High-quality preschool programs

Preschool programs can help prepare children for school and begin to provide a foundation for later learning in STEM subjects. For example, effective preschool programs can develop reading readiness, provide early math skills, and introduce the concepts of creativity and discovery.

Participation in high-quality preschool programs can significantly increase school readiness and narrow early learning gaps for low-income and children of color, including in math and science. There are two important categories of standards for achieving quality prekindergarten programs:

Student outcome standards define the knowledge and skills children are expected to demonstrate by the end of their preschool year. Student outcome standards should include all domains of learning (social and emotional development, approaches to learning, language and literacy development, creativity and the arts, cognitive development, and physical and motor development); be flexible enough to accommodate individual students' learning styles and experiences; create a continuum of learning that does not rely on simplified versions of standards for older (K-12) children; and be tightly aligned to both curriculum and assessment. Minnesota has developed Early childhood indicators of progress: Minnesota's early learning standards, a framework for developmentally appropriate expectations for children that can be used by educators to plan for curriculum content, teaching strategies, and assessments for preschool children age three to five (1).

Program standards define how prekindergarten services should be provided. The program standards that ensure the effectiveness of preschool programs include:

Preschool math and science curricula

Preschool age children can learn more math and science than we may think. Preschool math curricula include such topics as the following: clocks and calendars, data and chance, geometry, measurement, money, numeration, operations, and patterns.

Preschool science curricula may include such topics as the following: balancing scales, earth and environment, five senses, insects and spiders, magnet exploration, magnification, sea life, seasons, and weather. These topics should be experienced by children through fun, play-based activities that are age appropriate (3).

References:

1. Minnesota Department of Education and Minnesota Department of Human Services. (2005). Early childhood indicators of progress: Minnesota's early learning standards. Retrieved from http://www.dhs.state.mn.us/main/groups/children/documents/pub/dhs16_144667.pdf

2. Barnett, W. S., Carolan, M. E., Fitzgerald, J., & Squires, J. H. (2011). The state of preschool 2011. Retrieved from National Institute for Early Education Research website: http://nieer.org/yearbook

3. MacFarland, J., & Krupicka, R. (2013). Tomorrow's science, technology, engineering and math workforce starts with early education. Retrieved from ReadyNation website:  http://www.readynation.org/uploads/20130318_ReadyNationSTEMBrieflowresnoendnotes.pdf