Choosing your child’s first school is both an exciting and nerve-racking process. From basics, such as tuition cost and the length of the school day, to more specific dynamics, such as which type of model and curriculum would be the best fit for your child's individual needs, personality, and overall developmental growth. With so many choices and styles of preschools, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the pressure to pick the “right” one. Regardless of the qualities you’re looking for, knowing the types of preschools out there and what distinguishes one from another is a great start to help simplify the process.
Montessori is a comprehensive program developed by physician and educator Maria Montessori. It takes a developmental approach to learning. All teachers must have an early childhood undergraduate or graduate degree and Montessori certification. The Montessori approach emphasizes nature, creativity, and hands-on learning with guidance provided by the teachers. The goal of the Montessori method is to develop a child's senses, character, practical life skills, and academic ability at the child’s own unique pace of development. Teachers are guides and follow the child’s lead. Montessori incorporates academic learning with the use of all 5 senses to encourage the connection of all living things and the need to find meaningful work.
Reggio Emilia schools are based on the preschools developed by the townspeople of Reggio Emilia, Italy during the 1940s. As in Montessori, students take the lead in learning. Reggio Emilia focuses on the child as an equal participant and allows them to search out knowledge through their own discoveries. They emphasize having an environment with natural light and open spaces that encourages collaboration, communication, and exploration. The adult’s role is to observe the children and provide them with opportunities to explore things of their own interest. Typically, there aren’t any “lesson plans” or projects planned in advance in order to follow the child’s interests and leads.
Waldorf education is based on the ideas of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy. Waldorf education emphasizes nurturing the whole child by engaging the five senses in experiential, hands-on and artistic learning experiences. A teacher usually stays with the same group of children for several years. The kids are encouraged to utilize all 5 senses to actively engage in creative free play. Their encourage students to truly experience music, dance, theater, writing, and literature to fully develop their unique capabilities. The environment is developed to feel homelike and offer children the opportunities to indulge and imitate what they see.
STEM, stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. STEM-focused preschools seek to engage young children in scientific exploration by applying an inquiry-based approach to experiential activities, such as playing with building blocks. Children may be given materials and invited to “experiment.” Activities are followed by discussion, during which students are encouraged to share their questions, observations, designs and conclusions. STEM-based programs integrate science exploration into daily activities, such as gardening and outdoor play.
Many churches and religious schools offer preschool programs. They may follow any preschool philosophy in determining curriculum, and they may incorporate varying degrees of religious content and/or training. If you are interested in a religious-based program, be sure to ask about their curriculum and philosophy, too.
Teacher directed often means that curriculum and supplemental activities are implemented and chosen based on a set schedule developed by the teachers in that setting. This usually provides children with a structured learning environment.
Child directed mean that the children lead, and teachers simply guide the learning process. These settings believe children learn best when they are engaged and interested in learning. Child-led settings wait for each child to initiate or ask for new activities and experiences, fostering individualized learning experiences rather than group experiences.
A large number of preschools have also decided to branch off and use their own curriculums, integrating various philosophies, curriculums, and approaches. They combine progressive elements with traditional ones in order to create their own customized educational philosophy. You may find a program that draws on the best of Montessori’s child-led approach, while also spending time on teacher-led activities and socialization. Whenever looking at a preschool website and/or visiting one, make sure to find out what their philosophy is.