What Kids Really Learn in Preschool

It's much more than circle time and sharing.

A New Kind of Preschool

What Your Child Will Learn in Preschool
What Your Child Will Learn in Preschool

Mia Ibanez is fascinated by the science table at her preschool. The 4-year-old from Santa Rosa, California, hangs out by the butterfly cage, where caterpillars are forming chrysalises. She's also learning how seeds grow into plants. "The other day she brought home a Ziploc with moist cotton and lima bean seeds," says Mia's mom, Sharon. "She checks each day to see if they're growing."

Mia's experience is typical of preschool education today -- hands-on, stimulating, and engaging, it's about more than naps and snacktime. Here's a look at what your child will likely experience this fall.

How Preschools Have Changed Since You Were a Kid

Preschools have evolved dramatically from the nursery school you might remember. "The biggest, most exciting change is that we better understand what 3- and 4-year-olds are capable of," says Jerlean Daniel, PhD, deputy executive director of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, in Washington, D.C. That means earlier introductions to math and reading but also a focus on how young children really learn.

Most schools balance child- and teacher-initiated activities. "In the best-case scenario, kids come to own the information," says Daniel. For instance, you can drill a child on the alphabet for hours -- but if he connects letters to his life experience, the proverbial light bulb goes on. "He might say, 'I learn J because it's in my name, Jacob,'" says Daniel. "Then he sees that the same letter is in Johnny's name."

A typical preschool day still includes the classics: circle time, sharing, and free play. But kids are just as likely to come home talking about seeing marine animals or baking pita bread as they are playing follow-the-leader. Preschools also offer hands-on math and science activities, Spanish lessons, and computer time.

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