A preschool is a school for children who are too young for kindergarten. The ages range typically between 2.9 and 3 years old and ending around 5 years old (except for those schools who offer kindergarten for those who don't make the cut off date).
The preschool experience teaches your child to socialize with peers and gives early exposure to letters, sounds, phonemes, words, numbers, counting, cutting, drawing, shapes, colors, body parts and other objects, world knowledge and different cultures, teamwork, self-help skills, science and other important building blocks for early education.
It introduces schedules, structure, and how to adapt to change as well as the opportunity to play with other kids, celebrate birthdays and other holidays with people outside of their family.
For working parents, preschool can also provide vital child care during the work day, either in conjunction with a nanny, by itself, or built into a daycare center.
But you probably knew that already, right?
A more useful answer to the question, "What is a preschool?" will provide a brief introduction to some special types of preschool educations. It's not easy to know whether a preschool or daycare is best for your child, but it may help to start with the most common types of preschool educations.
The following descriptions of five types of special preschool programs will give you a glimpse of the many different curriculums and offerings.
A Montessori Preschool
A Montessori preschool relies on the principles of self-reliance and peer-to-peer interaction This type of schooling was made famous by Maria Montessori, a physician and educator who educated children of working class parents by teaching them personal care, cleaning, cooking and other repetitive activities.
The core of a Montessori preschool philosophy is for children to become self-reliant and capable, under the guidance of a teacher. However, schools that use the Montessori brand can differ dramatically in their curriculum and quality, so investigate thoroughly before accepting this label at face value.
A Waldorf Preschool
Almost the opposite of a Montessori preschool is a Waldorf preschool which follows the teachings of Rudolf Steiner. He sought to integrate art with other educational disciplines. Waldorf schools typically rely heavily on natural play materials, like branches and yarn, and incorporate fairy tales, song and spirituality into the lessons.
In one difference between Montessori and Waldorf, the Waldorf schools typically stick more closely to the Waldorf Association's standards.
A Reggio Emilia Preschool
Also known as child-directed education, the Reggio Emilia approach was started by Italian teacher Loris Malaguzzi. This philosophy gives children control over the direction of their learning and is based on principles of respect and responsibility.
In a Reggio Emilia classroom, teachers will build on the group's interests to create lessons around a topic that the children enjoy, whether that's trucks, architecture or a favorite picture book character.
The Head Start Program
This type of preschool was created by the US Department of Health and Human Services for US low-income families. It provides a preschool curriculum, health and nutrition education as well as teaching the parents how to get involved in their children's education.
If you want more information or what to see if you qualify for this program see the Head Start - An Office of the Administration for Children and Families Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center (ECLKC)
A Forest Kindergarten
This kind of program is new for the US but has been around for years in Germany. Like it's name suggests a Forest Kindergarten preschool class is held outdoors almost all of the time. It does not include any commercial type toys and focuses on learning from nature. There are numerous health benefits such as balance, less injuries, and strengthen the immune system. Each Forest Kindergarten offers a different curriculum so research what your local ones have to offer.