

Preschool provides a foundation for learning both socially and academically that will help your child succeed in elementary school. Nighat Jan, director, Ready Steady Go Kids India agrees, “This new knowledge that is being created has gone a long way in creating awareness amongst Indian parents about the benefits of imbibing key skills at an early age,” she adds.

The preschool years are laced with dramatic improvements in gait and specific motor skills but most importantly the psychological aspect. In addition, preschoolers have limited attention spans but they learn best with egocentric activities, and visual and auditory clues. The value of preschool is not strictly academic. “Preschool is really for socialisation, to introduce the idea that learning can be fun, and to teach kids how to share, compromise, and get along as a group,” informs Mudakavi. It also builds confidence and self-esteem, providing a platform of knowledge and boosting school readiness skills. 

Preschools offer different things to different people. “Some preschools are academically oriented and offer children a rigorous, but age appropriate curriculum. Some are simply the equivalent of a paid childcare or play date facility and some end up doing both,” says Medha Joshi, parent, adding that the preschool activities like interactive learning, songs, poems, creative play stimulate their child’s minds.

At this stage children are introduced to the basic concepts of phonics, numbers, shapes, colors, beginning sounds, reading, logical thinking, speech development, math and much more, “These programmes are specifically designed to build a strong academic foundation for your child and at the same time add fun to it,” says Mudaki.

Whether or not a child needs to attend preschool is up to that child's parents. Educationally speaking, preschools more or less cover the general territory. This means that a child who does not attend preschool can learn the same material as the child who does at home. The timing of the learning process will simply be slightly different.

But developmentally speaking, a child might benefit from preschool if he or she has not had the normal opportunities to socialise with other children. No one wants their child to be the one who can't make friends because they don't know how to be nice yet. In addition to strengthening socialisation skills, they learn how to compromise, be respectful of others, and solve problems, preschool provides a place where your child can gain a sense of self, explore, play with her peers, and build confidence. Experts suggest that children who need to learn to overcome shyness in social situations also benefit from preschool. “It helps your little one progress into a caring, intelligent and productive adult in a safe and comfortable environment,” says Nighat.