Preschools gain in popularity as kindergarten academics increase - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Education News

Preschools gain in popularity as kindergarten academics increase

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Posted: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 6:22 pm | Updated: 3:50 pm, Tue Mar 26, 2013.

A preschool wall in Mesa is covered in words, colors and pictures.

Children in the classroom are learning graphing. One poster shows how many children said they would prefer to travel by plane, boat or car.

Another spot on the wall holds some of the children’s first examples of writing their names.

Kim Freehan, Mesa Unified School District’s early childhood specialist, said the state’s focus on reading by the end of third grade is fueling parents’ wishes for more preschool programs. The district plans to add about 200 spots next year to its community education preschool program, which now has 1,000 students districtwide.

At preschool, children may learn letter recognition, sight words and more during the day. “Center time” allows children to choose different life-skills to focus on, though to them it’s more like time to “play mommy” or “play school.”

“It’s a lot about social skills, but also vocabulary questions and technique,” Freehan said while walking a reporter through a classroom at the Mesa Education Center. “There’s elaboration of instruction. Critical thinking is a big piece of Common Core.”

Common Core Standards have been adopted by Arizona and more than 40 other states. The standards are designed to allow students to move from state to state and still face the same rigorous instruction.

And it starts with kindergarten.

President Obama, in his State of the Union addresses, spoke to the need for more early childhood learning opportunities for 4-year-olds.

Arizona voters put their money behind early childhood learning with Prop. 203 in 2006 that created a program later named First Things First and funded it through a tobacco tax. That organization helps provide grants for preschool programs, as well as address parenting and childhood development as soon as birth.

“Right now research is showing the students who have best opportunities for (school) success have come in with an ability in a social environment, know how to express their needs and delay gratification,” Mesa’s Freehan said. “The children who come in without preschool may not have those skills.”

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