Age and Importance

Preschool is generally considered appropriate for children between zero or three and five years of age, between the baby or toddler and school stages. During this stage of development, children learn and assimilate information rapidly, and express interest and fascination in each new discovery.

It is well established that the most important years of learning are begun at birth. A child's brain at this age is making connections that will last the rest of their life.[citation needed] During these early years, a human being is capable of absorbing more information at a time than they will ever be able to again. The environment of the young child influences the development of cognitive skills and emotional skills due to the rapid brain growth that occurs in the early years. Studies have shown that high quality preschools have a short and long term effect in improving the outcomes of a child, especially a disadvantaged child.

However, some more recent studies dispute the accuracy of the earlier results which cited benefits to preschool education, and actually point at preschool being detrimental to a child's cognitive and social development. A study by UC Berkeley and Stanford University on 14,000 Kindergarteners revealed that while there is a temporary cognitive boost in pre-reading and math, preschool holds detrimental effects on social development and cooperation.

The Universal Preschool movement is an international effort to make access to preschool available to families in a similar way to compulsory primary education. Various jurisdictions and advocates have differing priorities for access, availability and funding sources. See kindergarten for details of pre-school education in various countries. There has been a shift from preschools that operated primarily as controlled play groups to educational settings in which children learn specific, if basic, skills. It examines several different perspectives on teaching in kindergarten, including those of the developmentally appropriate practice, the academic approach, the child-centered approach, and the Montessori approach to the curriculum.