Seems like only yesterday your little one was just a twinkle in your eye–and now it’s already time to start looking for a preschool. (Although in some markets, the time to start looking at preschools is precisely at the twinkle-in-your-eye stage, but that’s another story!) You have lots to consider when making this choice. From location to cost to schedule, there are many variables. Logistics aside, one of the biggest differentiators between different schools is program type. If you’re not familiar the jargon can get confusing, so we’ve put together a primer to help you in your search.
The Montessori method is a developmental approach to learning, allowing the child to work on a skill at her own pace to mastery. Teachers are known as “guides” and student learning is referred to as “work.” Learning is hands-on with a focus on social and practical life skills. A lot of learning occurs through special Montessori toys/tools called manipulatives, such as puzzles and blocks. Classrooms are multi-age, with a focus on building a community of learners that support each other.
The Reggio Emilia approach is all project-based. Students choose topics to explore with each other, emphasizing the importance of working together as a community. Students learn to observe and make inquiries about the world around them, and develop a drive for exploration and discovery. A Reggio Emilia classroom focuses on using the four senses to learn, and the teacher is more of a facilitator, allowing student questions to guide learning. The idea is that cooperative learning creates respectful and responsible citizens of the world.
The Waldorf approach focuses on a child’s spirit, soul, and body. Hands-on, play-based learning happens in a home-like setting with predictable routines. Teachers seek to foster an inner drive for learning and to uncover a child’s innate strengths and abilities. The Waldorf method is quite different than most for a few other reasons: It excludes any kind of media (computers, video, or any electronics), and does not involve traditional academics. Note: Children are not introduced to reading in the preschool years–this happens in the first grade in the Waldorf method.
In a HighScope program, a student’s day consists of hands-on experiences in well-organized classrooms with consistent daily routines. There is a focus on academics, based on child development research. Teachers use a method of scaffolding, supporting students at their current level and nudging them to extend and build skills. A HighScope program uses a research-based approach called active participatory learning. A tenet of this method is the “plan-do-review” sequence. Before beginning an activity, students actively create and express a plan for what they are setting out to do, who they’ll do it with, how it will go. Once an activity is completed, they review how it went, taking ownership in the learning process.
The Bank Street approach is play-based, active learning through experience. This program was also developed based on child development research, with a focus on mental, social, emotional, and physical growth. Classroom materials are basic and open-ended to encourage the imagination, and the teacher is seen as a facilitator. Lessons happen through hands-on activities like puzzles, blocks, art, and dramatic play.
Many programs may not prescribe to one specific approach, or they may offer “Waldorf-inspired” curriculum. While all of these program types are distinctly different, one thing should be included in any preschool you choose: lots of opportunity for social skill development. Preschool is your child’s first real chance to become a contributing member of a community, and the emotional and social development that will follow are the building blocks for future academic success.