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For the South Park episode, see Pre-School (South Park). For the Gang Green compilation album, see Preschool (album).

Preschool education (or infant education) is the provision of learning to children before the commencement of statutory and obligatory education, usually between the ages of three and five, depending on the jurisdiction. In some places, such as the United States, preschool precedes Kindergarten and the normal primary school system. In others, including much of Europe, preschool and Kindergarten programs are the same early childhood education programs. Preschool programs may be part of or separate from child care services needed by working parents. They may be government-run programs or private ventures. Some countries provide significant subsidies to pay for the costs of the programs.

In the United Kingdom nursery school (or 'playgroup') is the form of preschool education. In the United States the terms 'preschool' and 'Pre-K' are used, while "nursery school" is an older term.

Preschool work is organized within a framework that professional educators create. The framework includes structural (administration, class size, student–teacher ratio, services, etc.), process (quality of classroom environments, teacher-child interactions, etc.), and alignment (standards, curriculum, assessments) components that are associated with each individual unique child that has both social and academic outcomes. At each age band, an appropriate curriculum should be followed. For example, it would be normal to teach a child how to count to 10 after the age of four.[1] Arguably the first pre-school institution was opened in 1816 by Robert Owen in New Lanark, Scotland.[2][3][4] The Hungarian countess Theresa Brunszvik followed in 1828.[5][6] In 1837, Friedrich Fröbel opened one in Germany, coining the term "kindergarten".


In an age when school was restricted to children who had learned to read and write at home, there were many attempts to make school accessible to the children of women who worked in factories or were orphans. In 1779, Johann Friedrich Oberlin and Louise Scheppler founded in Strassbourg the first known establishment for caring for and educating pre-school children whose parents were absent during the day.[7] At about the same time, in 1780, similar infant schools were established in Bayern[8] In 1802, Pauline zur Lippe established a preschool center in Detmold.

In 1816, Robert Owen, a philosopher and pedagogue, opened the first British infant school in New Lanark, Scotland.[2][9][10] In conjunction with his venture for cooperative mills Robert Owen wanted the children to be given a good moral education so that they would be fit for work in the mills of New Lanarck. The system that he set up was successful in producing obedient and conforming children who had been taught basic literacy and numeracy skills.[11] Another was opened by Samuel Wilderspin in London in 1819,[12] whose work provided the model for infant schools throughout England. In 1823 Wilderspin published his influential work On the Importance of Educating the Infant Poor, based on his experiences at the school. He began working for the Infant School Society the next year, informing others about his views on education. He also wrote "The Infant System,for developing the physical, intellectual, and moral powers off all children from 1 to seven years of age". Play was an important part of Wilderspin's system of education, and he is credited with the invention of the playground.

Countess Theresa Brunszvik (1775–1861), who had known and been influenced by Pestalozzi, was influenced by this example to open an Angyalkért ('angel garden' in Hungarian) on May 27, 1828 in her residence in Buda, the first of what were to be eleven care centers 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 principality of Schwarzburg-Rudolstadt, Thuringia, which he renamed Kindergarten on June 28, 1840 to mark the four-hundredth anniversary of Gutenberg's invention of movable type. The women trained by Fröbel opened Kindergartens throughout Europe and around the World.

The first kindergarten in the United States founded in Watertown, Wisconsin, by Margarethe Meyer-Schurz in 1856 was conducted in German. Her sister had founded the first kindergarten in London, England.[13] In some systems kindergarten is called Grade 0,[14] which is also sometimes classified as "a mixture between kindergarten and a school regime."[15]

In 1860, Elizabeth Peabody founded the first English-language kindergarten in America in Boston, after visiting Watertown and travelling to Europe. The first free kindergarten in America was founded in 1870 by Conrad Poppenhusen, a German industrialist and philanthropist who settled in College Point, NY, where he established the Poppenhusen Institute, still in existence today. The first publicly financed kindergarten in the United States was established in St. Louis in 1873 by Susan Blow. 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.

The first private kindergarten in Canada 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.[16][17] The country's first public-school kindergartens were established in Berlin, Ontario in 1882 (Central School) and in Toronto in 1883 (Louisa Street Public School).[18] In 1885, the Toronto Normal School (teacher training) opened a department for Kindergarten teaching.[18]

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 started their own version of preschool for low-income families in the '80s.

