What Kids Learn in Preschool

Preschool-aged girls playing with playdough

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From learning how to take turns to counting to 10, preschool is about discovery. By the time your child graduates from pre-K, they will have learned a lot. The entire span of lessons and content that your child will be taught during the course of preschool education is what's known as the preschool curriculum.

Depending on the preschool you choose and the early childhood education philosophy it follows, your child may explore a wide variety of academic, social, physical, and emotional lessons. In addition to academics and social skills, many preschools also work on critical speech and fine motor skills.

In some settings, preschools are also able to help children complete their toilet training. By the time they get to kindergarten, children who participate in preschool should be ready to speak in longer phrases and sentences, use a pair of scissors, follow instructions, and kick a ball.

What Do Kids Learn in Preschool?

Preschools teach the basics to kids, giving them a strong foundation for the elementary years. This includes academic concepts of literacy and math, such as counting, coloring, and letter recognition and developing large and fine motor skills, such as walking in a line and using a pencil. It also includes social and school-readiness skills, such as making friends, sharing, and taking turns.

Academic Concepts in the Preschool Curriculum

The preschool curriculum offered at one child's preschool may vary significantly from what is offered at other schools. This is because preschools are not governed by the standards that apply to K-12 education.

So, individual schools and groups of schools have the freedom to teach what they please in the manner they prefer. For example, preschools located in religious institutions may include religious education in their curriculum. Montessori preschools use specific materials and activities to encourage children in hands-on learning.

Teachers may also adjust their educational approaches to suit the needs of individual children in their classroom. While preschools don't all adhere to the same educational guidelines, they're intended to prepare students for kindergarten. That means most effective preschools work on key skill areas, which include math, science, and literacy skills.

Important concepts in the preschool curriculum include the following:

  • Calendar, including the seasons, days of the week, and months of the year
  • Coloring
  • Colors
  • Cooperation
  • Cutting
  • Drawing and painting
  • Gluing
  • Hygiene
  • Letters
  • Listening
  • Nature
  • Numbers
  • Physical activity like running, jumping, skipping, hopping on one foot, and using playground equipment and balls
  • Shapes
  • Sharing
  • Sorting objects
  • Taking turns
  • Transitioning from one activity to another
  • Weather
  • Writing letters and numbers

Motor Skills

Preschool-age children are learning to master both gross motor skills (which involve large physical movements) and fine motor skills (such as manual dexterity and hand-eye coordination). Many preschools spend time actively engaged in working on these developmental skills.

Fine-motor activities, which are important for writing, grasping, and coordinating fine movements, include drawing, cutting, coloring, and gluing. Gross motor skills are often worked on during recess and may involve using playground equipment, running, skipping, jumping, and kicking or throwing a ball to a partner.

Social and School-Readiness Skills

Preschool also aims to teach kids social and school-readiness skills. These lessons include teaching kids how to function in a group setting, with an emphasis on such behaviors as sharing, turn-taking, cooperative play, transitioning from one activity to the next, and following classroom rules. Preschool also helps kids learn self-care skills they will need in kindergarten, such as putting on their own shoes and coats, feeding themselves, and using the bathroom independently.

Preschool Curriculum Implementation

Most preschools have a set of goals and a philosophy to which each teacher must adhere. In some cases, teachers follow those general guidelines in an informal way. In many cases, teachers use specific lesson plans and rubrics for assessing student progress.

Preschool curricula take into account the length of the preschool day. Some preschools run for only a few hours a day, while others (especially in public school settings) operate all day. Some even run longer than a typical school day to cover all the parent's work hours.

During any given day, preschoolers may take part in:

  • Field trips designed to enhance a lesson, such as a trip to the post office to learn about mail or a visit to the grocery store to learn about choosing healthy foods
  • Sessions with special guest speakers who are brought in to provide more details to a lesson, such as a police officer to talk about safety or a dentist to discuss oral health
  • Special activities not necessarily taught by the primary preschool teacher, but by a special art, music, library, or physical education teacher
  • Specific activities, such as circle time, song time, calendar time, active playtime, storytime, and craft time
  • Transitional periods that exist between activities like learning how to walk in a line with peers and how to clean up toys and supplies

A preschool curriculum can also encompass homework given to the child to reinforce what was learned in the classroom, but many educators also believe that homework is unnecessary at such a young age.

While it may look like a preschooler is simply playing in the preschool classroom all day, that's not the case. Play is so much more than a child having fun, though kids are certainly having lots of that. Especially when it involves interacting with other children, play teaches young children how to:

  • Form friendships
  • Learn how to cooperate
  • Take turns
  • Think creatively
  • Try out different ways of problem-solving
  • Use their imaginations

Different types of play, including both structured and unstructured, allow children to practice different skills in different ways.

What to Look for in a Preschool

No matter which philosophy your preschool follows (Bank Street, Reggio Emilia, and HighScope are common ones), the preschool curriculum should promote learning while helping children meet the various language, social, physical, and cognitive goals. In an ideal situation, a quality preschool curriculum will be taught by certified teachers and be based on the most up-to-date childhood education research.

Depending on the school and the preschool philosophy employed by the preschool, the preschool curriculum can be developed by administrators, teachers, and in some cases, even parents. If you ever have a question about the curriculum or anything that's going on at your child's preschool, reach out to the teacher or preschool administrator.

7 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Amanda Rock
Amanda Rock, mom of three, has spent more than a decade of her professional career writing and editing for parents and children.