Why Preschool Matters

Success Begins Before Kindergarten

The importance of early childhood education

October 26, 2020

The foundation of the human brain is constructed during the first five years of life. During these years, children begin to develop, cognitive, social, emotional, motor, and language skills and start to explore and interact with the world. 

The Waterford School understands the power and primacy in providing a high-quality preschool experience for three and four year old children. 

Although children continue to learn and develop past the age of five, 90% of a child’s critical brain development has already taken place by this age. The Waterford School affirms that a high-quality preschool education is crucial in providing children with the foundation they need to succeed in adulthood and become lifelong learners. 

Research confirms what every parent knows: that the first five years of a child’s life matter greatly in determining what sort of adult he is likely to become…

Arne DuncanFormer U.S. Secretary of Education

Developing the Whole Child

The Essential Indicators of Quality Preschool Education
Success begins in preschool.

Children who attend preschool are more likely to succeed in kindergarten than those who do not. However, researchers have repeatedly demonstrated that for children to benefit frompreschool, it must be of high quality.

These findings beg the question, “what does high quality preschool education look like?”

The Waterford Early Childhoood Education program aims to develop the whole child by promoting healthy emotional, social, cognitive, linguistic, and physical growth and development. 

Children who attend the Waterford preschool programs will be:

  1. Taught and supported by qualified teachers who partner with parents to foster each child’slearning.
  2. Immersed in research-based curriculum that fosters a holistic love of learning.
  3. Engaged in positive relationships with their classmates and teachers and develop social-emotional skills.
  4. Educated through a combination of open-ended student-directed, explicit teacher-directed,and small group learning experiences.
  5. Given daily opportunities for creative play and hands-on, exploratory learning. 

The Essential Indicators of Preschool Quality


  • There are positive relationships between teachers and children. 
  • The room is well-equipped, with sufficient materials and toys 
  • Communication occurs throughout the day, with mutual listening, talking/responding, and encouragement to use reasoning and problem-solving. 
  • Opportunities for art, music/movement, science, math, block play, sand, water, and dramatic play are provided daily. 
  • There are materials and activities to promote understanding and acceptance of diversity. 
  • Parents are encouraged to be involved as trusted partners in the program. 
  • Aspects of Structure 
  • Adult-child ratios do not exceed NAEYC recommendations. 
  • Group sizes are small. 
  • Teachers and staff are qualified and compensated accordingly. 

*Source: National Institute of Early Education Research 

Waterford PreK-3 teacher, Kristie Jensen, engages students in a whole-group literacy activity. Quality early childhood educators are critical to a child’s success in any preschool program.

5 Essential Indicators of
Quality Preschool Education

1. Great Teachers and Cultivating the Curious Mind

The Classroom as an Extension of Home

Quality preschool education begins with qualified preschool teachers. Your child’s teacher isintegral to their success in the classroom. Early childhood educators are important adultfigures in a child’s life, especially given their role in the development of a child’s brain architecture.

Teachers working with 3 and 4 year-old children require a special set of skills, even more than teachers working with older children. Teachers need to relate well with very young children who are rapidly changing across multiple domains of child development, and know how to embed play with learning. In order to do that, teachers need to understand child development and know what children are like as they grow from infants to preschoolers.

Susan Muenchow, Principal Research ScientistEducation Program, American Institutes for Research (AIR)

Exceptional teachers are engaged in meaningful relationships with each of their students.Young children rely on positive back-and-forth interactions with adults to build cognitive and emotional capacities. Quality preschool teachers are both sensitive and appropriately responsive to a child’s signals and needs.

While education requirements and training vary for preschool teachers from state to state, quality preschools employ teachers with bachelor’s degrees and provide ongoing professional development for their teachers.

The National Association for the Education ofYoung Children (NAEYC) cites parental involvement as a critical element of high-quality early care and education. Quality teachers recognize parents as a child’s primary teachers and work to involve parents in every step of their child’s education. Educators should communicate regularly with parents, welcome parents to spend time in the classroom, and ask parents to promote their child’s learning at home (Harvard FamilyResearch Project).

Great teachers meet children where they are. They are flexible in their teaching methods and support each child in their personal and academic development. In the Waterford preschool, teachers regularly assess each child’s progress and make adjustments as necessary. In addition to documenting student progress, teachers document the emerging abilities of each child and plan activities that promote increased achievement. 

