Assembling puzzles is a task preschoolers can repeat so that they learn shapes, colors and spatial reasoning skills.

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Pros and Cons of Preschool

Preschool isn't for all children or all families. Weigh the pros and cons of preschool carefully when deciding whether it's right for your little one.

The benefits of preschool are numerous and include advantages for you, the parent. Even part-time programs provide you with an opportunity to get things done that otherwise would be challenging with a toddler alongside -- from running errands to working on a career. Simply having time to yourself is also important for your own sanity, whether you use it to see friends, exercise or take a nap.

Of course, this type of schooling foremost benefits the child. Kids get to repeat activities, interact with many different materials and objects, and observe other children taking on challenging tasks. As mentioned earlier, preschool powerfully shapes the foundation for a child's academic learning.

In what specific ways can you expect preschool to influence your child for the better or worse?

That really depends on your child's ethnicity and socioeconomic status, according to a report released by the University of California, Berkeley, called "The Influence of Preschool Centers on Children's Development Nationwide: How Much Is Too Much?" The report finds that on average, the earlier you enroll your child, the slower his or her social development will be; however, he or she will display stronger pre-reading and math skills if enrolled at two or three years old.

But those are just averages. Hispanic toddlers with basic English proficiency appear to benefit from preschool the most in regard to cognitive development. The experience has no detrimental effect on their social development. African American children also benefit when it comes to language and pre-reading skills, but preschool doesn't seem to improve their cognitive abilities regarding math concepts.

There are also downsides to preschool. Missing your child when he or she is away, bearing the financial burden of private school and having less control over your child's diet are some drawbacks. Also, being around so many other kids -- and all the objects they're handling throughout the day -- makes your child more susceptible to getting sick.

The Berkeley report also states that white, middle-class children suffer in regard to sharing, cooperation and engagement of tasks if they attend preschool for six or more hours per day. In fact, children from high-income families -- regardless of ethnicity -- who experience long hours in preschool suffer most strongly emotionally and socially.

Singing and story time might sound like fun and games, but go to the next page to discover what they have to do with your child's cognitive and academic development.