Developmental areas

The areas of development which preschool education covers varies from country to country. However, the following main themes are represented in the majority of systems.[19][20]

  • Personal, social, economical, and emotional development
  • Communication, including sign language, talking and listening
  • Knowledge and understanding of the world
  • Creative and aesthetic development
  • Educational software
  • Mathematical awareness and development
  • Physical development
  • Physical health
  • Playing
  • Teamwork
  • Self-help skills
  • Social skills
  • Scientific thinking
  • Creative arts
  • Literacy
  • Speaking ability is started too.

Allowing preschool aged children to discover and explore freely within each of these areas of development is the foundation for developmental learning. While the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the National Association of Child Care Professionals (NACCP) have made tremendous strides in publicizing and promoting the idea of developmentally appropriate practice, there is still much work to be done. It is widely recognized that although many preschool educators are aware of the guidelines for developmentally appropriate practice, putting this practice to work effectively in the classroom is more challenging. The NAEYC published that although 80% of Kindergarten classrooms claim to be developmentally appropriate, only 20% actually are.

Age and importance

It is well established that the most important years of learning are begun at birth.[21] During these early years, a human being is capable of absorbing more information at a time than they will ever be able to again. The environment of the young child influences the development of cognitive skills and emotional skills due to the rapid brain growth that occurs in the early years. Studies have shown that high quality/ or any high rated preschools have a long term effect in improving the outcomes of a child, especially a disadvantaged child.[22][23]

However, some more recent studies dispute the accuracy of the earlier results which cited benefits to preschool education, and actually point at preschool being detrimental to a child's cognitive and social development.[24][25] A study by UC Berkeley and Stanford University on 14,000 Kindergarteners revealed that while there is a temporary cognitive boost in pre-reading and math, preschool holds detrimental effects on social development and cooperation.[26]

The Universal Preschool movement is an international effort to make access to preschool available to families in a similar way to compulsory primary education. Various jurisdictions and advocates have differing priorities for access, availability and funding sources. See kindergarten for details of pre-school education in various countries. There has been a shift from preschools that operated primarily as controlled play groups to educational settings in which children learn specific, if basic, skills. It examines several different perspectives on teaching in kindergarten, including those of the developmentally appropriate practice, the academic approach, the child-centered approach, and the Montessori approach to the curriculum.


The gratuity of infant education has been established in some countries, as Spain, beginning in the second cycle (from three to six years), but extending to the first cycle (from birth to three years). it is when children develop through all areas. This is true for other countries like Portugal.

Role in cultural transmission

Preschool education, like all other forms of education, is intended by the society that controls it to transmit important cultural values to the participants. As a result, different cultures make different choices about preschool education. Despite the variations, there are a few common themes. Most significantly, preschool is universally expected to increase the young child's ability to perform basic self-care tasks such as dressing, feeding, and toileting.[27]

In Japan, development of social skills and a sense of group belonging are major goals for preschools.[28] Class sizes tend to be large, up to 40 students per class, to decrease the role of the teacher's personality and increase the likelihood of peer interactions. Because exclusion from the group is extremely undesirable, a wide range of behaviors is tolerated. For example, a young child who is standing near the class during an exercise session is deemed to be participating in the group activity and belonging to the group, even if he does not engage in any of the exercises. Children are expected to be learn how to work harmoniously in large and small groups, and to develop the praiseworthy qualities of childhood, such as cooperativeness, kindness, and social consciousness. Because the most important goal for preschools is to provide children with the rich social environment that increasingly isolated nuclear families are unable to provide at home, unstructured, lightly supervised time to play freely with other children is valued. Teachers take a hands-off approach to most disputes between children, including physical fighting, as well as to children's choices to participate or to move to another activity. Most behavioral problems are believed to be due to the disruptive child's inappropriately expressed emotional need to be dependent, resulting in gentle care and careful attention to accepting the child, rather than a biological problem to be treated medically or a willfully chosen behavior to be punished. Consistent with the social belief that success is a result of hard work rather than inborn talent, teachers are expected to minimize innate differences between children by encouraging and praising perseverance in less-capable children and suppressing or ignoring high-performing children. Although a wide variety of attitudes and educational philosophies exist in Japanese preschools, most preschools focus on age-appropriate personal development, such as learning empathy, rather than academic programs. Academic programs tend to be more common among Westernized and Christian preschools in Japan.[28]

