Trying to Decide on Developmental Vs. Academic Preschool

Updated on February 14, 2008
J.G. asks from San Jose, CA
13 answers

Hello, I have a 3 year old daughter who is very smart. I also have a 5 year old son who is at SJPPNS which is a developmental, parent Participating preschool, actually it is a coop preschool. My son enjoys the time I spend there. And, ATLC is a more structured academic preschool.Im a little concerned because they expect her to know where the bathroom is which is not close to the classroom and Im a little concerned about that. I want my daughter to be ready for Kindergarten, but I am concerned about getting her burned out at an early age. I was kind of thinking to put her in 1 year of develpmental and 1 year in academic before kindergarten. What should I do??? Any advice would be appriciated.

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A.B.

answers from San Francisco on

Hi! Stick with the developmental. I'm a mom of an 18-year and 14-year old, so pre-school was a long time ago! However, I can remember wondering the same thing. After talking to kindergarten teachers and pre-school teachers about the difference, this is what I was told: their brains are not really ready for the "academic" type of pre-school. Learning through play (developmental) is much more appropriate for young children. Both of my kids kinder teachers told me that all they want in a child entering kindergarten is that they be able to sit in a group and listen - that's it. Let them be children for a little longer. We push the academics too soon, in my opinion. Both my teens are 4.0's and taking ap/honors classes in high school. They are self-motivated and get good grades for themselves, not us. Hope this helps a little!

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K.L.

answers from San Francisco on

I would suggest NOT sending one's child to an academic preschool - despite the fact that your child may be very bright, the whole point of preschool is not to ready them academically - academics don't exist yet in the world of the preschooler. The whole point of sending your children to preschool is to ready them socially, as most children already know what would otherwise be taught in a kindergarten curriculum. The difficult part of your child's first forays into school will be learning to follow directions, how to sit quietly for an extended period of time, how to appropriately interact socially with a variety of personalities, and all of those other social and emotional queue's and responses your child will have to learn before they fit into a "social" setting like school. When did preschool become an academic training ground? Structure is important, but academic structuring at such a young age is really asking for problems. Allow your young, small child to be a young child before throwing them into academics - they do not need to be pushed to learn anything at this age! The beauty of a child is their ability to process and absorb information like a sponge - we do not need to immerse them in a situation where they are being forced, literally FORCED, to learn before they are ready for it. It is more important that your child learn to play with other children, interact with adults, and learn about what is socially expected out of them when it comes to school. Academics will come later, when it is APPROPRIATE.
As a teacher, it saddens me that so many parents are so focused on the academics of their 2 year old's preschool curriculum - preschool is supposed to be fun for children, and it is supposed to help them look forward to "real" school. Since when has it been okay to pressure BABIES into learning anything other than how to act around others at preschool age? Preschool is for play - preschool aged children learn from PLAY - they do not need an academically structured environment, but learn everything they need to know from play. Have you ever heard the term "play is a child's work"? It's true. Any preschool claiming otherwise is way off the mark. Read any child development article, any child development book, and they will say the same.
My 2 year old is extremely academically bright, as her father and I were both GATE tested and identified and always excelled academically, but she will be going to a regular, public preschool where she will learn the REAL tools she needs to excel in school. Please parents, allow your babies and small children to enjoy their childhood's before throwing them into academic learning years before it is appropriate!

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M.W.

answers from San Francisco on

Hi J.,
I have found that the labels schools put on themselves don't necessarily mean much. It's more important for me to know what I want my daughter to learn from preschool and find a school and teacher that will best provide it. For example, it was very important that the teacher be warm, caring, and listen to the children. I want a nice play structure with tricycles and other toys to encourage activity. And I wanted her to learn/practice the alphabets, phonics, and writing. I found both an academic preschool and a play-based preschool that had all of that. The main difference being that they used different methods/structure to teach the alphabets/writing/phonics. The play-based school used games/activities to teach (like writing in sand or finger paints) and the writing activities were optional (the children chooses the activties they participate in). The academic school was more structured, with a lesson plan and time set aside where the children sit down and practice, and the teachers went around helping the children who needs help and it was ok that some kids wanted to trace and some were writing on their own. The teachers were very encouraging to all of the children. I personally like the more structured program.
Also, it's important for you to learn how they 'discipline' undesired behavior and make sure you agree with their philosophy. Some do time-out, some won't.

