‘Academic’ preschools combine play, learning
A recent article in The News informs parents about a study documenting the value of “academic” preschools over “nonacademic” preschools. The writer suggests that flashcards and whole-group lessons around an overhead projector are more valuable for preschoolers than dramatic play and Legos, and parents reading this article might conclude that they should find a pre-K with these criteria in mind.
I read the original study to see what was meant by the term “academic,” certain that flashcards were not recommended by anyone in the early childhood field in 2017. As I suspected, the researchers defined “academic” preschools as classrooms where teachers engaged children in things like simple writing, phonics, math games and counting at least three or four times a week. These activities could likely take place during story time, play time, snack time or music time.
The lead researcher actually described “academic” preschools as ones combining creative play, rich language, formal conversations and math concepts. This hardly seems to support the headline of “Free play or flashcards?”
Parents can think about their own “academic” interactions with their children – counting napkins as they set the table, pointing out letters in signs and storybooks – and realize that flashcards are not required to embed academic content in a preschooler’s day. Instead, parents should seek out preschools staffed by teachers with strong backgrounds in early childhood who are able to find teachable moments to embed academic content in a well-rounded, play-based, creative program for young children.
Julie Jacobs Henry, Ph.D.
Chairwoman of Elementary Education and Reading, Buffalo State College