Research related to early childhood development is expanding quickly. While specialists agree on the importance of play, the benefits of preschool can vary depending on the program.
SDSU Professor Mary Bowne specializes in early childhood learning and development. She says preschool is meant to help children develop emotional and academic skills. But she says the best early learning environments are based on play.
“What research has shown time and time again that children need to play. And this play isn’t with technological devices. It’s with human contact and real materials in hand.”
Bowne says both planned and un-planned classroom play can help children develop their ability to express themselves and think logically.
That foundational learning can start much earlier than many people think. Dr. Carolyn Kippes is a board-certified pediatrician specializing in child development at Sanford Children’s Hospital. She says over the past few decades research findings demonstrate children’s learning processes begin even as newborns.
“That brain development and that brain learning happens so early. And I think we’re just now grasping that, and now having to figure out how do we get everyone else on board? And realizing that we need to be paying attention to this.”
But statewide resources vary, and South Dakota does not offer state-funded pre-k. Legislative opponents to an early learning advisory council like House Speaker Steven Haugaard say there are already plenty of resources for parents who want their children in preschool, like church-run centers or other coalitions. But SDSU Professor Mary Bowne says there can be a wide variation in quality between programs.
“South Dakota has no requirements or regulations for preschools unless the preschool’s used as a substitute for parental care. So someone can claim themselves to be a preschool, but ultimately what’s taking place in that location?”
Bowne says research doesn’t lie, and the state could benefit from things like an early learning advisory council to get a broader picture of preschool availability and quality in the state.