It's time to start looking for the perfect preschool for your child. You want your child to be happy and active at preschool, but you also want more. You want a safe and happy place, a place that values the individual child. You are looking for a preschool that promotes learning and growth, with educators who understand how children learn. Look at Them Learning gives you the information to make your perfect preschool decision a little easier.

Look at Them Learning!

By Diane C. Ohanesian

The smell of easel paint, the sound of blocks falling to the floor, the feeling of dried paste on construction paper, shaking sand from small sneakers at days end will become familiar experiences for your future preschooler. These sights and sounds and experiences may bring a smile to your face. You know that they mean your child will be involved, he/she will be happy and he/she will play. This is true, but there are other important reasons to be happy about these experiences. Your child will learn and develop pre-reading and pre-writing skills; become familiar with basic math and science concepts; gain social skills that will be beneficial now and in future years. How does all this happen with paint, blocks, paper and sand? Let's take a look.

Learning with Art Materials

Pre-reading Skills: As children work with art materials, they make many choices. They visually discriminate between colors as they draw and paint, between shapes as they make collages and work with construction paper cutouts, between textures as they work with fabric scraps, corrugated cardboard and felt scraps. This ability to visually discriminate is a skill children need in the early stages of reading in order to discriminate between letter forms.

Pre-writing Skills: Children are exercising the small muscles in their hands and fingers as they work with crayons, scissors, and paintbrushes. These fine motor skills prepare children to hold and control pencils when later forming letters and words.

Self-Expression: Art materials provide children with a safe way of expressing thoughts and feelings that they are not prepared to verbalize. Preschoolers are not as sophisticated as adults in communicating verbally. Through drawings and other art work, preschoolers are able to communicate feelings and ideas that they may not be prepared to verbalize.

Learning through Water Play

Basic Science Concepts: As children work at the water table, they are learning many things about the properties of water. They learn that water can be poured, that water can be absorbed, and that water flows. Children also learn about the properties of objects that cause them to sink or float as they experiment with rocks, plastic boats, sponges, etc., in the water table.

Basic Math Concepts: An understanding of basic math concepts begins to develop as preschoolers participate in water play. They count the number of times it takes to fill a small container with water in order to fill up a larger container. Many preschool programs provide measuring cups for children to use as they work at the water table. Preschoolers measure the different amounts of water held by different containers.

Emotional Development: Water play has a soothing effect on many children. The softness and movement of the water, along with the repetitious activity of filling cups and pouring water help children to relax and relieve tension.

Learning through Block Play

Basic Math Concepts: Block play offers children the opportunity to explore a variety of math concepts. Preschoolers gain skill in estimation as they consider (1) how much space they will need for a block structure, (2) how many blocks will they need to complete a block structure, (3) how many blocks they will need in order to build a tower as tall as their neighbor's. Children learn about balance as they try to support large blocks with smaller ones or as they attempt to build a tall block tower. Preschoolers gain skill in classifying as they group their blocks according to size and shape.

Learning with Picture Books

Pre-reading Skills: Pre-reading skills are developing as children experience picture books. Children begin to understand that the symbols we recognize as letters have meaning. They become familiar with the way letters are grouped together to form words, phrases, and sentences. As teachers share picture books with the children, children discover a left to right pattern and that illustrations, as well as words, can be "read" for meaning.

Language Skills: Children develop language skills as they talk about the contents of picture books. They are stimulated to use language to describe the people and events involved in a story. They learn to use language to describe their own experiences that may be related to those in the picture books.

Learning through Dramatic Play

Pre-writing and Pre-reading Skills: Dramatic play involves the use of many different kinds of props. These props include tickets that children use to board imaginary vehicles, menus used for restaurant play, and labels for supermarket play. Preschoolers develop prewriting skills as they help to create these props. Although a child may draw a picture of a train, rather than print the word train, on a piece of paper used as a train ticket, the child is learning that printed symbols have meaning and that these symbols can be read.

Children develop an appreciation for the reading process as they interact with dramatic play props. They are inspired to "read the symbols" on the tickets, menus, and labels that make their dramatic play more interesting. Exposure to these different kinds of props helps children to understand how important reading is in our daily lives. Emotional Development: Dramatic play offers children safe avenues to explore their fears, anger and anxieties. For example, a preschooler may feel freer to role-play a toddler crying at bedtime than to directly address his or her own fear of the dark. By pretending to be witches, doctors, kinds, ladies, etc., preschoolers are given the opportunity to work through many of the issues they confront in their own lives.

Learning through Outdoor Play

Language Skills: Just spend a little time at a park or playground where young children gather and listen to the chatter! As children climb, swing, run, and slide, they are talking, "Watch me!" using language to create rules, "You have to wait your turn." Singing rhymes to outdoor games "Ring around the Rosie." Outdoor play provides children with an easy opportunity to exercise their language skills.

Social Skills: Children learn important lessons in sharing, negotiating, and creating rules and order as they play outdoors. Preschoolers learn to work at and resolve dilemmas such as who will have the next turn on the swing, who will be the leader in the next game, or how many children can be included in a game of Duck, Duck Goose. When you visit preschools look and listen for the learning that is going on.

Watch, Listen, Learn

Watch children: Discriminate between colors and shapes as they work in the art area; Discover the ways some objects float and others sink in the water table; Estimate and classify as they work with blocks.

Listen to children: Make discoveries about pictures and words as they share picture books; Describe their props as they participate in dramatic play experiences; Use language to express jot, to solve problems and to create rules and order as they play outdoors.

Time spent carefully watching and listening tin the preschools will help you find the perfect preschool for your child.