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L.M.

answers from San Francisco on

Hi!

I am a SAHM of 4 kids, 17, 15, 12 and 8. My older kids went to a church preschool that stressed fun over academics and all three of them "graduated" into kindergarten knowing how to read and add numbers. We sent them to preschool to learn social skills and to have fun, fun, fun, but the reading and numbers came naturally as part of the playing process. My 4th child didn't attend preschool at all because, after 3 kids, my husband and I knew that she didn't "need" it and that "getting ready for kindergarten" wasn't necessary. She stayed home with me while her siblings were in elementary school and I absolutely cherish those times that we shared!

I guess my point is that Developmental vs. Academic preschool is a totally personal choice and should be based on the individual child, but it has been my experience with the 3 different elementary schools that my children attended for kindergarten(we moved twice) that all students are taught the same curriculum once they hit "big kid school" regardless of their preschool experience or IQ. There is also an inevitable plateau that kids reach midway through elementary school where only the truly gifted kids surge ahead of their peers.

Good luck with your decision and with your lovely family!

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M.W.

answers from San Francisco on

I would choose the option that allows your daughter to preserve her childhood as long as possible. Kids have their whole lives to pursue academics. It is a VERY SHORT time when they get to "just be a child." Make it a happy carefree time.

One more thing regarding academics...you can always supplement one way or another with tutors and enrichment programs. If academically challenged you get a tutor, if needing more stimulation sign up for an enrichment program. But... supplementing the developmentally appropriate social elements in a child's life is not as easy.

I'm a former elementary and middleschool teacher and have seen kids suffer more on the social aspects of their school career rather than the academic stuff.

Food for thought. Best of luck.
M.

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M.B.

answers from San Francisco on

I would place her in a Pre-School that is 1/2 & 1/2 intermixed. It is very important to learn the Academic side but it is also very important to have the support with the Developmental side. I put my son in a Development only pre-school and luckily we moved 8 months before Kindergarten and I enrolled him in an Acedemic and Developmental Preschool and found out that he was a little behind the rest of the students academically. Luckily he was a quick learner and was able to catch up with the class by month 4. He was great on the Development side and learned about respect and manners etc.
This saved my life because Kindergarden is much harder than it was when I was little both academic and social. They send home a homework packet everyday which includes Math, reading and book reports which is wonderful. I think they figured out that a child is like a sponge at this important age but it very important that they have that mix because they need to balance the social and academic behaviors to fully succeed. Good Luck!

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S.C.

answers from San Francisco on

Hey there,
I am not only the mother of a phenomenal 8-year old, but I also happen to be studying early childhood education at Cabrillo College, here in the Santa Cruz area.

While I am old enough to understand the academic point of view (I grew up with the "old school" thought of child academics), I have to say that developmental is the way to go.

The NAEYC takes the position that children who experience high quality, developmentally appropriate child care programs not only engage in more complex play, demonstrate more secure attachments to adults and other children, but they score higher measures on language development and thinking ability.

The "teaching" most children get in an academic oriented, test based curriculum is basically memorization. When a child learns his "one...two...threes" (s)he is not learning numberness (or what the concept of numbers equate), but is just learning that if (s)he says the words in the right order, (s)he gets praise. They don't have the ability to fully understand anything more advanced then that yet. So instead of having them drill, give them toys, play with them and have them learn what more is, what less is, what one car looks like and what many cars look like. You will find that if you give the little scientist in every child a chance to experiment through play, you will have a happier child who embraces the learning process.

