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Pre-kindergarten (also called Pre-K or PK) is a classroom-based preschool program for children below the age of five in the United States, Canada and Turkey (when kindergarten starts). It may be delivered through a preschool or within a reception year in elementary school. Pre-kindergartens play an important role in early childhood education. They have existed in the US since 1922, normally run by private organizations. The U.S. Head Start program, the country's first federally funded pre-kindergarten program, was founded in 1967. This attempts to prepare children (especially disadvantaged children) to succeed in school.
The term "pre-kindergarten" is often used interchangeably with the concepts of "nursery care" and "child care"; however, these other early childhood settings focus their goal on substitutionary care for children while their legal parents/guardians are absent as opposed to pre-K's focus on skill building. They could involve academic training, or they could involve solely socializing activities.
Pre-kindergartens, though, differentiate themselves by equally focusing on building a child's (1) social development, (2) physical development, (3) emotional development, and (4) cognitive development. They commonly follow a set of organization-created teaching standards in shaping curriculum and instructional activities/goals. The term "preschool" more accurately approximates the name "pre-kindergarten", for both focus on harvesting the same four child development areas in subject-directed fashion. The term "preschool" often refers to such schools that are owned and operated as private or parochial schools. Pre-kindergartens refer to such school classrooms that function within a public school under the supervision of a public school administrator and funded completely by state or federally allocated funds, and private donations.
Most school districts describe Pre-Kindergarten as "an early learning program to prepare children for kindergarten who are identified as at risk." Pre-kindergarten provides learning to children who are 4 years old on or before September 1. Preschool provides learning to children who are 3 years olds on or before September 1. Most programs are 3 hours but extended day is offered in some schools.
"K-2" is often (and controversially) used interchangeably with "pre-kindergarten". Although early childhood education experts criticize the use of the term as a way to rationalize utilizing a kindergarten model and teaching kindergarten skills in pre-kindergarten classes, public school districts continue to incorporate the term as a way to integrate pre-kindergarten into the stable of accountability under the No Child Left Behind Act.
To qualify for free pre-kindergarten in some states the child generally must be:
"Pre-Kindergarten" may have different meanings in other countries. In India, this is also known as Nursery in Kindergartens such as Applekids.
In 2013 Alabama, Michigan, Minnesota, and the city of San Antonio enacted or expanded Pre-K programs. In New York City new mayor Bill de Blasio was elected on a pledge of Pre-K for all city children. A poll conducted in July for an early education nonprofit advocate found that 60 percent of registered Republicans and 84 percent of Democrats supported expanding public preschool by raising the federal tobacco tax.
Funding for Pre-K has proven a substantial obstacle to creating and expanding programs. The issue produced multiple approaches. Several governors targeted existing budgets. San Antonio increased sales taxes, while Virginia and Maine look to gambling. In Oregon, currently 20% of kids have access to publicly funded Pre-K of any kind, and a 2016 campaign is working to fully fund Pre-K to 12 education, for all kids whose parents want them to have the option of Pre-K.
A 2012 review by the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University identified Oklahoma, Georgia and West Virginia as among the leaders in public program quality and fraction of enrolled children. Florida had the highest enrollment in 2012 — almost four-fifths of all four-year-olds. About 84 percent were in private, religion-based or family centers. That state's preschool programs did not fare well on quality measures. Other states with more than 50 percent enrollment included Wisconsin, Iowa, Texas and Vermont.
A 2018 study in the Journal of Public Economics found in Italy that pre-kindergarten "increased mothers’ participation in the labor market and lowered the reservation wage of the unemployed, thus increasing their likelihood of finding a job" but "did not affect children’s cognitive development, irrespective of their family background."
The US Census Bureau forecast that the foreign born population in the United States would make up 19% of the US population by 2060 (up from 13% in 2014). Children of immigrant families face special challenges.
Children of immigrants represent the fastest growing US population. Asians and Latinos are the two largest racial groups. Like all families, immigrants have choices when pursuing childcare options. Cultural differences influence childcare choices, such as attitudes towards early academic development. These differences help explain differences in childcare selection. Compared to Latino immigrant groups, Asians are more likely than Latinos to enroll their children in pre-kindergarten programs due to the inclusion of academics. The focus of pre-academic, school readiness is important to Asian parents. Latino immigrant parents by contrast generally opt for more informal childcare options, such as parental, relative or non-relative in-home care. This is due in part to the opinion that academic skills are taught through formal instruction after children enter primary school. While Latino families value the acquisition of academic skills, the in-home childcare choice is a reflection of the importance of cultural and linguistic values and traditional family dynamics. Parents with limited English proficiency are more likely to choose parental or in-home care instead of pre-kindergarten programs.
According to information from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), low-income immigrant families are less likely to use center-based childcare, such as pre-kindergarten, than children of non-immigrants. While some Latino families prefer in-home childcare, many report wanting to enroll their children in a pre-kindergarten program. Interviews with immigrant mothers revealed common motivations for seeking pre-kindergarten placements for their children, including maternal employment, opportunity to learn English and social and emotional development. Obstacles immigrant mothers reported facing included high cost, long wait-lists, a need to provide documentation (especially for undocumented immigrants and those who lacked English-language proficiency) and a lack of information regarding eligibility for subsidized programs. On average, immigrants tend to experience higher poverty rates due to low wages, less education and a lack of English proficiency.
While all children would benefit from pre-kindergarten and early childhood education, immigrant children, particularly those from lower socio-economic households, stand to benefit the most. Studies indicate that first and second generation immigrants lag behind children of non-immigrant families in cognitive and language skills. Pre-K’s focus on cognitive, social, emotional and physical development would address these skills and reduce the inequalities in school readiness between children from immigrant and non-immigrant families. Educators must be sensitive to sensitivities of immigrant groups regarding the acquisition of the English language versus their native-language. Pre-K could help children build either or both skills. For most US students, English fluency is essential.