In China, a vast and varied country, the preschool programs are highly variable.[29] Some amount to little more than babysitting services, and others are university-run programs with high-quality curricula. Some are showpieces designed to impress foreign visitors, and others have very limited facilities and resources. The qualifications of staff members and their beliefs about early childhood education are also highly variable. Many are associated with an employer, and some provide overnight care during the week, frequently reserving these slots for parents who work at night or in jobs requiring travel. However, a few themes are common to most Chinese preschools: Chinese parents' traditional concerns about spoiling their children have intensified since the introduction of the one-child policy: Only children are widely seen as lonely, selfish, and prone to anti-social behaviors. Parents, however, feel somewhat reluctant to discipline their only children, thinking it may cause resentment and ultimately an unwillingness to care for the parents in their old age. Teachers, therefore, are seen as professionals whose primary responsibility is to counteract the parents' natural tendency to indulge their children and the unfortunate effects of the one-child policy, and thus produce well-behaved children who benefit society. Because parents worry about their children's health, Chinese society provides significant, visible health care through the preschools, such as on-site nurses to examine children after a weekend at home. Children are taught to behave as part of an orderly, regimented collective that is obedient to its leader. For example, children eat meals silently and sit quietly for long periods of time during the school day while the teacher reads or instructs them. Unlike the Japanese programs, group dynamics are authoritarian and vertical, with the relationship between the teacher and the children more important than the relationships between the children. Teachers intervene very early to stop inappropriate behavior before it escalates to disruption, usually by verbally criticizing the child's behavior. Positive reinforcement through publicly praising examples of proper behavior is typical. Programs permit little unstructured time and emphasize academic development. For example, a lesson may have children use building blocks to construct pre-determined structures exactly matching a printed diagram, rather than to build anything they wish. Academic progress and good public speaking skills are valued, as parents believe this will result in the child being economically successful later in life. Parents in Taiwan have similar attitudes in many respects, and many of the concerns and goals related to child rearing in the modern era echo those found in ancient Confucian writings.[29]

In the United States, preschool education emphasizes the basic American values of individual liberty and self-determination.[30] Rather than the teacher leading all children through a specific activity, the children are frequently permitted to choose from a wide variety of activities in a learning center model. During these times, a few children may choose to be painting, a few children may be playing house, a few children may be playing with puzzles, and a few more may be listening to the teacher read a storybook aloud. Different learning center activities are offered in each session. Children are assumed to be more different than similar, with each child having particular strengths and weaknesses that must be encouraged or ameliorated by the teachers. A typical belief is that children's play is their work, and by allowing the child to select the type of play, then the child will meet his or her individual developmental needs. Preschools also model the rule of law and American ideas about justice, such as the idea that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Teachers actively intervene in disputes between children and encourage them to "use your words" rather than to engage in physical aggression. Children may be punished with a time out or a requirement to apologize or make reparations for misbehavior, such as taking a toy from another child, but the teachers assist them through a process of "defending" themselves (by explaining what happened) before the teacher imposes a punishment. The development of self-expressive language skills, so that the child can describe an experience to an adult, is emphasized through both informal interactions with the teachers and through structured group activities like show and tell exercises. The equipment and facilities available to a preschool vary depending on the wealth of the area, but they generally have more and fancier supplies than other cultures. As most programs are not subsidized by government funds, preschools are often expensive compared to the average worker's income, and the staff is typically poorly paid. However, student-teacher ratios are lower than in other cultures, with about 15 students per group seen as ideal. Parents and teachers also see preschool teachers as being extensions of or partial substitutes for the parents, and consequently emphasize personal relationships and consistent expectations at home and at school.[30]

Children in North Korea are taught to enjoy military games and to hate the miguk nom, or "American bastard".[31]

Methods of preschool education

Some preschools have adopted specialized methods of teaching, such as Montessori, Waldorf, Head Start, HighScope,[32] Reggio Emilia approach, Bank Street, Forest kindergartens, and various other pedagogies which contribute to the foundation of education.

In the United States, most preschool advocates support the National Association for the Education of Young Children's Developmentally Appropriate Practices.

