What Do “High Quality Preschool Programs” Look Like?

When we evaluate what makes a preschool program successful, what are the important criteria? And how do we measure success?

In response to a Philadelphia Inquirer article advocating funding for “high quality preschool programs,” members of the Philadelphia Declaration of Play wrote the following letter:

Dear Mr. Naroff,

I read with interest your column in Sunday’s Inquirer, “Funding early education is smart money”. As director of the preschool at Bryn Mawr College and also a member of PDoP (the Philadelphia Declaration of Play, a coalition of professionals concerned with the ever decreasing amount of play in children’s lives), I applaud your efforts to support and increase funding for “high quality preschool programs”. My concern, however, is how a “high quality preschool program” is defined. Play, particularly sustained imaginative play, is central to the healthy development of children and must be a central part to any “high quality preschool program”. Preschool teachers have known this for generations, but far too many programs have responded to parental and societal concerns that more academic learning in the early years will prevent our children from falling behind. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. American teenagers, who used to test at the top of the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), now are ranked #36, behind nearly all Asian and most European countries. The shift to measuring and teaching academic skills before children are developmentally ready is contributing to the decline in academic success for our children. In addition to our lack of emphasis on playful learning, which adds to the stress level of children, child mental health specialists are reporting increased rates of anxiety, depression, and attention deficit disorders in our young children. We need to meet our young children’s developmental needs in the creation of quality at the preschool level, for a more secure foundation for their learning and their future.

An ever increasing amount of research points to the necessity of play in developing social skills, self-regulation and creative thinking – all of which are necessary for healthy development and success in both the classroom and workplace. I particularly direct you to The Alliance for Childhood and their articles on “The Crisis in Early Childhood” and “Crisis in the Kindergarten”.

On behalf of PDoP, I invite you to partner with us (or we with you) as we continue to work to endorse “high quality preschool programs” for Pennsylvania’s children.

Sincerely yours,
Marilyn Henkelman

on behalf of PDoP:
Meg Wise, PhD, Executive Director, Smith Memorial Playground
Emily Schreiner, Associate Curator of Education for Family and Community Learning at Philadelphia Museum of Art
Eva Abrams, PhD, Psychologist
Marjorie Bosk, PhD, Child Psychologist
Fran Martin, PhD, Psychologist
Corinne Masur, PsyD, Psychologist, psychoanalyst
Laurel Silber, PsyD, Child Psychologist

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