In this first post, we’ll give an overview of five common preschool philosophies. Later in the series, we’ll have a specific post on each one and provide more details to help you understand the differences and decide on a program that works best for you and your child.
Teaching philosophies explain how a school approaches learning, which in turn might shed light on whether your preschooler will do well with that particular learning method or in that particular environment. So what preschool learning approaches are there?
The underlying belief of a Montessori program is that “play is a child’s work.” Children learn individually or in small groups with teachers acting as their guide. While there’s an academic component, children do a variety of hands-on activities and learn at their own pace. Classrooms typically have children of different ages (3-5 years old) and a teacher that stays with the same group for several years.
- Reggio Emilia
Reggio Emilia is a project-based approach driven by children’s exploration. The curriculum consists of projects that reflect children’s interests. As in Montessori, children take the lead in learning while teachers serve as guides who also document the process (taking pictures, making videos, etc.). Through their projects, children learn about cooperation and develop problem-solving skills.
Waldorf also uses a play-based approach, but unlike Montessori, it tends to be more group-oriented and less academic. Waldorf programs typically offer a home-like environment where children do all kinds of arts to develop creative learning. The program is characterized by a routine and lots of time outdoors. Unlike Reggio Emilia and other philosophies, electronics are absent from Waldorf classrooms.
- High Scope
Similar to Montessori, High Scope’s core belief is that children learn best by pursuing their own interests. Children are encouraged to make their own choices about materials and activities they want to interact with while teachers are trained to support their independence and decision-making. Computers and developmentally appropriate software are often a regular part of the High Scope program.
- Bank Street
The Bank Street method also uses a child-centered approach but learning is done in groups. Similar to Montessori and High Scope, Bank Street uses a free-form schedule, which enables teachers and children to decide what to work on. In a Bank Street program children study several subjects at once and learn through experience.
While these five preschool teaching philosophies are common, it’s important to note that few schools actually follow only one particular philosophy. Most preschools design their own programs by blending different teaching philosophies together, or focus on a particular approach while borrowing concepts from the others. It’s also important to keep in mind that different schools might have different interpretations of each method.