Can’t afford preschool?

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Most parents recognize the value of a good preschool education. Preschool offers a chance for young children to learn social skills and develop building blocks for future learning.

But many Arizonans remain affected by the difficult economy. Some have lost jobs; others are working reduced hours. What if there is no room for preschool tuition in the family budget?

Here are some ways you can prepare your children for a successful academic path without sending them to preschool.

Join a playgroup. A playgroup consists of at least three children of similar ages under parental supervision (one adult per child). Playgroups may meet at the park, members’ homes, the zoo, museums, or any other kid-friendly places. Playgroups give children a chance to practice social skills and cooperative play, which is so important to this developmental stage. To find a playgroup in your area, we recommend momsclub.org or mops.org. You can also find friends through your neighborhood, parks and library story times.

Play with your child. Play is important for cognitive development. Construction play with LEGOs or building blocks is good for analytical skills. Pretend play develops social skills and an ability to understand symbolic representation (a paper towel holder becomes a sword, for example). Understanding the use of symbols is fundamental for learning to read because a child must understand that letters together represent words. When a parent engages a child during pretend play, the play is at a higher level and thus more beneficial for the youngster.

Read to your child. Most parents understand that a child’s path to literacy starts in mom’s or dad’s lap. When listening to an adult read a story, children learn book-handling skills, build vocabulary and boost their overall knowledge. Make sure you expose your youngster to a variety of different reading materials. Include general fiction, fairy tales and chapter books. Don’t overlook nonfiction books in the areas of history and science to heighten a preschooler’s curiosity and knowledge.

Talk with your child. Preschool children learn language at an astonishing rate. A 2-year-old knows about 200 words and by age 6 knows about 14,000 words. During the preschool years a child also evolves from two- or three-word utterances to compound sentences. The more you talk with your child and the more varied the vocabulary you use, the more words your youngster can learn. Research has shown that vocabulary acquistion is correlated with reading comprehension.

Take a class. Parents can enroll their children in a specialty class for a fraction of the price of preschool. Many classes are great for developing cognitive abilities or gross motor skills. You may choose classes in specific skills you are not able to teach, like music or gymnastics. Reasonably priced preschool classes can be found at your local park and recreation department or the neighborhood YMCA.

Visit museums and the zoo. Take advantage of the many resources to help enrich your child’s preschool years here in Arizona. You may visit the Phoenix Zoo, the Children’s Museum of Phoenix, the Arizona Science Center, the Arizona Museum of Natural History or the Desert Botanical Gardens—to name a few. Consider a yearly membership to your favorite place. After a few visits the cost of the membership is paid for.

If you’re still concerned about what your child may be missing by not attending preschool, consider this: One thing that a preschool can’t do is enhance the relationship between you and your child. Studies show that children who have secure attachments with parents have higher IQs. So not only will the time you spend together be enjoyable, but your youngster will be more emotionally healthy and smarter by spending more time with you!

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