Preschool – the Legal Take
In one way of looking at it, preschool is the time in the child’s life prior to the child having to be in school according to your state’s compulsory education laws. In this view of thing, preschool is absolutely anything you do with your child prior to the state having – by law – a right to take an interest in how your child is spending his or her time.
The time during which a child is a preschooler in this legal way of looking at it ranges from age 5 to age 8. Here’s what preschool looks like in the United States:
|Preschool up to the school year starting after the child turns 5||Arkansas, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Virginia|
|Preschool up to the school year starting after the child turns 6||Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming|
|Preschool up to the school year starting after the child turns 7||Alabama, Alaska, Connecticut, Idahom Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon|
|Preschool up to the school year starting after the child turns 8||Pennsylvania, Washington|
Colorado (not listed) and Florida have both made recent changes to their compulsory schooling laws. Note that various rules about exactly when the child’s birthday falls apply, and you should check with your state’s department of education for more details.
Taking the legal view, you can, if you wish, view preschool as a time during which you can do anything with your child. You can take long trips, spend endless hours studying something that won’t receive much attention in elementary school – which could be anything from speaking Chinese to perfecting a cupcake recipe to studying the behavior of ants to growing a vegetable garden or raising goats – or actively prepare your child for school. Or all of the above.
Other Views of Preschool
Another view of preschool looks at it as a more academic alternative to daycare. In daycare, children may do little more than play, eat, perhaps hear a story or two, perhaps watch television. Preschool in this view is an alternative approach and usually offers a more school-like atmosphere and preparation for – or actually beginning elements of – academics. A third view is that it is a more academic alternative to normal family life in which children are prepared for school-type activities and school culture.
The academic portions of this type of preschool usually focus on literacy and numeracy. And in these areas, most focus on learning the alphabet on the one hand, and learning to count on the other. An additional focus is likely to be basic arts and crafts and drawing so that children have experience with paper and (non-sharp) scissors and (non-toxic) paste or glue and crayons and pencils. Sometimes children do worksheets and set activities and sit at tables or desks or do online preschool activities, and these approaches prepare them for the time when they start school. They may also learn school culture, such as raising your hand to ask a question, sitting still in one place, keeping their personal items neat and/or stored in a cubby, etc.
Taking the school-preparation view, you can, if you wish, integrate these same activities into your home life, making art supplies available, practicing the letters of the alphabet in various ways, and practicing counting. You can screen and allow your child to use online games and preschool-appropriate activities, and help them understand what is in store for them in the next stage of schooling, whether you will continue to homeschool them or whether they will move from home preschool to a public or private kindergarten.
Of course, if you plan to unschool your child, the word preschool will have no meaning for your educational program in most cases. You will likely simply offer your child opportunities for learning and living as you have done in previous years and will continue to do throughout his or her childhood.