A preschool, also known as nursery school, pre-primary school, playschool or kindergarten, is an educational establishment or learning space offering early childhood education to children before they begin compulsory education at primary school. It may be publicly or privately operated, and may be subsidized from public funds.
In 1779, Johann Friedrich Oberlin and Louise Scheppler founded in Strassbourg an early establishment for caring for and educating pre-school children whose parents were absent during the day. At about the same time, in 1780, similar infant establishments were established in Bavaria In 1802, Pauline zur Lippe established a preschool center in Detmold.
Some studies dispute the benefits of preschool education, finding that preschool can be detrimental to cognitive and social development. A study by UC Berkeley and Stanford University on 14,000 preschools revealed that while there is a temporary cognitive boost in pre-reading and math, preschool holds detrimental effects on social development and cooperation. Research has also shown that the home environment has a greater impact on future outcomes than preschool.
The benefits and challenges of a public preschool reflect the available funding. Funding can range from federal, state, local public allocations, private sources, and parental fees. The problem of funding a public preschool occurs not only from limited sources but from the cost per child. As of 2007, the average cost across the lower 48 states was $6,582. Four categories determine the costs of public preschools: personnel ratios, personnel qualifications, facilities and transportation, and health and nutrition services. These costs depend heavily on the cost and quality of services provided. The main personnel factor related to cost is teacher qualifications. Another determinant of cost is the length of the school day. Longer sessions cost more.
Curricula for pre-school children have long been a hotbed for debate. Much of this revolves around content and pedagogy; the extent to which academic content should be included in the curriculum and whether formal instruction or child-initiated exploration, supported by adults, is more effective. Proponents of an academic curriculum are likely to favour a focus on basic skills, especially literacy and numeracy, and structured pre-determined activities for achieving related goals. Internationally, there is strong opposition to this type of early childhood care and education curriculum and defence of a broad-based curriculum that supports a child's overall development including health and physical development, emotional and spiritual well-being, social competence, intellectual development and communication skills. The type of document that emerges from this perspective is likely to be more open, offering a framework which teachers and parents can use to develop curricula specific to their contexts.
Children are allowed to resolve disputes with each other, including physical fighting. Most behavioral problems are attributed to the child's inappropriately expressed emotional dependency. Remedies involve accepting the child, rather than treatment with drugs or punishment. Japanese culture attributes success to effort rather than inborn talent, leading teachers to ignore innate differences between children by encouraging and praising perseverance. They work to ensure that all students meet the standard rather that each reaches his or her own potential. Although preschools exhibit great variety, most target age-appropriate personal development, such as learning empathy, rather than academic programs. Academic programs tend to be more common among Westernized and Christian preschools.
The office of Economic Opportunity launched Project Head Start as an eight-week summer program in 1965. It was then transferred to the Office of Child Development in the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in 1969. Today it is a program within the Administration on Children, Youth and Families in the Department of Health and Human Services. Programs are administered locally by school systems and non-profit organizations.
Starting in the year of 2010, Ireland passed a law stating that all children of the age 3 years and 2 months and less than 4 years and 7 months are qualified to attend a preschool free of charge. Before this law was passed there was a large number of children who did not attend an Early Childhood Education Program. The programs that were offered operated voluntary and required the parents to pay a steep fee per child. This left many families with no option but to keep the kids at home. The government soon realized that a large number of children were having trouble in their first years of primary school and parents were having to stay home becoming jobless. Once the government issued the free preschool scheme, Ireland's preschool enrollment rate increased to about 93%.