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For pre-school, it’s not the ABCs, but the five Cs

August 14, 2009

As the days of August begin to wind down, schools across the country will soon be opening for the new year.  This also includes pre-schools, which are playing a greater role than ever in preparing children-playingyoung children for school readiness and to be productive members of the workforce. But what do you look for when trying to select the right pre-school?

The best pre-school will have a kid-friendly environment and an emphasis on the five “Cs:” collaboration, communication, content, creative innovation and confidence, says Temple University child developmental psychologist Kathy Hirsh-Pasek.

“The children who will be the workforce of the future are in our preschools today,” says Hirsh-Pasek, the Lefkowitz Professor of Psychology and co-director of the Temple University Infant Lab.

Co-author of A Mandate for Playful Learning: Presenting the Evidence, and Einstein Never Used Flashcards, says that parents should look for things that emphasize those “five Cs and that prepare our children for a love of learning.”  They include:

• Collaboration – If collaboration is important, then there must be a strong social environment.  Hirsh-Pasek suggests looking for a place in the classroom where there are games and toys that encourage the children to play together. Is there a dress up corner or an area for block play where children can congregate? “Also, is the teacher is engaging and responsive to the children? Is he or she more likely to ask questions of the children or to just give orders?  The teacher who asks questions gets children thinking and talking,” she says.

• Communication – Look for an environment where language is bouncing off the walls, not in

Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Director of the Temple Infant Lab

Child Development Psychologist Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Director of the Temple Infant Lab

a chaotic way, but in a way where the teacher invites participation in dialogue. “You don’t want a place that is so quiet and pristine that nobody is talking,” says Hirsh-Pasek.  “More talk equals more talk, and that is true at home as well.”

• Content – Content, such as math and reading skills shouldn’t be left out, but it also shouldn’t be the only thing stressed.  “We want our children to be math ready and statistics show that since we have infused our pre-schools with some math and reading, their skills have increased dramatically.  But the learning needs to be balanced with social and creative activities that are meaningful and engaging.” Hirsh-Pasek points out those things as simple as playing board games reinforce math skills and playing with blocks develop spatial language skills.  “Remarkably, play and learning go hand-in-hand.”

• Creative Innovation – Free play and guided play also build creative innovation.  “When we do too much content we rob pre-schoolers from creative innovation,” says Hirsh-Pasek.  “If all you can do is fill-in-the-blanks, you’ll be a good worker bee, but you’ll never be a boss, so we should be looking for pre-school where the children learn through play.”

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