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Preschool education is the provision of education for children before the commencement of statutory education, usually between the ages of three and five, dependent on the jurisdiction. Preschool is also known as nursery school, or kindergarten.

Preschool work is organized within a framework that professional educators create. The framework includes structural (administration, class size, teacher-child ratio, 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.

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.

  • Personal, social and emotional development
  • Communication, including talking and listening
  • Knowledge and understanding of the world
  • Creative and aesthetic development
  • Physical development
  • Mathematical awareness and development

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 has 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 National Association for the Education of Young Children(NAEYC) published that although 80% of Kindergarten classrooms claim to be developmentally appropriate, only 20% actually are.

Age and Importance

Preschool is generally considered appropriate for children between three and five years of age, between the toddler and school stages. During this stage of development, children learn and assimilate information rapidly, and express interest and fascination in each new discovery. It is well established that the most important years of learning are begun at birth. A child's brain at this age is making connections that will last the rest of their life. The environment of the young child influences the development of cognitive and emotional skills due to the rapid brain growth that occurs in the early years. Studies have shown that high quality preschools have a short and long term effect in improving the outcomes of a child, especially a disadvantaged child.

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.

History of Preschool in the United States

Head Start, the first preschool program, was created in 1965 by President Johnson. The federal government helped create this half-day program for low-income parents for preschool children. Head Start began as a summer pilot program that included an education component, nutrition and health screenings for children, and support services for families (CPE, 2007). In the 1960’s only ten percent of the nations three and four year olds were enrolled in a classroom setting. Due to a large amount of people interested, and a lack of funding for Head Start, during the 1980’s a handful of states started their own version of a program for students from low-income families. The positive success and effects of preschool meant many state leaders were showing interest in educational reform of these young students (CPE, 2007). By 2005 sixty-nine percent, or over 800,000, four year-old children nationwide participated in some type of state preschool program (CPE, 2007). The yearly increase in enrollment of preschool programs throughout the years is due to an increase of higher maternal employment rates, national anti-poverty initiatives, and research showing the link between early childhood experiences and the brain development of young children. These factors have caused the rate of attendance in preschool programs to grow each year (CPE, 2007).

In most states, there are multiple preschool options for young children. Parents have the choice of sending their child to a federal funded Head Start center, state-funded preschool, government-funded special education programs, and for-profit and not-for-profit providers (Levin & Schartz, 2007). Currently in the United States, Georgia, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and New York are the only states have legislation underway or have universal preschool for all students in the state (CPE, 2007).

International Preschool Systems

Methods of preschool education

Some preschools have adopted specialized methods of teaching, such as Montessori, Waldorf, Head Start, HighReach Learning, High Scope, The Creative Curriculum Reggio Emilia approach, Bank Streetmarker, Forest kindergartens, and various other pedagogies which contribute to the foundation of education.

Creative Curriculum now has an interactive website where parents and teachers can work together in evaluating preschool age children. The website is very user friendly and prints off many reports that are helpful in evaluating children and the classroom itself. The web site has a variety of activities that are targeted to each of the fifty goals on the continuum. Teachers have a wealth of resources right at their fingertips!

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

Family childcare can also be nationally accredited by the National Association of Family Childcare if the provider chooses to go through the process. National accreditation is only awarded to those programs who demonstrate the quality standards set forth by the NAFCC.

Funding for Preschool Programs

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 Statesmarker, 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.


  1. The foundation stage: education for children aged 3 to 5
  2. A Curriculum Framework for Children 3 to 5
  3. High Scope
  4. The Creative Curriculum

Buysee, V., & Wesley, P.W. (2005). Consultation in early childhood settings. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co., Inc.

Electronic reference formats recommended by the Center for Public Education. (2007, March). Retrieved July 2, 2009, from

Levin, H. M & Schwartz, H. L. (2007). Educational vouchers for universal pre-schools. Economics of Education Review, 26, 3-16.

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.

McCollum, J.A., & Yates, T., (1994). Dyad as focus, triad as means: A family-centered approach to supporting parent-child interactions. Infants and Young Children, 6, 54-66.

Reeves, K. (2000). Preschool in the public schools. American Association of School Administrator, 1-9.

Individuals with Disabilities Individualizing Education Act (IDEA) Data. (2006). Part B child count data [Table]. Retrieved May 25, 2008, from

See also

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