Quality pre-kindergarten education makes a big difference in the lives of young children and can help level the playing field for all.

Preschool is an exciting, exploratory time for little ones, characterized by what feels like all fun and play. Children aren’t aware of the educational and interpersonal skills they’re developing while finger painting and singing nursery rhymes, but the effects are apparent in the long run. Children who attend pre-K are more prepared for kindergarten than their peers who do not, having already begun their emotional and intellectual growth.

This period of schooling is as enjoyable as it is pivotal in a child’s life, and policy makers are working to expand this opportunity to all children. With the help of researchers at Harvard University, the Boston Public Schools (BPS) system is at the forefront of this education revolution in its attempt to widen quality pre-kindergarten access. By using a research-backed course of study and coaching for individual teachers, the BPS pre-K program has had a significant impact on about 2,000 students of various ethnic and economic backgrounds.

Research published in the journal Child Development outlines the benefits for students who have the opportunity to cultivate skills in pre-K programs. Students with a year of excellent pre-kindergarten education under their belts perform better in math, language, literacy, and executive function—or the ability to understand and control their actions—as compared to their peers in other preschool environments.

“Our results suggest that curricula in these areas may also improve such domains as executive functioning, even without directly targeting them,” said Christina Weiland, lead study author and incoming assistant professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Education. “Interestingly, research shows that these kinds of skills—which reflect early brain development, the ability to focus, and behavior—are critical to children’s success down the road.”

Preschool levels the playing field for students from various backgrounds. Researchers were pleased to discover that children from both lower- and higher-income families benefited from a strong pre-K education. President Obama plans to provide all U.S. children with the chance to attend quality preschool programs to help counter the effects of social inequality.

Jeri Robinson, vice president for education and family learning at the Boston Children’s Museum, advocates for pre-K education as a way to lessen disparities among students. “This is the beginning of where those gaps are happening, and they only grow and grow and grow,” she said.

Preschool is where children come together to prepare for the next level of education. “Having more seats in public school means adding students who would not have a chance [to get] a lot of those school skills,” Robinson said. “They have the ability to take on more, to learn more—they just have to be in an environment that provides that for them.”

While daycare and other preschool formats have their merits, they generally cannot compare to a strong pre-kindergarten curriculum. Now, as parents realize the advantages of their programs, BPS is celebrating its highest enrollment in eight years, with an eight percent increase in kindergarten requests.

“It’s clear that our improvements to school quality are attracting more families to our city’s public schools,” said Mayor Thomas M. Menino in a BPS press release. “Today our graduation rate is the highest it has ever been, and we have brought arts, athletics, outdoor learning opportunities and extended days back to our schools. We are excited to welcome so many new families this fall.”

The Boston Public Schools experiment in improved pre-K education is just the beginning. Ideally, children across the country will be able to take part in quality preschool programs as early education becomes less of a privilege and more of a national priority.