The path to success

Full-day preschool has benefits that literally grow with kids

The Cherry Hill board of education is in the process of converting its preschool program from half to full day beginning in the fall, a move happening all over South Jersey.

The district will use a preschool curriculum approved by the state Department of Education that will continue to be a play-based program with a number of choices for students on what activities they will do and at what times.

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Statewide, full-day preschool is a high priority for the administration of Gov. Phil Murphy, who is helping school systems in New Jersey pay for quality programs. He announced in February that state districts will get an additional $120 million in grants for expansion, on top of funds already allocated to 16 districts last September. Among the latter are schools in Burlington, Camden and Gloucester counties, including Westampton, Gibbsboro, Lawnside and South Harrison.

Overall, Murphy’s goal of providing free, full-time preschool to every 3- and 4-year-old in the state has resulted in the addition of programs in more than 160 school districts – with room for 12,000 additional students.

“Expanding access to free, full-day preschool programs represents an investment in the future of New Jersey’s children,” the governor said in February. “A quality preschool education provides students with the foundational skills they need to learn and succeed as they advance through life, which is why we must – and will – continue to work toward universal pre-K throughout New Jersey.”

Murphy is right on point: Children who enter kindergarten without preschool will likely be left behind some of their peers. According to the National Institute for Early Childhood Research, nearly half of all 3-year-olds and a third of 4-year-olds in the U.S. were not enrolled in preschool in 2019.

Those who were achieved goals that could benefit them as adults, NPR reported in 2021.

One experiment in Michigan during the 1970s showed that kids who participated in preschool were much less likely to get arrested, go on welfare or be unemployed. They also earned more in their lifetimes.

Some parents may not buy into that, because of persistent myths about preschool, among them that it is all about just playing games and singing songs. Wrong. Parents may think they can teach the same things children learn in preschool – including socialization – at home. Wrong again.

“By expanding access to high-quality preschool programs, we ensure more students throughout New Jersey can take advantage of the social and emotional development that comes with early education,” state Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt noted.

As far back as 2014, researchers have pointed to full-day preschool as an essential step toward kindergarten. A study released that year in the Journal of the American Medical Association and published in Time magazine found that children in full-time preschool are better prepared for learning and social interaction than those in part-time programs.

Researchers looked at 1,000 low-income and ethnic-minority 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in Chicago’s Child-Parent Center Education Program and noted improvement in four of six measures of school readiness. Children in full-day programs showed higher scores in social development, language, math and physical health than their part-time peers.

“This is not just an investment into our schools,” Lampitt noted of extended preschool. “It’s a commitment to our children’s futures.”

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