There are several reasons why children would attend preschool starting with the necessity of their parents to work and finishing with the benefits of having a child learn social skills and obtain some basic education while having fun.
The overall education system is different amongst different countries, even with the European Union. The way it works in Poland is this:
- From 6 months to 3 years – nursery (public or private, non-mandatory)
- From 3 – 6 years – preschool (public or private, non-mandatory)
- Starting with 6 years the child starts mandatory school education (which is divided into three levels: primary school, gymnasium, secondary school)
Of course the decision whether or not to send kids to the nursery or to preschool lyes with the parents, and is dependant on their general views on parenting but also, quite often, on whether or not they both have to work full-time.
We have chosen to send the Bigguy straight into preschool at age 3, whereas the Littleguy went to nursery first, at age 2. I strongly believe that we have chosen (rather incidentally) a really great preschool for they guys, and we’re happy with them all the way through. I’ll go below through some points about why that is.
First of all – fun!
The kids are small, and the main thing they’re supposed to be engaged in right now is to have fun. Lots and lots of fun for the entire day through. They will start their school years soon enough and fun will be over once and for all. I think it is tremendously important that the preschool has many toys, which are being replaced as they wear out and with new ones being added to the collection as the kids grown with the world (like adding, for instance, Disney “Cars” characters when the movie hit the screens and kids all over the world dreamt of talking cars).
But toys are not all, especially that the little guys will generally have a bunch of them at home anyway. They need people around them who will know how to engage them into fun activities with toys or without. The best toys are still those hand-made, because they generally suit a specific purpose and time of year.
The preschool teachers need therefore really get involved in the daily activities of the kids, and the ones at our preschool really do. I’m actually quite impressed that they actually have the time to create so many things despite spending a full day at work. Our kids keep bringing back hand-made masks for Halloween, mushrooms made of cardboard, hedgehogs from clay and so on. They are to young to do these things themselves, so most of it is prepared by the teachers and kids just finish up (for instance by painting).
A playground is also tremendously important. At the preschool we selected, the kids go out to play at least once a day unless the weather is really bad. During spring and fall, they are out twice a day. With many garden toys, they quite often don’t really want to go home.
Second – preschool education!
I’m quite big on having the guys learn as much as they can, but in a manner in which they don’t even really realize that they’re learning. Again – much depends here on the teachers.
The kids bring back from preschool the most surprising knowledge. We keep learning from them that people do not eat cows in India, as they are sacred animals, we have discussions about Spain being a warm country with sandy beaches. The kids also repeat stories and legends which I still remember from childhood and which, apart from being fun, also contain some information on their home country and history.
The Bigguy, now 4,5 years old, easily adds up in the range from 0 to 10 in his head. I never taught him that, but he just does. With larger numbers he’s using his fingers to help him out. Both of them are learning to write letter and numbers rather as a connect-the-dots kind of game, but they get really excited when they realize that it’s an actual letter they have written.
The Bigguy recently managed to read out a simple 4 letter word which certainly made me happy – but it made him even more happy! Which is fun and education combined at its best.
There are extracurricular activities at preschool, and while I’m not big on stuffing the kids calendar with additional stuff, they are attending additional English lessons (they get English twice a week, anyway) and they drum. They chose both activities themselves and we keep asking them whether they still want to attend. As long as that’s the case, they keep going. I will post a separate post on teaching foreign languages to children, for now let’s just say that during their time at preschool they both gained a very decent English vocabulary, understand all basic sentences I throw at the randomly and easily translate many child word from Polish to English and back.
Last but not least – food and manners
I wrote a bit on the subject of food here. I made it quite obvious that I like the way the children eat at preschool, how often they eat and what is being given to them. This is important. The food habits they develop now will be impossible to fight with in the future. And both being overweighted and underweight is often a problem in today’s society. Proper nutrition is important and if it’s served the right way the kids will actually end up liking some of the “green stuff” they generally don’t
And manners at the end. I’m far from being all about classy manners and overemphasized, structured behaviours. But that is not to say that kids do whatever they want and whenever they want. Teaching our guys the basics of “thank you” and “good morning” was never an issue, they picked it up like that. But the preschool experience has also taught them to apologize (when necessary), to ask for something and to share things with one another. They still remain kids, so the general rules are not always valid, but they aren’t really always present in adult life, are they?