- Instruction and Monitoring
- Highly Qualified Staff
- Parent Involvement
- Transitions to Kindergarten
- What are the characteristics of a high-quality preschool program?
- Are there curriculum or content standards requirements in preschool programs?
High-quality early learning programs may look different depending on the communities and families they serve. While there is no precise “cookie-cutter” model, and parents should have a role in deciding what their child's early education program looks like, there are some things that all high-quality programs will include if they are to prepare young children for later academic success.
In school, just like at home, young children need safe, nurturing, and stimulating environments as well as the supervision and guidance of caring, competent adults. In a high-quality early education program, teachers maintain a safe, healthy environment and carefully supervise the children. Teachers plan a balanced schedule in which the children don't feel rushed or fatigued. They also provide nutritious meals and snacks. Yet, while these things are necessary, high-quality preschool programs that will give children the prerequisite skills for school success need to provide more.
In the pre-kindergarten years, research describes three key components of a high quality program for reading and academic success. These include a strong foundation in: (1) language development; (2) early literacy (phonological awareness, letter knowledge, written expression, book and print awareness, motivation to read); and early math (number and operations) (Lyon, 2003). There are several other characteristics consistent among high-quality educational programs that have demonstrated significant positive outcomes on measures of children’s academic and social-emotional development. These are—
- The program contains a clear statement of goals and philosophy that is comprehensive and addresses all areas of child development, including how the program will develop children’s cognitive, language, and early reading skills, the cornerstones of later school success.
- Children are engaged in purposeful learning activities and play, and are taught by teachers who work from lesson and activity plans.
- Instruction is guided by a coherent curriculum that includes meaningful content (such as science) and has a strong and systematic focus on cognitive skills, including the language, early reading, writing skills and math skills children need to develop before they enter kindergarten.
- Instruction is always intentional and frequently is direct and explicit. There is a balance between individual, small-group, and large-group activities.
- The classroom environment is one where children feel well cared for and safe. It also stimulates children’s cognitive growth and provides multiple and varied opportunities for language and literacy experiences.
- Teachers frequently check children’s progress. Ongoing assessment allows teachers to tailor their instruction to the needs of individual children as well as identify children who may need special help.
- The preschool staff regularly communicate with parents and caregivers so that caregivers are active participants in their children’s education. [See Section F]
- Services are sufficiently intensive to allow more time for children to benefit from cognitive experiences. Preschools that operate for a full day, on a year-round basis, or have provided children with two years of preschool, show better results than those that offer less intense services (Reynolds, 2000).
Program services must “comply, at a minimum, with the achievement standards established under Section 641(a) of the Head Start Act.” DPI strongly suggests the use of the Wisconsin Model Early Learning Standards because they provide developmentally appropriate instructional standards that align with the Common Core Standards, as well as common early childhood curricula.