Demystifying the Preschool Years
a book by Nancy Schulman and Ellen Birnbaum, published by Alfred A. Knopf


By Nancy Schulman and Ellen Birnbaum

No matter where your child attends school, there are five core experiences that all children learn by going to school. At school, children learn to separate from their parents, they learn to become part of a group, they learn to socialize with other children, they learn to become more independent, and they learn to follow a routine.

When children are at school and away from their parents, they begin the process of becoming independent individuals. In the environment of the classroom, they can choose with whom to play, whether they want to paint a picture, do a puzzle, be alone, or play with a friend or teacher. The self-reliance your child learns from this experience leads to a greater awareness of herself as an individual, empowering her to feel independent and confident in her ability to manage the world outside home.

Being Part of a Group
The classroom is the place where children learn that the world is bigger than "just me," or "me and my family." When a child becomes a member of the "Purple Room" or "Ms. Susie's Class," she forms an identity that fosters an expanded view of herself and her place in the world. Although the ratio of adults to children in early childhood programs is high, in the classroom, your child will start to become accustomed to being one child among many.

The early school experience is a time of tremendous social development for children. In the environment of the classroom, children learn that their words and actions will have an impact on the other children and on their teachers. The classroom setting provides plenty of opportunities for children to learn, to share, and to take turns. Basic communication skills are fostered as children learn to express their needs and feelings in a socially appropriate way instead of hitting, grabbing, or crying.

As children begin school, they are in the process of mastering various self-help skills. Some skills that three and four year olds in school should be doing for themselves include: Taking off their coats and putting them on the hooks, putting on their coats, taking shoes and socks off and putting them on, pouring from a small pitcher and helping set the table, and putting toys away.

School days are specifically organized to allow for a balance of active and quiet times so that children will have the focus and energy they need to participate fully at all times. The daily schedule, structure, and routine of school are very important foryoung children. Children feel safe and secure when they can predict the sequence of the day and anticipate what comes next.

website: Judith Motzkin
Author photos: Elena Seibert