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A preschool (also nursery school, kindergarten outside the US) is an educational establishment offering early childhood education to children between the ages of three and five, or seven, prior to the commencement of compulsory education at primary school. They may be privately operated or government run, and the costs may be subsidized.
The following terms may be used for educational establishments for this age group:
In an age when school was restricted to children who had already learned to read and write at home, there were many attempts to make school accessible to the children of women who worked in factories or were orphans.
In 1779, Johann Friedrich Oberlin and Louise Scheppler founded in Strassbourg an early establishment for caring for and educating pre-school children whose parents were absent during the day. At about the same time, in 1780, similar infant establishments were established in Bayern In 1802, Pauline zur Lippe established a preschool center in Detmold.
In 1816, Robert Owen, a philosopher and pedagogue, opened the first British and probably globally the first infant school in New Lanark, Scotland. In conjunction with his venture for cooperative mills Owen wanted the children to be given a good moral education so that they would be fit for work. His system was successful in producing obedient children with basic literacy and numeracy.
Samuel Wilderspin opened his first infant school in London in 1819, and went on to establish hundreds more. He published many works on the subject, and his work became the model for infant schools throughout England and further afield. Play was an important part of Wilderspin's system of education. He is credited with inventing the playground. In 1823, Wilderspin published On the Importance of Educating the Infant Poor, based on the school. He began working for the Infant School Society the next year, informing others about his views. He also wrote "The Infant System, for developing the physical, intellectual, and moral powers off all children from 1 to seven years of age".
Countess Theresa Brunszvik (1775–1861), who had known and been influenced by Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, was influenced by this example to open an Angyalkert ('angel garden' in Hungarian) on 27 May 1828 in her residence in Buda, the first of eleven care centers that she founded for young children. In 1836 she established an institute for the foundation of preschool centers. The idea became popular among the nobility and the middle class and was copied throughout the Hungarian kingdom.
Friedrich Fröbel (1782–1852) opened a Play and Activity institute in 1837 in the village of Bad Blankenburg in the principality of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt, Thuringia, which he renamed Kindergarten on 28 June 1840.
Women trained by Fröbel opened Kindergartens throughout Europe and around the World. The first kindergarten in the United States was founded in Watertown, Wisconsin in 1856 and was conducted in German. Elizabeth Peabody founded America's first English-language kindergarten in 1860 and the first free kindergarten in America was founded in 1870 by Conrad Poppenhusen, a German industrialist and philanthropist, who also established the Poppenhusen Institute and the first publicly financed kindergarten in the United States was established in St. Louis in 1873 by Susan Blow. Canada's first private kindergarten was opened by the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island in 1870 and by the end of the decade, they were common in large Canadian towns and cities. The country's first public-school kindergartens were established in Berlin, Ontario in 1882 at Central School. In 1885, the Toronto Normal School (teacher training) opened a department for Kindergarten teaching.
Elizabeth Harrison wrote extensively on the theory of early childhood education and worked to enhance educational standards for kindergarten teachers by establishing what became the National College of Education in 1886.
Head Start was the first publicly funded preschool program in the US, created in 1965 by President Johnson for low-income families - only 10% of children were then enrolled in preschool. Due to large demand, various states subsidized preschool for low-income families in the '80s.
The most important years of learning begin at birth. During these early years, humans are capable of absorbing more information than later on. The brain grows most rapidly in the early years. High quality teachers and preschools have a long term effect on improving outcomes, especially for disadvantaged students.
Preschool systems observe standards for structure (administration, class size, student–teacher ratio, services), process (quality of classroom environments, teacher-child interactions, etc.) and alignment (standards, curriculum, assessments) components. Curriculum is designed for differing ages. For example, counting to 10 is generally after the age of four.
Some studies dispute the benefits of preschool education, finding that preschool can be detrimental to cognitive and social development. A study by UC Berkeley and Stanford University on 14,000 preschools revealed that while there is a temporary cognitive boost in pre-reading and math, preschool holds detrimental effects on social development and cooperation.
While a majority of American preschool programs remain tuition-based, support for some public funding of early childhood education has grown over the years. As of 2008, 38 states and the District of Columbia invested in at least some preschool programs, and many school districts were providing preschool services on their own, using local and federal funds. The United States spends .04% of its GDP or $63 billion on preschool education.
The benefits and challenges of a public preschool reflect the available funding. Funding can range from federal, state, local public allocations, private sources, and parental fees. The problem of funding a public preschool occurs not only from limited sources but from the cost per child. As of 2007 the average cost across the lower 48 states is $6,582. Four categories determine the costs of public preschools: personnel ratios, personnel qualifications, facilities and transportation, and health and nutrition services. These costs depend heavily on the cost and quality of services provided. The main personnel factor related to cost is teacher qualifications. Another determinant of cost is the length of the school day. Longer sessions cost more.
