Preschool 101: Teaching Philosophies and Styles

If you think all preschools are the same, think again. While early childhood education has been around since the mid-1800s, the last one hundred years have seen a wide variety of early child educational philosophies and teaching styles emerge. These continue to evolve today and help make each preschool unique. Learning about the differences in approach can help you choose the preschool that is just the right fit for your child.

The many different philosophies of preschool education fall into two very broad categories: “Play-based”/“child-directed” or “academic”/“teacher-directed”/“traditional” programs. The first, in the words of early childhood education pio

neer Maria Montessori, is that “play is the work of the child.” Play-based educational philosophies include:

  • Montessori, where teachers serve as guides to developmentally appropriate activities that are engaging and imaginative. Children choose activities themselves. Hands-on learning is also part of the Montessori process.
  • Bank Street, which emphasizes the whole child — emotional, social, physical and intellectual education — in an experience-based, interdisciplinary and collaborative setting.
  • Reggio Emilia, which focus on self-expression and the importance of community.
  • Waldorf, also known as Steiner education, which highlights imagination in the intellectual, practical, and artistic development of students.

In “academic” or “teacher-directed” preschools, teachers are the leaders, planning structured classroom activities — such as seasonally themed lessons — and guiding children. Teacher-directed classrooms are more structured and predictable; students follow a set schedule of activities planned by the teacher. Such structure aims to prepare children for kindergarten; learning letters and sounds, distinguishing shapes and colors, counting and doing worksheets is the focus. Play often takes place only during recess time.

Both play-based and academic preschool philosophies have advantages and disadvantages, and high-quality preschools of both types offer great preparation for kindergarten. What does your child need to thrive in a learning environment? What are their strengths and areas of improvement? What do you hope for them to get out of preschool? Ultimately, it is important to understand your own child’s learning style and personality to make the right choice.

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