The Waterford School has developed a preschool faculty with varied backgrounds, impressive credentials, and an unquenchable love for teaching and education. All Waterford preschool teachers hold bachelor’s degrees and are offered opportunities for professional development throughout the year. The team of Waterford preschool teachers has an impressive 15-year-average tenure in the preschool classroom. Learn more about Waterford preschool teachers here

Waterford preschool students meet regularly with education specialists in art, music, movement and library.

2. Curriculum

The Power of Research-based Curriculum

A Waterford PreK-3 student is absorbed in a letter formation activity on the light board. Phonological awareness and other early literacy skills contribute to a child’s future success in reading and language.

Curriculum varies from preschool to preschool; although variance exists, a program’s curriculum should be evidence-based and continually evaluated against current early childhood research.

The National Education Goals Panel has identified Five Domains of School Readiness:

  • Physical well-being and motor development
  • Social and emotional development
  • Approaches to learning
  • Language development
  • Cognition and general knowledge

These domains encompass the skills children should possess when entering Kindergarten. The Waterford preschool curriculum is designed to teach to each of these five domains, often engaging students in lessons and activities that incorporate all five domains at once. 

Spotlight on Language Development 

Special attention should be paid to early language and literacy development. Research shows a strong correlation between early literacy skills and later literacy achievement (National Early Literacy Panel). These early literacy skills include alphabet knowledge, phonological awareness, rapid automatic naming of letters or digits, rapid automatic naming of objects or colors, writing or writing name, and phonological memory. 

Quality preschools develop a child’s ability to learn sounds and language. This may be achieved through activities such as nursery rhymes, dictation, dramatic play, connecting kinesthetic movement to literacy concepts, or early literacy software. 

The Waterford School preschool curriculum is vibrant and engaging for young minds. Students learn a hierarchy of skills and objectives to cultivate all areas of their development. Art, Movement (Dance, Free Expression, Yoga), Music, and Library time are embedded into the weekly schedule. 

The breadth of the Waterford preschool curriculum is complemented by its verticality. Waterford’s Preschool through Grade 12 structure supports a vertical curriculum that is unavailable at preschool-only programs. From Preschool to Upper School, students are immersed in a rich Liberal Arts curriculum that creates a rhythm, a sequencing, that amplifies from one year to the next. In addition to the vertical curriculum, Waterford preschool studentshave access to the School’s 40-acre campus, resources, student body, and education experts.Preschool families are surrounded by a greater network of Lower School and Upper Schoolfamilies who serve as peers and guides in the education process.

3. Social Connections

A Focus on Social-emotional Development and Learning
The Waterford preschool curriculum addresses social-emotional development and values positive student relationships with other students and teachers.

Children need more than strong cognitive skills to excel in school. A child’s social-emotionaldevelopment is critical to their success in the classroom and in their adult life. Research hasshown that high-quality preschool positively affects social-emotional development.

Social-emotional development involves theacquisition of a set of skills (National ScientificCouncil on the Developing Child 2005). Key amongthem are the ability to: 

  • Identify and understand one’s own feelings
  • Accurately read and comprehend emotionalstates in others
  • Manage strong emotions and their expression in aconstructive manner
  • Regulate one’s own behavior
  • Develop empathy for others
  • Establish and sustain relationships 

The Waterford preschool program includes social-emotional development in the curriculum.Teachers address social-emotional skills that promote cooperation and communication with peers and teachers. The Waterford School understands the importance of developing a child’s social and emotional skills within the curriculum.

A child’s ability to learn and to function as a contributing member of society rests heavily on the development of social competency and emotional health that begins at birth and is greatly influenced during the preschool years. Preschool programs that pursue the highest standards of quality will contribute substantially to this development.

Promoting Children’s Social and Emotional Development Through Preschool Education, NIEER

4. Modes of Learning

Beyond Teacher-directed Instruction

The Waterford School uses ideal enrollment targets for class sizes and student-teacher ratios which fosters the development of skills through small group instruction.

The National Institute for Early Education Research identifies a diversified approach to learning as a critical component of early childhood education; it is important for children to participate in whole group, small group, and free choice activities.