Collaboration has helped fund programs in several districts. Collabortions with area Head Start and other private preschools helped fund a public preschool in one district. "We’re very pleased with the interaction. It’s really added a dimension to our program that’s been very positive". The National Head Start Bureau has been looking for more opportunities to partner with public schools. Torn Schultz of the Bureau states, "We’re turning to partnership as much as possible, either in funds or facilities to make sure children get everything necessary to be ready for school".
The Universal Preschool movement is an international effort to make preschool available to families, as it is for primary education. Various jurisdictions and advocates have differing priorities for access, availability and funding sources.
In the United States, most preschool advocates support the National Association for the Education of Young Children's Developmentally Appropriate Practices.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the National Association of Child Care Professionals (NACCP) publicize and promote the idea of developmentally appropriate practice, although many institutions have not taken that approach. NAEYC ca=kauned that although 80% of kindergarten classrooms claim to be developmentally appropriate, only 20% actually are.
Preschool education, like all other forms of education, is intended by the society that controls it to transmit important cultural values to the participants. As a result, different cultures make different choices about preschool education. Despite the variations, there are a few common themes. Most significantly, preschool is universally expected to increase the young child's ability to perform basic self-care tasks such as dressing, feeding, and toileting.
In Japan, development of social skills and a sense of group belonging are major goals. Classes tend to have up to 40 students, to decrease the role of the teacher and increase peer interactions. Participation in group activities is highly valued, leading some schools to for example, count a child who is standing still near a group an exercise session as participating. Children are taught to work harmoniously in large and small groups, and to develop cooperativeness, kindness and social consciousness. The most important goal is to provide a rich social environment that increasingly isolated nuclear families do not provide, unstructured play time is valued.
Children are allowed to resolve disputes with each other, including physical fighting. Most behavioral problems are attributed to the child's inappropriately expressed emotional dependency. Remedies involve accepting the child, rather than treatment with drugs or punishment. Japanese culture attributes success to effort rather than inborn talent, leading teachers to ignore innate differences between children by encouraging and praising perseverance. They work to ensure that all students meet the standard rather that each reaches his or her own potential. Although preschools exhibit great variety, most target age-appropriate personal development, such as learning empathy, rather than academic programs. Academic programs tend to be more common among Westernized and Christian preschools.
In China preschool programs are highly variable. Some amount too little more than babysitting, while others are university-run programs with high-quality curricula. Some are showpieces designed to impress foreign visitors, while others have very limited resources. Staff qualifications and their beliefs about early childhood education are also highly variable. Many are associated with an employer and some provide overnight care during the week, supporting parents who work at night or in jobs requiring travel.
Because of China's one-child policy, most students have no siblings and are seen as lonely, selfish and prone to anti-social behavior. Parents are reluctant to use discipline, worrying that it may cost them their child's affection and leave them unwilling to care for the parents in their old age. Teachers are tasked with replacing that parental function. The government channels health services through preschools, employing on-site nurses to examine children after weekends.
Children are taught to form an orderly, regimented collective that is obedient to its leader. Children eat meals silently and sit quietly for long periods of time during the school day while the teacher instructs or reads to them. Group dynamics are authoritarian, with the relationship between the teacher and the children more important than the relationships between the children. Teachers stop inappropriate behavior before it escalates to disruption, usually by verbally criticism. Positive reinforcement through publicly praising examples of proper behavior is also typical. Little time is left unstructured. For example, a lesson may have children use building blocks to construct pre-determined structures exactly matching a printed diagram, rather than to use their imagination. Academic subjects and public speaking are valued. Taiwanese parents have similar attitudes. Many of the concerns and goals related to child rearing in the modern era echo those found in ancient Confucian writings.
In the United States, nursery school is provided in a variety of settings. In general, pre-school is meant to promote development in children through planned programs. Pre-school is defined as: "center-based programs for four-year olds that are fully or partially funded by state education agencies and that are operated in schools or under the direction of state and local education agencies". Pre-schools, both private and school sponsored, are available for children from ages three to five. Many of these programs follow similar curriculum as pre-kindergarten.
In the United States, preschool education emphasizes individuality. Children are frequently permitted to choose from a variety of activities, using a learning center approach. During these times, some children draw or paint, some play house, some play with puzzles while some listen to the teacher read a story aloud. Activities vary in each session. Each child is assumed to have particular strengths and weaknesses to be encouraged or ameliorated by the teachers. A typical belief is that "children's play is their work" and that allowing them to select the type of play, the child will meet his or her developmental needs. Preschools also adopt American ideas about justice, such as the rule of law and the idea that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Teachers actively intervene in disputes and encourage children to resolve them verbally ("use your words") rather than physically. Children may be punished with a time out or required to apologize or make reparations for misbehavior. Teachers assist children to explain what happened, before any decision to punish is made. Self-expressive language skills are emphasized through informal interactions with teachers and through structured group activities such as show and tell exercises to enable the child to describe an experience to an adult. Resources vary depending on the wealth of the students, but generally are better equipped than other cultures. Most programs are not subsidized by government, making preschools relatively expensive even though the staff is typically poorly compensated. Student-teacher ratios are lower than in other cultures, ideally about 15 students per group. Parents and teachers see teachers as extensions of or partial substitutes for parents and consequently emphasize personal relationships and consistent expectations at home and at school.
