Preschool programs teach important social skills, improve cognitive development, and prepare your child for big school. Given all the available types of preschool programs, which is the best fit for your little one’s personality and learning style?
In the United States preschool programs tend to fall into two broad categories. The first philosophy is learning through discovery, which includes programs with a focus on child-directed activities. Educators serve as guides and plan activities based on the child’s level of development. The second philosophy focuses on programs that are more academically based, and typically include instruction and practice components.
Your choice of program is your personal preference, as well as your child’s individual needs, age, maturity, and energy level. It might also depend on whether the program is a full or half-day program. To assist you in your choice check out our suggestions on the 6 best types of preschool programs available.
Types of Preschool Programs
This comprehensive preschool program was developed by pediatrician/psychiatrist Maria Montessori in 1907. The program takes a developmental approach to learning. There are over 5000 Montessori school programs in North America. All teachers must have Montessori certification as well as an early childhood undergraduate or graduate degree. The curriculum emphasizes nature, creativity, and hands-on learning with guidance provided by the teachers. Children focus on activities that embrace their interests, which develops independence and natural curiosity. Children learn about other cultures, animals, and plants in addition to reading, language, and mathematical skills.
What is the Montessori Methodology?
In the Montessori method of teaching the children are always asked if they want to attempt a task. Do they need help doing it? Do they feel they are ready?. Teachers also like to involve parents closely in their children’s education. The teacher-student-parent bond is carefully nurtured.
Teachers work with children as a group and one on one. However, most of the interaction is among the children themselves. Teachers aren’t the only instructors. Older kids often help younger ones learn new skills. Mixed-age classes comprise at least three-year age groupings which correspond to the Planes of Development.
The length of the day depends on the school and the age of the students. A typical Montessori preschool program runs from 9 a.m. to 12 or 12:30 p.m. Most offer afternoon / early evening care, too.
Overall, the goal of the Montessori method is developing a child’s senses, character, practical life skills, and academic ability.
The Five Focus Areas:
- Practical life: Children learn about everyday activities they need to perform by themselves. How to tie their shoes and put on their coats, go to the bathroom by themselves, prepare their snacks and drinks, and clean up after themselves.
- Sensory awareness education: Activities make sure children use all five senses to learn.
- Language arts: Children are allowed to express themselves verbally. They are taught to trace and recognize letters as a precursor to learning reading, spelling, grammar, and handwriting skills.
- Cultural subjects: Children learn about other countries, animals, time, history, music, movement, science, and art
- Mathematics and geometry: Children learn about numbers with practical techniques using physical items to aid them. These methods include manipulating bead and stamp material, utilizing strip boards, using physical shapes to learn fractions, and memorizing important math facts.
Toys and other developmentally appropriate learning materials are laid out in the classroom so a child can see what her choices are and then pick a task according to her interests. Options include books, puzzle games, art projects, toys that test spatial concepts, etc. When they’re done, children put their work back on the shelves and move on to something else. Children can choose to play alone or in groups.
Who Is It Best Suited For?
Children with learning or psychological problems thrive because of the individual attention teachers pay to each learner.
Montessori schools believe in teaching children about a wide range of cultures and seek a diverse student body. If you’d like your child to be exposed to kids from all walks of life, then this learning environment is ideal. Most Montessori schools take children starting at age 3 or 4 and prefer that they can go to the bathroom on their own. Some facilities offer limited programs for infants and young toddlers.
Also, children with learning or psychological problems thrive because of the individual attention teachers pay to each learner.
This preschool program is based on the teachings of Austrian writer Rudolf Steiner. It strives to nurture a child’s spirit, soul, body, and interests. The more than 750 Waldorf programs around the world aim to stimulate and develop these three elements in young children by immersing them in nurturing surroundings.
Waldorf Preschools Methodology
The Waldorf program involves creative, hands-on group learning with a focus on rhythmic repetition in a supportive environment. The implementation of daily and weekly routines, as well as the comfortable atmosphere of the classroom, create a home-like environment for the students. Children are offered plenty of opportunities to freely imitate what they see and to indulge in creative play.
Daily activities range from:
- reciting poems
- building houses out of boxes, sheets, and boards
- dressing up and pretend play.
The Waldorf program seeks to generate a strong inner enthusiasm for learning and develop children’s innate abilities and talents. Kids are encouraged to engage in creative free play rather than watching TV and videos and playing computer games because those activities get in the way of using all five senses to absorb and actively engage in life.
Who is it Best Suited For?
It’s especially useful for preschoolers who thrive with set schedules. Instruction is teacher-directed, and every teacher must be Waldorf certified.
Waldorf programs, for example, are more group-oriented than Montessori programs. This may be the best option if your child thrives on order and rhythmic repetition. Waldorf education can benefit almost any child. Waldorf teachers believe that even children with special needs can contribute to a group. The program, however, is not suitable for children with severe developmental disabilities.