Unfortunately, due to the way current schools systems run, there will be plenty of time for drills, tests, memorization, and more tests. Give you child the opportunity to be a child for as long as possible and you will find that there is less fuss at homework time, more excitement in the learning process and a smart, self-reliant and capable young adult in the making if you embrace appropriate developmental care.

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S.V.

answers from San Francisco on

Hi,

I just signed my son up for ATLC for the fall, he will be 4 in the summer. It seems like a great school with good programs both academic and social. But of course every school has it's downfalls too. It is so hard to decide. I was looking at doing the little one morning with my 1 year old this fall at SJPPNS, glad to hear you liked it. I do see ATLC as less academic than, say, Challenger. Do you agree? You can email me at [email protected]____.com care,
S.

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S.U.

answers from San Francisco on

I've had my kids in academic and developmental pre-schools. We opted for a developmental elementary school and have been very happy. I have 3rd and 5th grade sons. The 5th grader with go to a main stream middle school next year and I know he will be prepared. Kids who come out of developmentally based elementary schools have never been behind academically when going into middle or high school. Almost all the research shows that developmentally based programs are the best for teaching the whole child.

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L.P.

answers from San Francisco on

If I were you, I would not do the academic pre-school. Your daughter is only 3 once and only for 365 days at that! Academics will come regardless - and I have heard very good things about parent participation pre-schools. You already have your son there, and you like it, so? Why not continue if there are no other obstacles? If you are REALLY concerned with reading ready-ness and such, go to one of those teacher supply stores (Lakeshore is one) and buy some stuff you can do at home with her. Early burn out is definitely something to avoid, I really believe that we shouldn't push too hard, but let them lead after being shown what's out there.
Hope this helps!
p.s. I did developmental pre-school for both of my daughters, and they are doing just fine in 4th and 7th grades!

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E.L.

answers from San Francisco on

kirsten is right.
the important thing right now is knowing appropriate social interaction. it really is frustrating when i get kids in HS (also a teacher) who cannot do something as simple as read a direction at the top of the test. then i get parents threatening to sue me (NO KIDDING), because i want a resolution to the "problem" that reflects they made a mistake. a complete retake? i don't think so.

if you read to your kid, sing songs, do "learning" things like puzzles, games, pretend...that's "academic" at that age. i much prefer my students who are socially adjusted to those who were only pushed to do academics.

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R.D.

answers from San Francisco on

Developmental, all the way, for both years at the same school.

Also see if they are NAEYC accredited. (National Association for the Education of Young Children). If they are or are working on becoming so, then it's more likely they are a good school.

Three is too young for ditto sheets and stuff, which is BORING to a kid that age. They don't learn anything that way. If they know their ABC's and how to count to 25 and write their name by the time they entire kindergarten then you are all good. Sitting and listening and following direction they'll learn along the way in a good preschool developmental program during circle or small group time and during activities.

Take your daughter with you when picking a school. Go to a bunch of them, take tours, have your daughter with you, she will be able to tell you what's good and what's not with body language. That coupled with conversations and questions can be rather effective.

I did this with my daughter and afterwards there was only one school that she continued to talk about afterwards, and only one school that she went and played on the play ground without a problem while I was talking to the Director in her office (it was the same school). All other schools she wanted me right next to her or she wanted me to hold her. It was a good thing that the school my duaghter liked most was the one I liked most too.

If you'd like more details on anything feel free to contact me.

PS: Kindergarten now is what first grade used to be. This is why I said that you'd want your child to learn certain academic things during preschool, but there are ways to do that without it being boring, and an appropriate time to do that (different for each child). In a good school when your daughter is four there be a bit more in the way of learning academic things, but again it should be done in a fun and interesting manner so it does not feel like academics.

Social and emotional development is just as important as academics, maybe even more so.

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B.J.

answers from San Francisco on

Whichever one you choose, I'd recommend keeping her there for the full two years, rather than putting her through another unnecessary transition. Best of luck to you!

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