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Answers To Your Top Preschool Questions

How much does preschool cost? When should my child start an early childhood program? You've got questions and we've got answers!

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Think it's time for your child to go to preschool? Maybe you're not sure if your little one should go to preschool. And anyway, how much does it cost to send them to an early childhood program? For all of these questions, the local early ed experts have answers!

Q: Does preschool really matter?
A: Yes, yes and yes!

There are many benefits to sending children to an early childhood program before they enter kindergarten. Unfortunately, there are some common misconceptions about preschool that have prevented all parents from realizing this and ensuring their children are enrolled in a quality program.

"People commonly assume that it's just day care or babysitting, and really it's not," says Shawness Woods-Zende, a quality improvement consultant at United Way for Southeastern Michigan. She says that being in groups and socializing while in preschool "contributes to (a child's) brain development."

Another misconception? "That they play all day," Woods-Zende says. A quality preschool program includes early reading and math lessons, hands-on projects, field trips and more. Sure, some curricula, she says, are play-based, but that doesn't mean that there isn't learning going on. In fact, Woods-Zende calls it "active learning."

"(It's) putting together experiences so the children can actively engage with those things," she explains. "So for them, it's playing. But when you have a classroom that's well put together, there's a method behind that." Stacking blocks, for example, might be a lesson in colors, spatial relations or counting, she adds.

Preschool affords kids much more in the way of preparedness for life, too.

"It will build language, social skills, emotional skills – they'll learn so many things that they need that will help them in kindergarten," Woods-Zende says.

Plus, she notes, "Even if they don't come into kindergarten knowing how to read or knowing how to write, the things that they've learned in an early childhood environment will now help them to quickly adapt and pick those things up."

Q: When is my child ready for preschool?
A: The earlier, the better.

While it can often depend on the family, the child and their needs, many early childhood experts recommend early is the way to go when it comes to preschool education.

According to Denise Smith, vice president for early learning at Excellent Schools Detroit, "a lot of parents are hesitant when their children are babies" to send their kids to an early childhood program.

However, "By the age of 3, a baby's brain has reached almost 90 percent of its adult size," according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway report "Understanding the Effects of Maltreatment on Brain Development." It notes, "The growth in each region of the brain largely depends on receiving stimulation, which spurs activity in that region. This stimulation provides the foundation for learning."

In addition, preschool programs help develop a child's social and emotional capacity.

"When children are around others they learn to share," Smith says. They also learn to self-regulate, which means kids learn thoughtfulness about their actions – and patience. 

Woods-Zende says the earlier kids are in an early learning program, "the better." They will be used to the class environment when they move up to kindergarten, know how to socialize with others – and there's a benefit for parents.

"It gives you a chance to look around and see what's out there, see what's available, talk to other parents, see where their children are going," she says. "And it just gives you an opportunity to see, 'OK, this is where I want to go' instead of waiting until they're 4 and saying, 'Oh, they're going to be in kindergarten next year, I want to get them ready.'"

And while attending a pre-K program is not necessarily required for kindergarten, "They're ready," Toni Hartke, director of Wayne County Great Start Collaborative, says.

"The children can learn those things. So why wait to have them be exposed?" she says. "They are more apt to be successful, then, when they get to kindergarten."

Hartke continues, "We don't want to keep seeing so many children getting to kindergarten who had no exposure to anything and then they're flunking kindergarten – being held back in kindergarten." Plus, Hartke notes it's also not good to have "children passed forward who aren't 'getting it' – and then they're going to be behind forever."

She says that as long as kids are in a program at age 3 or 4, "You're good."

Kids can attend Head Start, the federally funded preschool program, starting at age 3. Michigan's Great Start Readiness preschool program requires kids to be 4 years old by Nov. 1 of the school year.

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