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Preschoolers graduate with pomp, parents swell with pride

Story highlights

  • It's graduation season, even for preschools
  • Caps and gowns, diplomas and even proms are for tots, too
  • Preschool is harder than it used to be, parents say; families want to commemorate the milestone

Sure, the audience at Harvard University's commencement ceremony was treated to a speech from Oprah Winfrey, and grads at other colleges got to hear life lessons from a who's who of politicians, scientists and artists.

But those moments could not compare to the preschool graduation performance at the First Family Early Learning Center in New Castle, Delaware, if excitement is any measure.

Each member of the graduating class was assigned to recite a poem or song for each letter of the alphabet to showcase all they had learned that year. ("D" for days of the week, "N" for numbers.)

Five-year-old Chase Winters had practiced his lines for weeks. When it was time for letter "K," Chase, dressed in tan pants and vest, along with a matching blue shirt and tie, approached the microphone and looked out into the crowd. His mom, Danielle, waited anxiously in the crowd.

"K is for kindergarten, we start in the fall; When we started preschool, we were very small; we're much bigger now, look how tall; so it's off to kindergarten in the fall."

"In that moment, I was filled with so many emotions," Danielle wrote on CNN iReport. "Proud that he had done a great job, surprised at how mature he has become, and sad that my baby is quickly growing up!"

    A whole new crop of parents got to experience the wonder of the preschool commencement this season. With graduation tassels made of fruit loops, miniature diplomas, kiddie proms and even yearbooks, teachers and parents made sure the passage to kindergarten was marked in style. (A notable exception: The Los Angeles preschool graduation that turned into a brawl because all the kids had to share a single cap and gown for pictures.)

    Yes, cynics of the preschool pomp and circumstance abound. Huffington Post blogger Rhiana Maidenberg (and mother of a preschooler getting ready to graduate) spoke for many when she wrote:

    "Bleh! When did completing two years of preschool begin meriting a diploma? If anyone deserves to be celebrated, it is the parents who survived the trying preschool years. I would gladly accept a party and diploma for enduring the exasperating three-nagers and the frustrating 4-year-olds."

    Plenty of parents cop to feeling the same way -- until they see their babies-no-more in tiny caps and gowns. Other families point out that today's preschool isn't what you remember.

    These days, children are being aggressively prepared for kindergarten, with developmental and academic assessments and even homework -- yes, homework.

    "You don't go to preschool for just nap time, coloring, graham crackers and playing all day. It's an actual learning and testing process, preparing them (particularly in Florida) for the vigorous training on learning how to take and pass standardized tests to move in to the next grade level," wrote mom Micaela Gomez, whose daughter, Jasmin, graduated pre-K from Piaget Academy in Orlando, Florida, last week.

    Even in more play-based preschools, parents say the graduation to kindergarten is an important transition on a child's path to adulthood and making a big deal about it builds their confidence.

    "Your child is going to go off on their own to school. You won't be there if they fall. You won't be there to open his carton of milk. You won't be there if he falls and gets a boo boo," said Rachel Haywood, mom of 4-year-old Riley. "This is their first step into their whole lives so to speak. They will be completely independent of their mommies and daddies for the first time."

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