Preparing to send your child off to preschool for the first time can be a little overwhelming. There are so many different types of early childhood education approaches and preschools, you may be wondering which one will be best for your child. Some programs are focused on preparing your child for success in kindergarten, while some are more focused on the arts or character building. Some programs follow a strict curriculum, while some allow your child to pursue their unique interests.
If you have begun the process of looking for a preschool for your child, there are 6 common types of preschools you may have heard of:
- Reggio Emilia
Each one has its own approach to learning and requires differing amounts of parental involvement. Here, we’ve outlined some of the unique features of each program to help you decide which type of preschool program might be right for you and your child.
If your primary concern is to prepare your child for a standard K-12 public school setting, you might consider looking into traditional preschool programs. This can include privately-run preschools as well as public pre-K programs offered by local elementary schools. The purpose of a traditional preschool is to introduce children to a school setting and teach them skills and concepts in preparation for kindergarten.
Traditional preschools are typically teacher-led, with a predictable schedule and set curriculum. Children will be in a structured environment, divided by age, that may include play time, arts and crafts, circle time, and academics, which will often include learning their alphabet, numbers, increasing their vocabulary, and beginning to write. In this kind of classroom setting, children gain independence and important social skills as well that will get them ready to move on to kindergarten.
The Montessori method is one of the most popular alternative approaches to early childhood education. Founded by Italian physician Maria Montessori, this method provides children with structured freedom that allows them to pursue their own interests. While specially trained teachers often lead the classroom through individual and small group instruction, students are given long blocks of work time where they can choose from a variety of activities. Teachers are often seen as a guide, while children have responsibility over their own work.
A unique feature of this kind of preschool is multi-age classrooms — you may have children ranging from age 3 to 5 in a single preschool classroom. Montessori classrooms also tend to limit the use of technology, focusing on practical skills, like scooping, pouring, and even activities that involve cleaning or washing their own dishes. Children will learn to be independent as well as learning their alphabet, numbers, and basic writing skills that will prepare them for kindergarten.
While Waldorf preschools are less common than Montessori, you may find some preschools that use Waldorf-inspired instruction. This approach to education is very student-led and focuses on free play, art, storytelling and imaginative play. Along with the arts, students learn through practical tasks like cleaning and gardening. Teachers are specially trained in the Waldorf method, which was founded by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, and learning is often guided by each students’ unique needs.
This type of school is often less structured than traditional preschool settings, and teachers tend to hold off on more formal schooling during early childhood. Instead, they will wait to begin lessons in reading, writing, and math until they feel that a child is developmentally ready. Technology is often limited in Waldorf classrooms as well.
Reggio Emilia Preschools
Founded in Italy by early childhood educator Loris Malaguzzi, the Reggio Emilia approach to education encourages a collaborative learning environment. Parents are often involved in their children’s education as volunteers within the preschool and children are given some control over the direction of their education. Similar to the Waldorf method, there is a focus on the arts, and children are encouraged to express themselves in a variety of ways.
Teachers in Reggio Emilia schools are researchers and are seen as collaborators and co-learners with their students. Rather than following a set curriculum, they allow each child’s interests to lead the direction of their education. Instruction often involves long-term projects that allow children to make mistakes and explore different topics. As with the Montessori and Waldorf methods, a Reggio Emilia education discourages the use of technology for learning.
If you would like to be directly involved with your child’s early childhood education, you may be interested in a cooperative preschool, sometimes called a parent co-op. These schools are often started by a group of parents who work alongside a licensed teacher, although you can likely find some established co-ops in your area that have been around for years. In these preschools, parents often take turns as teaching assistants in the classroom as well as volunteering for various administrative responsibilities necessary to keep the school running smoothly.
These preschools are good for parents who want to introduce their children to a school setting, but still want to be involved actively in their schooling. Children are often introduced to a structured classroom as well as concepts that will help them to prepare for kindergarten, although a co-op can include any approach to education depending on the teacher’s training. Parents also need to be committed to volunteering regularly to get the most out of a co-op preschool.
Many churches offer faith-based preschool programs, which can differ in structure and curriculum, but often incorporate religious principles in their education. Often, they will teach traditional preschool topics like math and writing, but they may be taught through a religious lens. They may also focus on developing a child’s character, teaching concepts like kindness, compassion, and generosity.
How much a faith-based preschool focuses on religious concepts and formal schooling preparation can vary depending on the program, so you will need to do your research to determine if one fits your needs. Overall, it should introduce your child to a structured classroom setting before beginning kindergarten.
Lillard, A. “The Early Years: Evaluating Montessori Education.” Science, vol. 313, no. 5795, 2006, pp. 1893–1894., doi:10.1126/science.1132362.
Aljabreen, Haifa. “Montessori, Waldorf, and Reggio Emilia: A Comparative Analysis of Alternative Models of Early Childhood Education.” International Journal of Early Childhood, vol. 52, no. 3, 2020, pp. 337–353., doi:10.1007/s13158-020-00277-1.
My name is John Haber. I’m a Pediatric Occupational Therapist and the founder of Nogginsland. I became a COTA in 2003, and then went back to school much later, receiving my Master’s Degree in OT from Mercy College in New York in 2016.
Over the years, I’ve worked with a variety of populations in different settings, from school districts, to developmental disability centers, to children’s hospitals.