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Apodaca: Making the case for preschool

February 23, 2013|By Patrice Apodaca

When my older son turned 3, I decided he should go to preschool.

My reasons were simple: We were living in Los Angeles, and I had a busy career as a reporter. My son played with a few neighbor kids, but it was obvious he was ready for something more, and I figured an organized group experience outside our home would do him good.

I wasn't particularly concerned about academics. I didn't see the need to begin prepping him for the Ivy League when he was still in Pull-Ups. Besides, I read to him every night and snuck in learning in the form of games, stories and activities every chance I got. In looking for a preschool, I didn't expect anything fancy, just a safe and supportive environment where he would learn to get along and make friends.

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By the time my younger son turned 3, we had moved to Newport Beach and though I had an exit plan from full-time work in mind, my reasons for starting him in preschool were basically the same. We enrolled him at St. Mark Community Preschool, then run by the terrific Mary Hornbuckle, who advocated learning through structured play.

Though I didn't know it at the time, my instincts about preschool, which likely are similar to those of many parents, actually fit with the mounting evidence now available about how early childhood education benefits the not-ready-for-primetime set.

Research shows that adapting kids at an early age to social situations, group dynamics and simple classroom etiquette — sitting patiently and listening, following instructions, walking in lines — prepares them for elementary school and makes them far more ready to begin tackling a more academic environment.

This point is receiving renewed attention, now that President Obama has taken up the cause of expanding access to preschool.

In his State of the Union address, Obama pledged to "make high-quality preschool available to every single child in America." He followed up with a plan to provide grants and other funding to states and to expand Early Head Start to make access to early childhood education available to all.

The proposals have been warmly welcomed by many educators, but they have also stirred controversy, mainly because of the additional spending, which some estimates put at up to $10 billion a year. Critics also question the wisdom of focusing on preschool when some data show that the differences between students who attended preschool and those that didn't evaporate by the third grade.

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