Like any other part of the teaching profession, preschool programs are constantly assessing their own quality and practices against the techniques in place at other institutions across the country. From approaches to handwriting and art skills to tips about helping struggling students grasp early socialization skills, there is always a wide range of hot topics for preschooling professionals and parents alike to engage with. If you're currently looking for a great preschool experience for your child, you need to understand these topics well enough to see how prospective programs are engaging with preschool education in 2019 and 2020. Here are a few of the hot topics that have been on the vocational radar for teachers and paraprofessional aides alike.
Access for At-risk Students
One of the biggest conversations happening nationally is around the accessibility of programs to students who most badly need support with developmental skills that will help them be successful in kindergarten and beyond. While many areas have an expansive set of preschool options including both public schools and even sometimes subsidy programs for private preschools, there are quite a few areas of the country where access is still an issue.
Worksheets: Useful? Necessary?
The controversy around worksheets is hardly limited to preschool, but it takes on a special significance at this level of education. Some parents want open, unstructured time for their kids to play and learn social skills and motor coordination in a low-pressure environment. For others, the quantifiable growth of skills documented by worksheets is of utmost importance. Most teachers in preschool programs believe in a balance, but what is the balance? And what skills can a worksheet successfully reinforce?
In the wider educational conversation, the role of worksheets is bound up with the role of homework. As such, they're currently getting a bad reputation as the usefulness and practicality of homework come under fire. They've long been used as the simplest way of getting the “skill and drill” basics out of the way, and learning any new intellectual skill involves repetition and practice, so there's a lot to be said for the appropriate use of worksheets. What they don't do is teach, and that means they need to be used to practice lessons and build skills.
In preschool programs, worksheets are most useful when they help students with the building blocks of skills they can transfer into a more creative, open-ended method of self-expression. Examples would be worksheets that build handwriting fundamentals while giving students the chance to practice letter and number identification, as well as those designed to help them learn more about how colors work while reinforcing the motor skills involved in creating visual art. No matter where your views lie on the issue of worksheet use, you really need to make sure you're sending your child to a preschool program that shares your priorities.
Handwriting Programs and Expectations
It's no secret the educational process has been getting more and more dense over the past few decades as the information revolution demands more and more skilled labor directly from high school. The result has been a push to begin with the fundamentals earlier and earlier, but there is a downward limit to what can be folded into early education because of the rate at which motor skills develop. As a result, handwriting is a hot topic for preschool teachers who often find themselves taking on the educational obligations that belonged in a kindergarten or even first-grade curriculum just fifteen or twenty years ago. Finding a program with a realistic approach to goal-setting here and a good method for building those skills without over-stressing students is vital, and a school's approach to this topic is often inextricably linked to its views on worksheets and on unstructured playtime.
The best programs find a good balance of skills, socialization, creativity, and instruction that allows students to grow in a supportive environment. That means you need a program that takes handwriting seriously but that doesn't make it a high-pressure activity. Looking for a place that builds those skills regularly, but at a leisurely pace, can make a huge difference. Handwriting skills also translate to other motor skills, and practice can help there too, so ask about how the program treats art time and how cross-discipline skills like the use of pencils and other writing and drawing tools are handled.
Give Your Child a Great Start
Some of these conversations don't have an easy right or wrong answer, because the positions are very nuanced. In many cases, an indicator of a great program isn't their position with regard to these issues but how well thought out it is and how they roll it out to their students. Keep that in mind as you begin to engage with educational professionals and you will have an easy time finding a great preschool for your kids.