Funding for preschool programs

While a majority of American preschool programs remain tuition-based, support for some public funding of early childhood education has grown over the years. As of 2008, 38 states and the District of Columbia invested in at least some pre-kindergarten programs, and many school districts were providing preschool services on their own, using local and federal funds.[33]

The benefits and challenges of a public preschool are closely tied to the amount of funding provided. Funding for a public preschool can come in a variety of sources. According to Levin and Schwartz (2007) funding can range from federal, state, local public allocations, private sources, and parental fees (p. 4). The problem of funding a public preschool occurs not only from limited sources but from the cost per child. The average cost across the 48 states is $6,582 (Levin and Schwartz, 2007). There are four categories that determine the costs of public preschools: personnel ratios, personnel qualifications, facilities and transportation, and health and nutrition services. According to Levin and Schwartz (2007) these structural elements depend heavily on the cost and quality of services provided (p. 14). The main personnel factor related to cost is the qualifications each preschool require for a teacher. Another determinate of cost is the length of a preschool day. The longer the session, the more increase in cost. Therefore, the quality of program accounts presumably for a major component of cost (Levin and Schwartz, 2007).

Collaboration has been a solution for funding issues in several districts. Wilma Kaplan, principal, turned to collaborating with the area Head Start and other private preschool to fund a public preschool in her district. "We’re very pleased with the interaction. It’s really added a dimension to our program that’s been very positive" (Reeves, 2000). The National Head Start Bureau has been looking for more opportunities to partner with public schools. Torn Schultz of the National Head Start Bureau states, "We’re turning to partnership as much as possible, either in funds or facilities to make sure children get everything necessary to be ready for school" (Reeves, 2000, p. 6). The goal for funding is to develop a variety of sources that provide for all children to benefit from early learning within a public preschool.

Special education in preschool

In the United States, students who may benefit from special education receive services in preschools. Since the inception of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Public Law 101-476 in 1975 and its amendments, PL 102-119 and PL 105-17 in 1997, the educational system has moved away from self-contained classrooms and progressed to inclusion. As a result, there has been a need for special education teachers to practice in various settings in order to assist children with special needs, particularly by working with regular classroom teachers when possible to strengthen the inclusion of children with special needs. As with other stages in the life of a child with special needs, the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or an Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP) is an important way for special education teachers, regular classroom teachers, administrators and parents to set guidelines for a partnership to help the child succeed in preschool.

Notable persons

  • Miriam Roth (1910–2005) - Israeli writer and scholar of children's books, kindergarten teacher, and educator

See also


Further reading

  • Center for Public Education. (2007, March). Retrieved July 2, 2009, from
  • Condillac, E. B. (1746/1970, 2001). Essai sur l'origine des connaissances [Essay on the origin of human knowledge] in Oeuvres Completes Tome 1. Genève: Slatkine reprints. Retrieved from In addition, translated from the French of the Abbé de Condillac by Hans Aarsleff, Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.
  • Condillac, E. B. (1749/1970, 1982). Traité des systèmes [Treatise on the systems] in Oeuvres Completes Tome 2. Genève: Slatkine reprints. Retrieved from In addition, translated from the French of the Abbé de Condillac by Franklin Philip, Philosophical Writings of Etienne Bonnot, Abbé de Condillac (Vol. I), Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Condillac, E. B. (1754/1982). Traité des sensations [Treatise on the sensations]. Genève: Slatkine reprints. Retrieved from In addition, translated from the French of the Abbé de Condillac by Franklin Philip, Philosophical Writings of Etienne Bonnot, Abbé de Condillac, and (Vol. I), Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Condillac, E. B. (1756). An essay on the origin of human knowledge. In Locke’s Essay on the Human Understanding. Translated from the French of the Abbé de Condillac by Thomas Nugent. London, England: J. Nourse. Retrieved 23 September 2008 from .
  • Fay, J. & Funk, D. (1995). Teaching with love & logic. Golden, CO: The Love & Logic Press, Inc.
  • Glasser, W. (1984). Self-importance boosts learning. The School Administrator 45, 16-18.
  • Heyman, G., Dweck, C., & Cain, K. (1992). Young children’s vulnerability to self-blame and helplessness: Relationship to beliefs about goodness. Child Development, 63, 401-415.
  • Individuals with Disabilities Individualizing Education Act (IDEA) Data. (2006). Part B child count data [Table]. Retrieved May 25, 2008, from
  • Itard, J. M. G. (1962). The wild boy of Aveyron. (G. Humphrey & M. Humphrey, Trans.). New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts. (Original works published 1801 and 1806).
  • Levin, H.M., & Schwartz, H.L. (2007, March). What is the cost of a preschool program? National Center for the study of Privatization in Education. Symposium conducted at the meeting of the AEFA Annual Conference, Baltimore, Maryland.
  • Reeves, K. (2000). Preschool in the public schools. American Association of School Administrators, 1-9.
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