Preschool goes way beyond the ABCs and 123s: Everything to look for in an early childhood center

‘It’s social, emotional, cognitive -- there’s so much to it’

A look inside O2B Kids. (Photo used with permission from O2B Kids)

It’s an odd time for many. Some businesses are on hold, we’re all wearing face masks in public and there’s no clear answer as to when life, as we used to know it, will resume.

These past eight months have also brought up questions about education: What’s better, remote learning or in-person classrooms? What should parents with younger children do? What about early education?

That last question, in regards to early education, is key. Preschools are incredibly important, not just now, but always, said Michelle Deschamps, a spokeswoman for O2B Kids, an education and play center that offers preschool, after-school care, a summer camp and a family membership program.

Their offerings are innovative, nationally accredited and play-based. O2B Kids has been open since 1998. They’re now in their 23rd year, with 22 locations, the vast majority of which are located in Florida -- with three in the Orlando area.

So, why exactly is preschool so important?

“When it comes to preschool education, (of course) we’re going to learn the ABCs and 123s. Part of that is repetition, consistency and practice," Deschamps said. "But we also teach the kids how to think. Are they going to learn how to make choices? Are they going to learn how to make friends? Can they make decisions on their own and stand in line? Our goal is to prepare your child for kindergarten. It’s social, emotional, cognitive -- there’s so much to it. You don’t think about all of that as a first-time mom. At least, I didn’t think of all that.”

A look inside O2B Kids. (Photo used with permission from O2B Kids)

Deschamps, although she speaks on behalf of O2B Kids, is a parent first and foremost.

“I got to learn it all from a parent’s perspective,” she said.

In fact, her son just started kindergarten. Their family opted for face-to-face, in-person learning.

“It’s been an incredible experience, watching our son transform into a kindergarten-ready student," Deschamps said. "He’s so independent. He wears a mask, he washes his hands, he can go in and introduce himself (and) stand in line. It wasn’t as scary (to send him to kindergarten, knowing how well preschool prepared him for the transition). He’s thriving and loving it, and O2B Kids' philosophy is part of the reason why. He knows his sight words but he also knows how to make new friends, interact with others, play alone and with groups, and he takes turns. Those skills are an important part of life!”

There are four goals at O2B Kids, which we’ll detail below -- and perhaps four things parents should think about when selecting a preschool or considering what success in early childhood education might look like.

Preschool should ...

1.) Help kids label our world.

The first task at O2B Kids is to help each child formulate language and label his or her world. Developing a rich vocabulary starts with naming objects and learning to pronounce new words.

“Over time, we expand language complexity with multi-syllable words and synonyms. We never quit learning. At O2B Kids, we use ‘teacher talk’ -- rich descriptive language that the children hear throughout the day. Eventually, they pick up on it and start to use rich descriptive words themselves."

2.) Help kids understand our world.

As vocabulary develops, O2B Kids says it has the exhilarating challenge of explaining how the world works.

“We discuss science and nature, health and nutrition, professions and job duties, letters and numbers. We connect the dots.”

3.) Help kids question our world.

Perhaps the most lasting and important lesson, preschool leaders said, is helping instill in children a lifelong love for learning.

“We know it’s sometimes painful, but we want your kids to ask WHY? Why is the sky blue? Why do pigs oink? Why do some feelings hurt? Curiosity is beautiful! We won’t know all the answers, but we’ll always encourage the question. We’re teaching kids to think."

4.) Help kids succeed in our world.

This is all about making friends, sharing, taking turns, following directions, respecting others, listening, using the restroom, washing hands and cleaning up.

“These fundamental life skills are so very important to lifetime success. We practice them every day.”

A look inside O2B Kids. (Photo used with permission from O2B Kids)

Final note: The importance of play.

O2B is committed to play time. They have indoor and outdoor areas designated just for that, and there are even spaces within the school called Play Villages.

“It’s a neat atmosphere where kids have space to make believe with dress-up, costumes, and truly be independent and let their creativity soar,” Deschamps said. “We’re going to do different science experiments, ‘travel’ to different countries, learn about different cultures, languages (and) dance -- so the kids can have an understanding of all these things. It’s neat to be able to give them that experience all in one place.”

Think about the children of previous generations, gathering and assembling for an impromptu game of pickup neighborhood baseball.

Those kids were probably all different ages, from all different homes and backgrounds, and they had to figure out who would play what position and come together as a group to work out all the details.

“We’re not as fortunate to have that sense of community (anymore in everyday life), but we want to emulate that," Deschamps said. “We want to help parents not just with education, but to know that we are a partner, helping them grow happy and successful kids! We provide that sense of community. Your kids will learn to be independent thinkers as they start their academic careers.”