Nursery school

2008/9 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Education

A child picking up a book.
A child picking up a book.

A nursery school is a school for children between the ages of three and five, staffed by qualified teachers and other professionals who encourage and supervise educational play rather than simply providing childcare. It is generally considered part of early childhood education. In some jurisdictions the provision of nursery school services is on a user pays or limited basis while some governments fund nursery school services.


Other common names for nursery school are pre-school, playschool, playgroup and nursery. The German word kindergarten is also used in many countries to denote a form of pre-school education. However, in the United States, Canada and some parts of Australia kindergarten is instead the term used to describe the first year of compulsory schooling.


In May of 2007, Slate Magazine published an article discussing the results of a working paper by Nobel Prize winner James Heckman of the University of Chicago and Dimitriy Masterov of the University of Michigan about the social and economics benefits of nursery school, claiming that more investment in children at an earlier age is needed to supplement the role of the family.

The reasons given include the importance of early years in cognitive development, the trouble many families have in providing adequate early-childhood nurturing, and the advantage such programs give students starting the next step in their education. The study considered a number of early childhood educational pilot programs for at risk children, similar to Head Start, but more intense, such as the Perry Project in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

Over 40 years of the children's lives, participants showed greater literacy, higher grades, greater likelihood to graduate high school, higher post-high school employment rates, higher earnings, less need for welfare, committed less crime, and had lower rates of teen pregnancy. The rate of returns to the children was estimated to be 16 percent (about 3/4 of this is calculated from the decreased social cost due to lower crime and less prison spending).

The authors also propose that the return on investment declines with age. This study is significant because it advocates spending as an economic investment in a societies future, rather than in the interest of justice.

United Kingdom

In the UK, pre-school education in nursery classes or schools is fully funded by the government and is generally available to children aged over three. Pre-school education can be provided by childcare centres, playgroups, nursery schools and nursery classes within primary schools. Private nursery education is also available throughout the UK and varies between structured pre-school education and a service offering child-minding facilities.

England and Wales

Each child in England and Wales, at the first school term after their third birthday, is entitled to five two and a half hour sessions per week - in some counties this has gone up to 15 hours. This entitlement is funded by the government through the local county council. Pre-schools in England and Wales follow the Early Learning Goals for education produced by the Department for Children, Schools and Families which carries on into their first year of school at the age of four. This year of school is usually called Reception. The Early Learning Goals cover the main areas of education without being subject driven. These areas include

  • Personal, social and emotional development
  • Language, literacy and communication
  • Mathematical development
  • Knowledge and understanding of the world
  • Physical development
  • Creative development


In Scotland children are entitled to a place in a nursery class when they reach their third birthday. This gives parents the option of two years of funded pre-school education before beginning primary one, the first year of compulsory education. Nursery children who are three years old are referred to as ante-pre-school whilst children who are four years old are termed pre-school. Pre-school education in Scotland is planned around the document "A curriculum framework for children 3 to 5," which identifies learning intentions around the following five areas of development:

  • Emotional, Personal and Social Development,
  • Communication and Language,
  • Knowledge and Understanding of the World,
  • Expressive and Aesthetic Development,
  • Physical Development and Movement

Responsibility for the review of care standards in Scottish nurseries rests with the Care Commission.

United States

In the United States, nursery school is provided in a variety of settings. In general pre-school is meant to develop children through planned programs.

Pre-school is defined as: "centre-based programs for four-year olds that are fully or partially funded by state education agencies and that are operated in schools or under the direction of state and local education agencies".

Pre-schools, both private and school sponsored, are available for children aged from three to five. Many of these programs follow similar curriculum as pre-kindergarten.

Head Start program

The goal of Head Start and Early Head Start is to increase the school readiness of young children in low income families. These programs serve children from birth to age five, pregnant women, and their families. Head Start was started by the Federal Government in 1964 to help meet the needs of disadvantaged pre-school children.

The office of Economic Opportunity launched Project Head Start as an eight-week summer program in 1965. It was then transferred to the Office of Child Development in the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in 1969. Today it is a program within the Administration on Children, Youth and Families in the Department of Health and Human Services. Programs are administered locally by school systems and non-profit organizations.

  • Services provided by Head Start
  1. Disabilities - All programs fully include children with disabilities
  2. Education - The goal of Head Start is to ensure that those children enrolled in the program are ready to begin school. Activities are geared towards skill and knowledge domains.
  3. Family and Community Partnerships - both groups are involved in the operation, governance and evaluation of the program.
  4. Health - Health is seen as an important factor in a child's ability to thrive and develop. The program provides screenings to evaluate a child's overall health, regular health check-ups, and good practices in oral health, hygiene, nutrition, personal care, and safety.
  5. Program Management and Operations - "focus on delivering high-quality child development services to children from low-income families."

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