1. Preschoolers
  2. Play & learning
  3. Preschool

Preschool: how it works and why it’s good

3-5 years

Your child develops and learns more in his first five years than at any other stage of life. Preschools and preschool programs in other settings can support and encourage your child’s amazing development. And they can be a lot of fun too.

Why are preschool programs good for your child?

Preschool helps children:

  • get new knowledge and skills – for example, they start learning more about numbers, letters and words
  • improve their communication and social skills through playing and interacting with other children and adults
  • make new friends and develop new relationships with adults
  • develop physical skills – for example, children learn to balance on play equipment and practise fine motor skills like drawing with a pencil and cutting with scissors
  • develop problem-solving and creative thinking skills
  • develop responsibility, independence, confidence and self-worth through doing things like looking after their own belongings and spending time away from home
  • get ready for the transition to school. 

What happens in a preschool program?

Preschool is all about learning through open-ended play and structured play activities that allow children to develop at their own pace. Whether your child is finger painting, building a block castle, or singing with other kids, preschool helps your child increase her experiences, abilities and knowledge.

Preschool programs offer both indoor and outdoor learning experiences, as well as opportunities for solo and group play.

Indoor learning experiences often include:

  • painting, drawing and writing
  • clay or playdough play
  • puzzles and games
  • construction – for example, with blocks or Lego
  • books 
  • sensory activities.

Outdoor learning experiences often include:

  • sand play
  • play in the natural environment
  • carpentry
  • water play
  • dramatic play
  • swings and climbing equipment.

Group learning experiences often include:

  • stories and poetry
  • dancing and singing
  • playing with musical instruments
  • drama and acting
  • show and tell.

When can children go to preschool?

In general, children can go to preschool when they’re four years old, or in the year they turn four. Some preschools in some states and territories also offer programs for three-year-olds.

What kinds of preschools are there?

In Australia there are several different types of preschool programs and kindergartens. All preschool programs are run by qualified early childhood teachers:

  • Sessional preschools: these offer programs ranging from two-and-a-half hours to seven hours a day, a few days a week.
  • Long day preschools: these programs run for an entire day and include a lunch program.
  • Preschool programs in long day care or child care centres: some centres offer preschool programs.
  • Steiner, Montessori and Reggio Emilia preschools: these offer programs based on individual philosophies about children’s learning. The program models and hours vary.
  • Three-year-old groups: these programs might include an activity group run by a trained coordinator or a qualified teacher at a kindergarten or preschool.

Most preschools operate in purpose-built facilities, although in more remote areas they can be mobile or online. Preschool programs might be managed by a volunteer parent committee, local government, state education department, independent school or private company.

The Australian Government provides funding to all states and territories to ensure all children have access to early childhood education, particularly in the year before they start school. There might still be a fee, and your local preschool can tell you about the fees it charges.

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Last updated or reviewed
18-07-2018

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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