Has anyone ever questioned your preschool program because their child didn’t know the letters? You probably know that early academic abilities do make a difference.  But should letter recognition be the main focus of your preschool? Keep reading to find out what current research says about teaching the alphabet to preschoolers.

The Amazing Truth About Preschool – What Does Research Say?

Research says: Preschool is NOT…

Preschool is Not the Same as Kindergarten

I repeat: preschool is not kindergarten.  PRE – school.  As in, before school.  Preschool is not meant to be the same as kindergarten.

Whether you’re an educator or a mom on Pinterest, you have probably heard of Montessori.  Well, both Maria Montessori (2010) and child psychologist Piaget (Fitzpatrick,  2012) wrote that children’s mental skills tend to shift around six years old.

So basically, kids just aren’t ready for “formal” teaching before six or so years old.

Preschool is Not All About Learning the Alphabet

How to teach preschool as an exhausted daycare providerPennsylvania has a list of early learning standards that preschools use to create their programs.  This list is broken into learning areas like:

  • Language and Literacy
  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Social Studies
  • Creative Expression
  • Health
  • Social/Emotional Development.

In the Language and Literacy category, only two out of 46 standards mention knowing some letters and their sounds.

The main focus of the Early Learning Standards is on core literacy concepts and written language. Not letters.

Preschool is Not About Academic Achievement

Are you ready for this?

Children who attend a preschool program where the focus is pushy about academics like letter recognition, actually do worse on academic tests!

Say what?  That’s right!  When compared to kids who went to programs that focus on play, kids at programs that treat them like mini school kids really do have lower scores and more negative outcomes, like behavior issues and anxiety (Hirsh-Pasek, et al., 2008).


Research Says: Preschool IS…

Preschool is About Play and Exploration

Image of a child learning by playing in sand. Preschool learning happens in a natural, playful context.Have you noticed how well kids knows the story line of a fun book?

Retelling stories is a early learning standard!  It just doesn’t feel like learning because it occurs in a natural context.

The founders of early childhood education and current research both agree that play is the way to go.

So don’t let preschool moms bully you into spending your day drilling ABC flash cards with their kids who don’t care!  You are the teacher here and have the training and experience to back it up – don’t let parents of students make you doubt your teaching skills.

Montessori focused on letting the child lead.  She said to provide ways to learn through play, then let the child lead.  You can then take learning a step further during this play by talking with the student about what they are doing (2010).

Setting up guided play with a learning goal in mind is the best way to impart a new idea to preschoolers (Hirsh-Pasek, et al., 2008).

Preschool is About Building Needed Skills for Kindergarten

Free Preschool Worksheet You Will Use All the Time!What preschool is about is getting kids ready for school.  They will have to know how to control themselves long enough to listen!  They’ll also need to have focus and follow classroom rules.

Kindergarteners need to be able to engage themselves in order to grasp what the teacher is teaching (Fitzpatrick, 2012).

Other things most preschools include are also a part of school readiness.  For one example, book handling skills.  A child’s fine motor skills relates to their future school success, as well (Cameron et al, 2012).

Did you also know that using music with kids can increase social skills, which better prepares kids for school (Shulamit, et al, 2013)?

Preschool is About Social Emotional Growth

It’s true that kids that have a strong grasp on learning concepts like letters and numbers are more ready for kindergarten.  But you know what?  Those head-starts are short lived (dying off by 2nd grade).  And they can create feelings of stress about school (Hirsh-Pasek, et al., 2008).

Children who score average academically but have strong social skills are just as ready for kindergarten.  Plus, they’re much more ready than their peers with average social abilities (Hirsh-Pasek, et al., 2008).

I’m proud to say my own daughter excels in school!  And she did know her letters before she we into kindergarten.  BUT I also think that a big part of her doing well in school is that she’s not afraid to ask questions, and she knows when she’s expected to pay attention (both social/emotional skills).

My favorite quote about social/emotional skills I’ve come across sums it up so well:

Whole children attend school.  They don’t just send their brains along.”  (Hirsh-Pasek, et al., 2008).

The Amazing Truth About Preschool

You see, there are so many things that kids learn in preschool to prepare them for kindergarten.  The alphabet is, of course, important. But letter recognition should not be the main focus of a quality preschool program.


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The Amazing Truth About Preschool - What Does Research Say?


Cameron, C., et al. (2012). Fine motor skills and executive function both contribute to kindergarten achievement. Child Development, (83) 4, 1229-1244.

Fitzpatrick, C. (2012). What if we considered a novel dimension of school readiness?  The importance of classroom engagement for early child adjustment to school.  Education as Change (16) 2, 333-353.

Hirsh-Pasek, K., Golinkoff, R., Berk, L., & Singer, D.(2008-12-25). Two. The Evidence for Playful Learning in Preschool. In A Mandate for Playful Learning in Preschool: Presenting the Evidence. : Oxford University Press. Retrieved 29 Apr. 2017, from http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195382716.001.0001/acprof-9780195382716-chapter-2.

Montessori, Maria. (2010). The Montessori method. Blackburg, VA: EarthAngel Books.

Shulamit, R., et al. (2013). Can music enhance school-readiness socioeconomic skills? Journal of Research in Childhood Education, (27) 3, 257-266.