There's no right or wrong preschool philosophy. Every family has different values and children are unique beings who thrive in different settings. More so, the application of a philosophy will vary from school-to-school.
Academic: Teacher-led and managed programs that emphasize academic skills, such as shapes, letters, and colors. These are structured settings where children learn through worksheets, drills, and recitation, rather than play.
Bank Street: The focus is on educating the “whole child” in four ways – emotionally, socially, physically, and intellectually in an experience-based, interdisciplinary and collaborative setting. This is also known as the Development-Interaction approach and often offers mixed-age classrooms.
Co-Op: Cooperative preschools are frequently called Parent Participation Preschools. Groups of families with similar approaches to education hire a teacher to lead the preschool class. These are administered and maintained by the parents on a non-profit, non-sectarian basis. Parents attend school with the children and share in the business operations of the school.
Combination: Often preschools don’t subscribe to a singular philosophy and borrow elements from many others to develop their approach and curriculum. Speak to the individual preschool to learn which philosophies they combine.
Emergent: Activities and projects are planned based on the skills, needs, and interests of the children in the classroom. Teachers seek to answer children’s questions through age-appropriate discovery projects, rather than providing simple responses.
HighReach: The goal is to produce competent, eager learners through play-based, project-focused work. The belief is that families play an integral role in the learning process, and that school experiences should be purposeful, interactive, meaningful, relevant, active, and playful.
HighScope: Designed to support a child’s positive interactions with adults and peers. The curriculum is based on active learning and focuses on eight content areas: Approaches to Learning, Social and Emotional Development, Physical Development and Health, Language, Literacy and Communication, Mathematics, Creative Arts, Science and Technology, and Social Studies.
Inquiry-Based: Teachers ask open-ended questions, allowing children to investigate and deepen their thinking, rather than providing correct or incorrect answer. Children are guided to solve problems through experimenting and evaluating potential solutions. The learning process is documented through photography, videos, audio recordings, narratives and transcripts.
Language Immersion: The goal of a language immersion program is to develop bilingual children. The intensity of the programs vary from school to school, with some only speaking the non-native language in class, and others taking a dual language approach. Often language immersion programs will incorporate other preschool philosophies into their curriculum.
Montessori: Developed in the early 1900s by Maria Montessori, this philosophy allows children to learn at their own pace. The approach is fostered by mixed age classrooms and independent work, bolstering self-esteem in older children as they help the younger ones. Often, they’ll have the same teacher for the entire time they’re in preschool allowing them to develop deeper student-teacher relationships.
Reggio: Coming from the town Reggio Emilia in Northern Italy, these schools take a cooperative project-based approach based on the interests of students in the classroom. Rather than answering questions directly, teachers will develop a project that relates to the inquiries so students can seek answers together. Documentation through photographs, videos, and writing observations is often part of the teacher’s role, so parents and students can review what’s been done throughout the year.
RIE: Pioneered by Magda Gerber, this approach always treats children in a respectful way, acknowledging that they are human beings, never objects. The goal is developing an “authentic child” through safe, challenging, predictable environments, uninterrupted play, freedom to explore, and consistency.
Traditional: Traditional preschools may borrow from other approaches, but generally, everyone student learns the same thing at the same time. Classes are separated by age groups, and lessons are developed by the teachers with little or no input from the students.
Waldorf: Also known as Steiner Education, Waldorf schools are based off the ideas of Rudolf Steiner that humans are beings of body, soul, and spirit. The environment is designed to be home-like with natural materials, classwork is designed with a purpose, and there is ample time allowed for unstructured and imaginative play.