How to find the right preschool for your child
Montessori, play based, cooperative – there are many different types of preschool programs out there. Whether you already know the type of teaching method you’re looking for or have no clue what the differences are, it’s a good idea to be familiar with the more common types of early education philosophies. You don’t have to be an expert – a general understanding of the different approaches is enough to help you figure out what kind of environment is right for your child.
A nursery school’s philosophy has a lot to do with the kinds of learning goals the program emphasizes, how the teacher interacts with the students, and what kind of toys and materials are available in the classroom. Each individual school may interpret a particular teaching method in its own way. Many preschools combine philosophies, taking ideas from several to create their own approaches.
When reviewing the different types of schools, picture your child in each setting, keeping in mind that she’ll probably do well in more than one kind of program. When reading about the different philosophies, keep in mind that the personality traits listed for children that may do well with each philosophy are not set in stone and should be used just as a guide. As all approaches have valid points, it’s up to you to decide which is right for your child and your family. Also, be sure to read each school’s mission statement carefully, and talk to the director during your visit to see how he describes the school’s educational philosophy.
CHILD-CENTERED VERSUS TEACHER-DIRECTED
All the major teaching philosophies fall into either the “child-centered” or the “teacher-directed” categories. Most preschools incorporate both child-centered and teacher-directed activities at some point in their daily curriculum.
In a child-centered classroom, children choose what activities they want to do and when to do them. This type of program is fairly unstructured, and children learn at their own paces, usually playing by themselves or in small groups.
Teacher-directed classrooms have a more structured feel, as teachers tell the children what activities to do and when they will do them. All of the students are expected to follow a set schedule of activities that the teacher has planned, so they all do the same thing at the same time.
The play-based philosophy, also called developmentally appropriate or progressive, is the most common preschool philosophy in the United States and falls into the “child-centered” category. The belief is that children learn best through play, so kids should be able to choose their own activities on the basis of what interests them at the time. This increases their motivation to learn and try new things, building creativity, confidence, and a love for school. Kids get to learn about a wide variety of subjects in an age-appropriate way. As each child develops at his or her own pace, teachers support and encourage students to try slightly more challenging activities when they’re ready.
Is a Play-Based School Right for Your Child?
A play-based approach is great for most children, though some may do better with more structure. If you’re looking for more social and developmental growth rather than academic learning at this point in your child’s life, a play-based preschool may be right for your family. Children will probably do well in a play-based school if they:
- like being active and have a lot of energy
- enjoy socializing with other kids
- aren’t bothered by noisy play or lots of things going on at the same time
Dr. Maria Montessori developed her child-centered teaching method on her concept that play is the child’s work. Although Montessori schools focus on academics, the goal is to let learning happen naturally through real-life experiences and at the child’s own pace. Another important goal is to foster independence and self-esteem. Schools accomplish this by allowing children to make their own choices and by teaching them how do to things for themselves, such as putting their shoes on the right feet or pouring themselves a glass of milk.
Is a Montessori Preschool Right for Your Child?
If you’re looking for a calm, child-centered learning environment that emphasizes academics, a Montessori school can be a wonderful option. Children may do well at a Montessori nursery preschool if they:
- are independent and like playing on their own
- can follow directions
- have a long attention span
Real Parents Talk
We really like how our children have grown under the Montessori education. At home, they’re able to select a project (whether it be a puzzle, a book, a toy, or a drawing) on their own and work on it independently. When they’re done, they always know that they need to put it back on the shelf where it came from. They’re encouraged to take care of themselves, whether it be dressing themselves, pursuing their interests, or cleaning up after their activities.
- Angela P., Seattle, Washington
You can learn more about Montessori preschools at the following websites:
- American Montessori Society, at www.amshq.org
- Association Montessori Internationale, at www.montessori-ami.org
- The Montessori Foundation, at www.montessori.org
This child-centered approach is based on the belief that children are capable, curious learners who must be free to learn for themselves and express their thoughts and ideas.
Reggio-inspired preschools follow a project-based curriculum guided by the interests of the students. If a group of children start observing and asking about birds, for example, the teacher may begin a birds project. The class may read books and sing songs about birds, create binoculars out of empty cardboard rolls for bird watching, make bird feeders, and take a field trip to a local pet store. Projects can last anywhere from a few days to a full year, and the teacher can choose to involve the group of kids or the entire class.
Real Parents Talk
I’m impressed with the Reggio Emilia approach and how the children lead the direction of the curriculum with the teacher’s guidance. I love seeing all the documentation on the walls like the pictures and quotes from the children and all their drawings and paintings.
- Ki K., Montclair, New Jersey
Is a Reggio Emilia Preschool Right for Your Child?
If you’re looking for a preschool that’s all about following the child’s natural inclination to learn, a Reggio-inspired school could be just what you’re looking for. You’ll also almost feel like you’re there yourself when you see all the photos and other documentation the teacher collects about your child. Reggio Emilia may be right for children who:
- are creative and enjoy art, dramatic play, or music
- do well in a group environment, working and playing collaboratively with other kids
- love hands-on activities and exploring
You can learn more about Reggio-inspired preschools at the following websites:
- North American Reggio Emilia Alliance, at www.reggioalliance.org
- Innovative Teacher Project, at www.innovativeteacherproject.org
In 1919, Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian scientist and educational theorist, founded the Waldorf approach. The Waldorf philosophy is child-centered but has a strong group orientation and a predictable structure and routine. This rhythm and predictability give students a sense of familiarity and well-being. Waldorf focuses on creativity and the arts and emphasizes cooperation and working together. Based on the idea of educating the whole child-body, mind, and spirit-Waldorf schools provide a warm, nurturing environment that feels more like a home than a school.
Waldorf nursery schools use hands-on activities and imaginary play to foster a love of learning, a sense of teamwork, and concentration skills.
Is a Waldorf Preschool Right for Your Child?
If you’re looking for a nurturing, homelike preschool where creativity is encouraged and academics are not emphasized, a Waldorf school can be a lovely place to go to preschool. A Waldorf preschool may be right for children who:
- are comfortable playing and exploring in groups
- learn well through imitation and repetition
- are imaginative free spirits
You can learn more about Waldorf preschools at the website of the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, at www.whywaldorfworks.org.
Also known as traditional, the academic approach is a more structured, teacher-directed approach focused on formal reading and math readiness skills, such as learning letter names and sounds and how to count. The philosophy behind the academic approach is that preschoolers benefit by preparing for the rigors of kindergarten and beyond at an early age. Similar to what children can expect to find in kindergarten, schools have a closely followed daily schedule of planned activities so that each day is consistent and predictable. Play takes place during recess outdoors or perhaps during a free-play period, but classroom time is devoted to developing skills such as identifying colors; measuring time; solving problems; and other reading, writing, and math skills. Teachers often plan a curriculum around a theme, such as farms or seasons. Traditional programs also teach classroom etiquette like raising your hand before speaking, following the teacher’s instructions, and sitting in your seat until a lesson is over.
Is an Academic Preschool Right for Your Child?
If you’re looking for a preschool that introduces academic subjects in a structured classroom environment, an academic preschool could be the right option. Children may do well in academic preschools if they:
- are able to follow instructions
- can sit still and pay attention for twenty to thirty minutes
- do well with structure and direction
Excerpted from How to Choose the Best Preschool For Your Child.
Used by permission.