Start with Children 3-5 Years Old
31 January, 2013
In many parts of Georgia fewer than half of the children go to any type of preschool before school starts. Even in Tbilisi, it is lower than international averages. Over the last several years there have been several studies that have shown the advantages of just a few hours a day of preschool. Some studies have gone on over decades, and have looked at children who went to pre-school from the age of three until school starts usually at age
six and compared them with children from similar backgrounds who didn't.
The differences are astounding, after twenty or thirty years, those who had preschool on average did better in school, had stayed in education longer, had higher income, were less likely to be arrested or spend time in jail, and were even on average happier. Because now brain scanning has advanced so much, it is even possible to understand what it is about early childhood development that makes preschool such an advantage.

What happens in preschool? First of all it is not school. There is no curriculum, no memorization, no tests. Even the teachers don't really teach. They are simply there to help the kids when there is a problem. Preschool works on four main things, 1) body skills and movement, 1) hand coordination and precision, 3) cognitive or logical skills, and perhaps the most important, 4) social and emotional development. The activities are preparation for later learning in school: drawing prepares children for writing, teachers reading out loud is prepares them for reading. Sorting, puzzles, counting, and taking turns prepares them for math. There are usually several different areas in a room, including a nap area where kids can spend the time as they choose among a variety of activities. Often the day starts with a discussion where the kids sit in a circle and talk about how they feel and what they are planning for the day.

There are several reason few children go to preschool in Georgia. One reason parents give is that they feel children will be better taken care of at home than at a school. This is reasonable, there can be good and bad preschools. Teachers need to have some training to know what they should do with the kids. But currently there is almost no oversight of preschools in Georgia by the Education Ministry. It is left to the municipalities, and there is no funding. Parents also tend to look at it as simply babysitting, they think of it as a place where children are put if there are not enough family members to take care of the young ones. Parents don't think about the early child hood development aspects of the issue. The problem is that parents or grandparents are busy getting through the day and the children may just be at home watching TV. The big advantage of preschools is that with a good teacher, the children will learn how to play, share, and solve conflicts with other children. A trained preschool teacher will not yell, "Share now, or you'll be punished!" but will help the kids work through any disagreements with each other in a responsible manner. Those who don't have this experience, or who's only experience with other children has been playing in the ezo, when they start school, as soon as somebody takes their pencil, the fists start flying.

What social scientists are learning is that when school starts, the successful kids are not the ones who have higher intelligence, but the ones who are ready to start learning because the socialization aspects have already been taken care of. The kids with difficulties are the ones who get in arguments and can't solve problems or conflicts and who have difficulty listening. Sadly, even for smart children, these problems that start in the first few years of school can sometimes last a life time. The good news is that Georgia could make a very modest investment now that would have a great pay off later by making high quality preschool available to all three to five year olds.