In the United States, students who may benefit from special education receive services in preschools. Since the enactment of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Public Law 101-476 in 1975 and its amendments, PL 102-119 and PL 105-17 in 1997, the educational system has moved away from self-contained special education classrooms to inclusion, leading special education teachers to practice in a wider variety of settings. As with other stages in the life of a child with special needs, the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or an Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP) is an important way for teachers, administrators and parents to set guidelines for a partnership to help the child succeed in preschool.
The goal of the Head Start Program and of Early Head Start is to increase the school readiness of young children in low income families. These programs serve children from birth to age five, pregnant women, and their families. Head Start was started by the Federal Government in 1964 to help meet the needs of disadvantaged pre-school children.
The office of Economic Opportunity launched Project Head Start as an eight-week summer program in 1965. It was then transferred to the Office of Child Development in the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in 1969. Today it is a program within the Administration on Children, Youth and Families in the Department of Health and Human Services. Programs are administered locally by school systems and non-profit organizations.
In the UK, pre-school education in nursery classes or schools is fully funded by local government for children aged over three. Pre-school education can be provided by childcare centres, playgroups, nursery schools and nursery classes within primary schools. Private voluntary or independent (PVI sector) nursery education is also available throughout the UK and varies between structured pre-school education and a service offering child-minding facilities.
Nursery in England is also called FS1 which is the first year of foundation before they go into primary or infants.
The curriculum goals of a nursery school are more specific than for childcare, but less strenuous than for primary school. For example, the Scottish Early Years Framework and the Curriculum for Excellence define expected outcomes even at this age. In some areas, the provision of nursery school services is on a user pays or limited basis while other governments fund nursery school services.
Each child in England at the first school term after their third birthday, is entitled to 15 hours per week free childcare funding. This entitlement is funded by the government through the local council. Pre-schools in England follow the Early Learning Goals, set by the Early Years Foundation Stage, for education produced by the Department for Children, Schools and Families which carries on into their first year of school at the age of four. This year of school is usually called Reception. The Early Learning Goals cover the main areas of education without being subject driven. These areas include
Until the mid-1980s, nursery schools only admitted pupils in the final year (three terms) leading up to their admission to primary school, but pupils now attend nursery school for four or five terms. It is also common practise for many children to attend nursery much earlier than this. Many nurseries have the facilities to take on babies, using the 'Early Years Foundation Stage', framework as a guide to give each child the best possible start to becoming a competent learner and skilful communicator.
Early years education in Wales is provided half-time for children aged 3–4 (Nursery) and full-time for those between the ages of 4 and 5 (Reception). Since 2005 it has been a statutory duty for all Local Education Authorities to secure sufficient nursery education in their area for children from the term following their third birthday.
Currently, the Early Years curriculum in Wales, produced by the Welsh Assembly Government Department for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills,is set out in the booklet "Desirable Outcomes for Children's Learning Before Compulsory School Age". However, a new 'Foundation Phase' covering 3-7 year olds is being rolled out across Wales from 2008, with a focus on 'learning through play', which covers seven areas of learning:
In Northern Ireland funded Nursery School places can be applied for from ages 3 and up. Preschool education is delivered also by PreSchools, also referred to as Playschools or Playgroups. A Nursery School is allowed to enrol up to 26 children into a class, with the curriculum being delivered by a qualified teacher and a Nursery Assistant. A preschool, which delivers the same curriculum, is also permitted to admit a maximum of 26 children to any single session. However, the regulations for personnel differ. The Preschool must have a Supervisor with an NVQ 3 qualification in Child Care (or Equivalent). There must be one qualified and vetted adult for every 8 children. Funding is applied for through PEAGs ( Preschool Education Advisory Group). Both nursery and preschool settings are inspected by the Education and Training Inspectorate. Preschools are also subject to inspection by local Social Services.
In Scotland children are entitled to a place in a nursery class when they reach their third birthday. This gives parents the option of two years of funded pre-school education before beginning primary one, the first year of compulsory education. Nursery children who are three years old are referred to as ante-pre-school whilst children who are four years old are termed pre-school. Pre-school education in Scotland is planned around the Early Level of the Curriculum for Excellence which identifies Outcomes & Experiences around the following eight curricular areas:
Responsibility for the review of care standards in Scottish nurseries rests with the Care Commission.
Davidson, Dana H.; Tobin, Joseph Jay; Wu, David Y. H. (1989). Preschool in three cultures: Japan, China, and the United States. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press. pp. 188–221. ISBN 0-300-04235-3.
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