In each of these approaches to learning, quality teachers are purposeful in their instruction and can articulate the learning goals associated with different activities (EdSource).

You don’t want to be telling (the children) what to do all the time. You want to make sure there are experiences all kids get because they’re important, but it’s also important to let them bring themselves to the task.

Deborah StipekDean of Stanford’s Graduate School of Education

While all children in a preschool program may participate in the same activities, an effective preschool program recognizes each child has a different level of mastery for any given skill. For example, all students may be learning to write their names, but some may require assistance with letter recognition and others may need a dotted outline to trace. 

The Waterford preschool blends open-ended, child-directed learning with small group, explicit instruction and whole group activities. Small groups, which are limited to a 1:7 teacher to student ratio, are organized by readiness levels: students move fluidly between groups as they master concepts. Waterford’s qualified teachers meet each child where they are and support their development and growth through scaffolding and assessment. 

Why Routine Matters

A quality preschool schedules opportunities for whole group, small group, and free choice activities during the school day. 

Children in the Waterford preschool program thrive in a well-ordered, predictable environment. Daily routines offer children a sense of stability and order. When children feel secure they are more likely to explore their environments and take risks. 

Routines within the Waterford preschool program help children develop self-regulation skills and manage classroom expectations. 

5. The Power of Play

Preschool is the Pathway to a Lifetime of Learning
Creativity, curiosity, exploration and small-motor development abound in the Waterford art center. Childdirected play is critical in the development of executive function and self-regulation skills.

While preschools serve to prepare children for academic success in Kindergarten, quality preschools maintain the importance of play in learning. Research has shown how important child-directed play is in developing skills that will serve children for the rest of their lives: 


Executive function and self-regulation are among the most important skills children learn through play within the Waterford preschool. Executive function and self-regulation are the “mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully.” (Center for the Developing Child, Harvard University) Children are not born with these skills. Child-directed play, especially dramatic (i.e. pretend) play, helps children develop working memory, cognitive flexibility, and self control, the three types of brain function upon which executive function and self-regulation depend.

Learning Centers 

Young children learn best by interacting with their environment through hands-on activities and play, which is why learning centers are such a vital part of the preschool classroom. 

Parents should note how preschool classrooms are organized. Research indicates that a well-organized classroom helps children learn and motivates them to interact positively with each other. 


Oral language development is the hallmark of a high quality preschool program. Children build language skills in their observation of, and interaction with, all the adults they associate with throughout their day. The most influential interactions are with parents and teachers. Children also build language skills through peer-to-peer play. Students rely on language to articulate ideas and thoughts with playmates; their success depends on their ability and patience in explaining themselves. These interactions become more sophisticated as children age and their language skills develop.


Gross and fine motor skills are developed through play. Studies have shown that young children’s motor development is a strong predictor of cognitive abilities in the elementary years (Piek, Dawson, Smith, & Gasson, 2008). Motor activity is linked to processing information and remembering it: active play stimulates cognitive self-regulation. (The Center for Early Education). 


Play shapes social-emotional competencies critical to school success. Positive play experiences (e.g., helping, sharing, taking turns) foster social behaviors that provide a foundation for learning how to solve problems and communicate with peers. By developing self-regulation skills through play, children also learn how to control their impulses and behaviors.

Waterford classrooms are designed to facilitate child-directed play. Classrooms are divided into distinct learning centers to allow for children to more easily navigate their environment. Dedicated play times allows children to interact with individuals different from themselves, develop a sense of independence, and expand their natural curiosity about the world using exploration.  

Nature-based Exploration

A key element to promoting physical skills is nature-based exploration occurring in the Outdoor Classroom, a Certified Nature Explore Classroom, which fosters highly effective, nature-based outdoor learning, and has been nationally recognized by Dimensions Educational Research Foundation.

Outdoor Classroom

Next Steps

Enrolling your child in a quality preschool program Steps

Parents should observe a preschool classroom and ask questions pertaining to indicators of quality before choosing a preschool program for their child. 

The preschool years are critical to a child’s physical, social, emotional, cognitive, and creative development. When students are enrolled in the Waterford preschool program, they are engaged in a learning environment that ignites each child’s mind and awakens a passion for learning that will last a lifetime.