A preschool, also known as nursery school, pre-primary school, playschool or kindergarten, is an educational establishment or learning space offering early childhood education to children before they begin compulsory education at primary school. It may be publicly or privately operated, and may be subsidised from public funds.
Terminology varies by country. In some European countries the term "kindergarten" refers to formal education of children classified as ISCED level 0 – with one or several years of such education being compulsory – before children start primary school at ISCED level 1.
The following terms may be used for educational establishments for this age group:
- Pre-Primary from 6 weeks old to 6 years old- is an educational childcare service a parent can enrol their child(ren) in before primary school. This can also be used to define services for children younger than kindergarten age, especially in countries where kindergarten is compulsory. The pre-primary program takes place in a nursery school.
- Nursery school (UK and US) from 0 months to 5 years old- is a pre-primary educational child care institution which includes Preschool.
- Daycare (US) from 0 months to 2½ years old – held in a Nursery School, but can also be called "a child care service" or a "crèche".
- Preschool (US and UK) from 3 to 4 years old- held in a Nursery School; readiness has to do with whether the child is developmentally appropriate, potty training is a big factor, so a child can start as early as 2½ years old. Preschool education is important and beneficial for any child attending nursery school because it gives the child a head start through social interactions. Through cognitive, psychosocial and physical developments based learning a child in preschool will learn about their environment and how to verbal communicate with others. Children who attend Preschool learns how the world works around them through play and communication.
- Pre-K (or Pre-Kindergarten) from 4 to 5 years old- held in Nursery School and is an initiative to improve access to pre-primary schools for children in the USA. There is much more than teaching a child colors, numbers, shapes and so on.
- Kindergarten (US) from 5 to 6 years old- held in a Nursery School and/or some primary elementary schools; in many parts of world (less so in English speaking countries) its refer to the first stages of formal education.
In an age when school was restricted to children who had already learned to read and write at home, there were many attempts to make school accessible to orphans or to the children of women who worked in factories.
In 1779, Johann Friedrich Oberlin and Louise Scheppler founded in Strassbourg an early establishment for caring for and educating pre-school children whose parents were absent during the day. At about the same time, in 1780, similar infant establishments were established in Bavaria In 1802, Pauline zur Lippe established a preschool center in Detmold.
In 1816, Robert Owen, a philosopher and pedagogue, opened the first British and probably globally the first infant school in New Lanark, Scotland. In conjunction with his venture for cooperative mills Owen wanted the children to be given a good moral education so that they would be fit for work. His system was successful in producing obedient children with basic literacy and numeracy.
Samuel Wilderspin opened his first infant school in London in 1819, and went on to establish hundreds more. He published many works on the subject, and his work became the model for infant schools throughout England and further afield. Play was an important part of Wilderspin's system of education. He is credited with inventing the playground. In 1823, Wilderspin published On the Importance of Educating the Infant Poor, based on the school. He began working for the Infant School Society the next year, informing others about his views. He also wrote "The Infant System, for developing the physical, intellectual, and moral powers off all children from one to seven years of age".
Countess Theresa Brunszvik (1775–1861), who had known and been influenced by Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, was influenced by this example to open an Angyalkert ('angel garden' in Hungarian) on 27 May 1828 in her residence in Buda, the first of eleven care centers that she founded for young children. In 1836 she established an institute for the foundation of preschool centers. The idea became popular among the nobility and the middle class and was copied throughout the Hungarian kingdom.
Friedrich Fröbel (1782–1852) opened a Play and Activity institute in 1837 in the village of Bad Blankenburg in the principality of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt, Thuringia, which he renamed Kindergarten on 28 June 1840.
Women trained by Fröbel opened Kindergartens throughout Europe and around the World. The First Kindergarten in the United States was founded in Watertown, Wisconsin in 1856 and was conducted in German. Elizabeth Peabody founded America's first English-language kindergarten in 1860 and the first free kindergarten in America was founded in 1870 by Conrad Poppenhusen, a German industrialist and philanthropist, who also established the Poppenhusen Institute and the first publicly financed kindergarten in the United States was established in St. Louis in 1873 by Susan Blow. Canada's first private kindergarten was opened by the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island in 1870 and by the end of the decade, they were common in large Canadian towns and cities. The country's first public-school kindergartens were established in Berlin, Ontario in 1882 at Central School. In 1885, the Toronto Normal School (teacher training) opened a department for Kindergarten teaching.
Elizabeth Harrison wrote extensively on the theory of early childhood education and worked to enhance educational standards for kindergarten teachers by establishing what became the National College of Education in 1886.
Head Start was the first publicly funded preschool program in the US, created in 1965 by President Johnson for low-income families—only 10% of children were then enrolled in preschool. Due to large demand, various states subsidized preschool for low-income families in the 1980s.
The most important years of learning begin at birth. During these early years, humans are capable of absorbing more information than later on. The brain grows most rapidly in the early years. High quality teachers and preschools can have a long-term effect on improving outcomes for disadvantaged students.
The areas of development that preschool education covers varies. However, the following main themes are typically offered.
- Personal, social, economic and emotional development
- Communication (including sign language), talking and listening
- World knowledge and World Understanding
- Creative and aesthetic development
- Mathematical awareness
- Physical development
- Physical health
- Self-help skills
- Social skills
- Scientific thinking
Preschool systems observe standards for structure (administration, class size, student–teacher ratio, services), process (quality of classroom environments, teacher-child interactions, etc.) and alignment (standards, curriculum, assessments) components. Curriculum is designed for differing ages. For example, counting to 10 is generally after the age of four.
There is emerging evidence that high-quality preschools are "play based," rather than attempting to provide early formal instruction in academic subjects. "Playing with other children, away from adults, is how children learn to make their own decisions, control their emotions and impulses, see from others' perspectives, negotiate differences with others, and make friends," according to Dr. Peter Gray, Boston College professor and an expert on the evolution of play and its vital role in child development. "In short, play is how children learn to take control of their lives."
Preschools have adopted various methods of teaching, such as Montessori, Waldorf, Head Start, HighScope, Reggio Emilia approach, Bank Street and Forest kindergartens.
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