Posted on February 26, 2021 by Julie Funasaki Yuen
By Edna Hussey, Ed.D.
If you're a parent, working or not, with young children at home during the pandemic, you may have already come to this awareness -- children need to be with other children and the place for this socialization is in preschool. Our keiki, representing many ethnic cultures in Hawaiʻi, may have the support of immediate and extended family, with whom children benefit from caring relationships.
All of these familial interactions are essential to forming the building blocks of identity, self-confidence and emotional well-being. In addition to these supportive relationships, children must also have the developmental experiences that come from interactions with peers and other adults in settings outside the home, the real world.
The value of preschool has often been associated with long-term educational, social, and economic benefits. In short, our youngest citizens who experience school or receive quality child care have a better chance of growing into responsible adults who contribute positively to the community. Longitudinal research indicates better academic success, higher graduation rates, and lower incarceration rates. While all of these outcomes are good for the whole of society, the social-emotional benefits have the most long-lasting impact on brain development.
But parents and teachers are only part of the network. Kids need other kids to grow and develop. This is a basic principle of learning. In the early 20th century, Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky's theory of cognitive development in young children asserted that children thrive on interactions with others -- adults, yes, and peers, even more so -- in situations where some help is needed from someone to nudge them through this Zone of Proximal Development. Teachers teach, but children learn even faster in the company of their peers.
Ever watch children with each other? They are amazing co-teachers in the broad use of the word "classroom." We see it every day in our preschools. One child observes a peer using blocks to build a structure vertically rather than flat on the floor. The children take turns in discussions on the rug, waiting for one peer to finish the idea then connecting one idea to the next; deciphering the art of asking questions that lead to more complex questions; and learning how to respond empathically to a peer whose block structure has toppled to the floor. An astute teacher steps back to provide opportunities throughout the day for peers to model behaviors while creating an environment that supports resilience, self-reliance, and independence through trial and error, for learning beyond the impasse, for persevering.
This is why preschool is a sound investment. For example, Reggio Emilia, a municipality in Italy, has been investing 10% of its budget since the end of World War II to support its 30-plus early learning centers with some of the best infant-toddler-preschool educators and facilities. Its inquiry-based project approach is lauded by leading education research centers at Harvard and Stanford. The Reggio-inspired preschool and elementary at Mid-Pacific Institute is modeled after this learning approach. Kamehameha Schools, faithful to the mission and will of Princess Pauahi Bishop, funds nearly 30 preschools statewide.
Preschools were the first education centers to re-open in the state after retrofitting spaces and updating safety procedures amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The issue of quality child care has been on the radar in Hawaiʻi pre-COVID with heightened awareness in previous state administrations that resulted in establishing the Executive Office of Early Learning in 2012. In 2019, the Legislature provided funding to add 10 public pre-kindergartens for 4-year-olds to the existing 26 early learning classrooms.
Across the United States, the need for early learning has been gaining support because the pandemic has increased awareness of finding quality, affordable preschool options. There are many choices of public, private and charter preschools in Hawaiʻi. For the sake of your child's cognitive, social, emotional and physical development, consider a preschool community.
Kids need to be with other kids.
This article was published as an op-ed piece in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on December 13, 2020.