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Is online preschool a good idea?

Lisa Steinke, with Liz Fenton, is the co-author of the debut chick lit novel l'll Have Who She's Having and the popular Chick Lit blog chicklitisnotdead.com.

internet education

Online preschool is the newest way to educate 3- and 4-year-olds, but will it properly prepare your child for kindergarten? Or will your little one potentially miss out on the benefits of attending a traditional preschool?
Online preschool

Experts agree that a high-quality preschool program can properly prepare your child for kindergarten. But should that schooling take place in a classroom or can your little one get the same benefits virtually?

Kids need human interaction

With the cost of many traditional preschools being tough to afford, more moms are seeking out alternatives for educating their 3- and 4-year-old children. Online preschool is one option that has become more prevalent. But some experts feel that your little one will miss out on one of the most important things traditional preschool offers: Human interaction.

"Preschool is a time to build relationships with peers and caring adults outside the home as a gentle introduction to school," says Sara Maun, kindergarten teacher at Highland Hall Waldorf School. "It is a time to learn how to self-regulate your own needs in relationship to others through sharing, taking turns and helping a friend," says Maun.

Your child needs to learn to battle it out with another child over crayons; to wait his turn to play with a coveted toy; to thrive without Mom.

Psychologist and author Carole Lieberman agrees, adding, "Online 'socialization' does not work for preschool kids. They need to see the faces of other kids, hear, touch and smell them, in order to be able to really understand and connect with them. Also, an online teacher cannot give you individual attention, which is extremely important."

4 Preschool skills needed for kindergarten success >>

You can achieve a "hands-on" experience

So what do supporters of online preschool say about its perceived lack of human connection and hands-on experience? Is it still possible for your child to benefit from these things if he is learning from home? Robert Johnson, of Time4learning.com, a website with an interactive curriculum for home use from Pre-K through eighth grade says that yes, it is.

"I frequently talk to parents about other interactive learning experiences that they can provide their children at little-to-no cost. Visiting local historical museums, nature walks and other local field trips can provide valuable learning experiences to their child (Not to mention parents taking a break from work and chores and spending some quality one-on-one with their children.)," says Johnson.

And let's not forget that by learning from home, your child is getting important interaction and hands-on experiences with Mom. "Online preschool allows time for the child and family to work together. It’s another option to teach parents how to teach their children and to turn moments of the day into teachable moments," says Angela Johnson, executive director of CHALK Preschool, which has five brick and mortar schools as well as an online preschool.

Look into finding fun preschool activities in your community >>

The benefits of online preschool

There are important educational benefits associated with online preschool which can help your child prepare for traditional preschool (if you choose to do both) and kindergarten. "It gives children the foundation of a day in preschool and teaches the child the basic skills learned in preschool. Repetition is the best way for children to learn, and with online preschool, the skills are repeated so that the children will start to memorize. Children will learn new songs, months of the year, days of the week and much more," says Johnson.

And because children are learning online, parents can easily identify their child's problem areas. "Online preschool gives parents an opportunity to access any areas of their child's education that may require extra special attention. Early identification of trouble areas could prevent long-term difficulties for their child," says Johnson.

Johnson also stresses that a child at preschool age should only be using an online program for about 30 minutes per day. "You do not want to give students too much, too fast. Using a program like Time4Learning, which utilizes interactive videos and characters, feels less like school and more like playing a game or watching a movie. We believe learning should be fun and students should look forward to school."

And if your child is mastering technology from an early age, that's not such a bad thing either. "You never know... the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs could be using an online preschool right now," remarks Johnson.

Tell us

What do you think? Is online preschool a cool new way to educate your little ones or does it miss all the important things about preschool — making friends, sharing and human interaction?

Read more about preschools

10 Things our kids' preschool teachers want us to know
How to help preschoolers make friends
Why parents should learn with their preschoolers

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