Reggio Emilia schools were founded in Italy in the 1940s. Many preschool programs today follow this open-ended, child-led philosophy.
Reggio Emilia Methodology
The program emphasizes the value of community and self-expression while emphasizing exploration. Art, projects, and activities that reflect students’ ideas and interests help them learn. There is also a focus on collaborative and cooperative learning activities in the classroom.
Teachers don’t complete any formal Reggio Emilia training or credentialing. That’s because Reggio Emilia is a broad educational theory and practice, rather than a set method. Teachers consider the learners’ intellectual, emotional, and creative potential when encouraging their self-guided learning.
Who is it Best Suited For?
It applies to infant-toddler and preschool age groups, although some Reggio Emilia schools go up to middle school.
The HighScope program is based on the theory that children require active participation with people, materials, ideas, and events. It is a “shared control” curriculum in which adults and children learn together.
The core belief is that children learn best when they pursue their personal goals and interests. Children are encouraged to make their own choices about materials and activities. Educators are trained to support this independence and decision-making. The HighScope approach is newer than the Montessori approach, but it has four decades of research to back it up in terms of promoting children’s development.
In the Classroom
The HighScope curriculum identifies 58 key experiences preschool children should have. The experiences are grouped into ten categories:
- Initiative and social relations — Making choices, problem-solving, relationship-building
- Movement — Bending, running, dancing
- Creative representation: Imitation, recognition, role-playing
- Language and literacy: Talking, describing, scribbling, dictating stories
- Initiative and social relations: Making choices, problem-solving, relationship-building
- Classification: Describing shapes, sorting, matching
- Seriation: Arranging things in order
- Movement: Bending, running, dancing
- Music: Singing, playing instruments
- Numbers: Counting
- Space-Filling, emptying
- Time: Starting, stopping, sequencing
Computers are often used in the program. Teachers select appropriate developmental software for children to use.
Who is it Best Suited For?
The HighScope program is ideal for any child who requires individualized attention. It is now more commonly used in a variety of preschool settings. It is also effective for children with developmental delays and learning disabilities because it is tailored to each child’s level and pace. HighScope may not be the best option if you want your child to be in a highly structured, adult-directed environment.
5. Bank Street
The Bank Street method focuses on child-centered education. This developmental approach is based on the educational philosophy of John Dewym. It focuses on a child’s mental, social, emotional, and physical growth. Bank Street programs are based on the belief that children are active learners, explorers, experimenters, and artists. Students set the learning pace, and the teacher serves as a guide.
Bank Street Methodology
The Bank Street approach is comparable to play-based learning. It teaches lessons through hands-on activities like building blocks, puzzles, clay, and dramatic play. Preschoolers often work in a non-competitive group environment.
The programs recognize that children learn at different rates and in different ways. They believe that learning should cover multiple subjects at once and take place in collaborative groups.
In the classroom, children typically play with toys and materials that allow them to use their imagination: blocks, water, art supplies, clay, puzzles, and so on. They can play with whatever they want and can work alone or in groups. This allows them to learn at their own pace and in their own way.
The curriculum is based on the premise that if children learn about and study the human world, they will be able to make sense of what they encounter. According to the Bank Street philosophy, the best way to accomplish this is for children to concentrate on five key social studies subjects:
- cultural anthropology
- political science
- and geography
Arts and science education are intertwined with social studies lessons and activities that help children find meaning in their surrounding
Who is it Best Suited For?
The Bank Street program is less structured. Individual teachers and children decide what to work on and when. If your child thrives on a flexible schedule, he should do well at a Bank Street-based preschool.
6. Parents Co-ops
Consider a cooperative preschool ff you want to be directly involved with your child’s schooling. Parents work closely with the classroom teachers. The parents involved usually choose a teacher to hire. Then you may help with lessons, observe classroom behavior, and share in the business operation by serving on the school’s board of directors.
A co-op can focus on any preschool philosophy that parents decide on, or even combine multiple philosophies for a unique approach to learning. It’s important to note, however, that co-ops require plenty of responsibilities and time commitments.
Other types of preschools
There are hundreds, even thousands, of independent preschools and childcare centers that don’t follow any one of the mentioned preschool approaches to learning to the letter. Instead, they mix and match various elements of them to form their own program.
If you’re considering a preschool that is not aligned with one of the programs just described, ask what the school’s philosophy is in the interview to determine whether it will suit your child.
Many parents also opt for programs run by religious organizations. These can vary widely in their philosophies and classroom activities. Some make learning about religion a part of the daily routine; others barely touch on any religious content. Whatever types of preschool programs you’re considering, you should first visit the school and talk to the teachers so you can find out more about their approach.