What Your Child Will Learn in Preschool

Girls playing with playdough

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The preschool curriculum is basically the entire span of lessons and content that your child will be taught during the course of a preschool education. Depending on the preschool that you choose and the early childhood education philosophy that they follow, your child may explore a wide variety of academic, social, physical, and emotional lessons.

In addition to academics and social skills, many preschools work on critical speech and motor skills. By the time they get to kindergarten, children who participate in preschool should be ready to (for example) speak in full sentences, use a pair of scissors, and kick a ball. In many (but not all) settings, preschools are also able to help children complete their toilet training.

What Is Usually Covered?

Because preschools are not governed by the standards that apply to K-12 education, 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 vary their educational approaches to suit the needs of individual children in their class.

While preschools don't adhere to educational guidelines, they are intended to prepare students for kindergarten. That means that most good preschools work on these skill areas (among others):

  • letters
  • numbers
  • shapes
  • colors
  • cutting
  • coloring
  • writing letters and numbers
  • sorting objects
  • drawing
  • gluing
  • sharing
  • cooperation
  • taking turns
  • transitioning from one activity to another
  • calendar (the seasons, months of the year, etc.)
  • physical activity (running, jumping, skipping, hopping on one foot, using playground equipment and balls, etc.)

How the Curriculum Is Implemented

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, however, teachers must actually complete lesson plans and rubrics for assessing student progress.

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

During any given day, preschoolers are likely to take part in:

  • specific activities such as circle time, song time, calendar time, active play time, story time, craft time, etc.
  • transitional periods that exist between activities (learning how to walk in a line with peers, learning how to clean up toys and supplies, etc.)
  • special activities not necessarily taught by the primary preschool teacher, but a special teacher such as art, music, library and physical education
  • a preschool curriculum can also encompass homework given to the child to reinforce what was learned in the preschool classroom 
  • any field trips that are designed to enhance a lesson — for example a trip to the post office to learn about mail or a trip to the grocery store to learn about choosing healthy foods
  • special guest speakers who are brought in to provide more details to a lesson (a police officer to talk about safety, or a dentist to talk about teeth care for example)

While it may look like a preschooler is simply playing in the preschool classroom all day, that is not the case (although those kids are most definitely having a lot of fun!). Play is so much more than a child having fun. Play, especially when it involves interacting with other children, teaching young children how to:

  • form friendships
  • take turns
  • learn how to cooperate
  • try out different ways of problem-solving
  • use their imaginations
  • think creatively

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

What to Look for in a Preschool

Preschool curriculum, no matter what the philosophy (Bank Street, Reggio Emilia, High/Scope, etc.) that the preschool your school follows, should promote learning while helping children meet the various language, social, physical, and cognitive goals. In an ideal situation, a quality preschool's 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 even parents. If you ever have a question about the curriculum or anything that might be going on at your child's preschool, reach out to the teacher or preschool administrator.

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