The period between two years to two and a half years has become a landmark in a child’s life these days. This is because it is the age most children start going to Preschool. Preschool is defined as an early education program in which children below 5 years of age combine learning with play under the guidance of professionally trained teachers.
When some time back, I saw one of the kids in the building playing with her nanny in the building complex both morning and evening at age 2.5 years, I wondered if she didn't have school to attend. On inquiry, I was surprised to hear that her parents intended to directly admit her in Nursery class at age 4.
There is a great rush to enroll children in Preschools these days. This shows that the age when parents have to start thinking about their children’s schooling has receded greatly. Preschools are mushrooming in Gurgaon and other Tier 1 and 2 cities. There are many elite Preschools In Gurgaon offering value for money to parents by ensuring good child teacher ratio, internationally trained teachers, multiple language classes, baby yoga, after school day care facilities etc.
The concept of Preschool started in the United States as early as 1965. In India, it is a much recent phenomenon. Till 15- 20 years back, children would go to Nursery class at age 3-4 years to learn their first alphabets and numbers. Today, they have ‘Play Group’ and ‘Toddlers’ program under Preschooling where children are enrolled from 2 years onwards, some even at 1.5 years. The duration of these classes is usually 2 hours for five days a week. A child as young as 1.5 years embarks on routine life where his life begins to follow a time table of waking up at a certain time, getting ready for school and coming back home at fixed hours.
The Preschool curriculum is designed to teach social skills, a longing to discover new things, kinaesthetic development, language development, music, self-independence, ability to share with others, and acceptance of authoritative figure outside of the home.
Parents do not wish to lose out on a good development of their child and as such like to follow the trend of enrolling their children in Preschools. But is it really necessary that every child must go to a Preschool? Abroad when some parents are putting in all the efforts to even homeschool their kids, why are Indians feeling such a pressure to enroll their young kids in a formal school setting so early?
Preschool works in certain circumstances. Here are few reasons why a child may be better off in a Preschool.
- Living in a nuclear family the child doesn't have exposure to social skills and parents feel it is better to send the child to school to mingle with other kids than to stay at home.
- Both parents are working and parents do not have any option but send their child to early schooling plus day care rather than have the child stay with a maid the entire day.
- Parents may feel admissions to Nursery will be easy if the child has attended playgroup before Nursery.
- Parents may feel Playgroup is a good preparation ground for a child to attend Nursery and Kindergarten later on.
- If friends' and neighbors' kids go to a certain Playgroup and are doing good developmentally and socially, then the parents do not want to take any chance and put the child in school to keep abreast with others.
- The home environment is very unhealthy and parents feel it is better to keep the child away from home for at least few hours.
- Parents feel, early the school, more the development.
- The child is too active and restless at home and parents feel that going to a structured environment for a couple of hours will channelize his energy in a constructive way.
- The day care facilities available to the parents only meet basic needs of the child and do not provide them enough stimulation.
But before making a decision, remember there is an option to do things in a different way too. A parent can choose to make his home environment stimulating for the child’s physical, social, and emotional development. This is possible through regularly arranging play activities, reading out books, having storytelling sessions, going on picnics in nature, going to amusement parks and making a conscious effort to develop socialization skills in children. One major reason cited for early schooling is the development of social skills. Remember, children learn by emulating parents. Encourage your child to talk to neighbors and friendly acquaintances. Greet your neighbors, introduce your child to them and the first seeds of social skills are already in place. Arrange to play dates with other kids and take your children to the park where they learn skills like waiting for his turn, saying ‘Thank You', ‘Please’etc.
Children will anyway study and later work in structured environments for almost whole of their lives. Therefore, some parents do not like to rush them into the structured setting so early. Also, there is no evidence that children who attend Preschool do better developmentally than those who don't.
An important aspect of preschooling is that the child learns to accept authoritative figure outside of parents. This will help him transition into full-fledged school few years down the line.
However, this can be achieved if parents enroll the child in standalone classes for language, vocabulary, craft work few times a week. These classes help the child learn in a formal setting.
Instead of classes, parents and their friends can arrange tuition for each other’s kids. That will be a fun concept to explore too and the young child learns to interact with adults other than own parents. But it is definitely required that a parent who doesn't wish to send her child to school early makes sure that the child’s developmental needs are adequately met at home. Another option is to enroll the child in a day care facility for few hours couple of days only every week. Many day care facilities provide Preschool like curricula and the necessary stimulation to meet the child’s developmental needs.
Whatever we decide for our children, let it be an informed choice depending on our individual circumstances. The carefree days of childhood are already on their way down due to excessive pressure children face to excel in academics. If possible, we should make their early childhood a time when they can have some free will without having to follow too many set rules and timetables. Let us be ready to explore all options with an open mind.