Choosing a preschool can be confusing for new parents – who knew there were so many methods and techniques? But if you’ve done any digging into preschools at all, you know there are a lot of different styles educators use to teach children.
The stakes are high – you can feel as if your child will be disadvantaged if they don’t attend preschool. Some studies do show long-term benefits beyond simply having high grades for those who attend preschool versus those who don’t. Future earnings and high school graduation rates have shown to be affected in some studies.
Figuring out which method to choose for your child though can be complicated. Let’s look at the different models out there and what you can expect from each one.
Main Preschool Models and Approaches/Different Schools of Thought
Let’s get up to speed on the popular methods of preschool learning.
Reggio Emilia Method
Self-directed learning is the hallmark of this method. Its philosophy is that a child’s personality takes root during their younger years while they are developing, and that they have many ways of expressing themselves and their ideas. These ways to express themselves could be anything from sculpting to painting.
Since allowing children to express themselves is a key component of this method, children in these preschools are given a say in the scope of their learning. They are allowed to move around, observe, touch things, and explore their relationships with other kids in the classroom.
The focus of the Waldorf method isn’t strictly academics. Instead, it strives to develop well-rounded students who will be capable of finding the meaning in their lives. This discipline wants children to become independent thinkers.
As such, this method incorporates many disciplines into their curriculums, such as art, music, emotional, physical, and academic education. Reading is introduced later, and Waldorf schools don’t use books until the children are older and won’t introduce computers until high school.
This method works on the principle that children are thirsty for knowledge – their minds are like little sponges ready to absorb all that learning if they have a conducive setting for it. You’ll find some variation in different Montessori schools, but some factors the American Montessori Society thinks are crucial include:
- Long blocks of uninterrupted learning time, as much as three hours at a stretch.
- Giving students a choice of activities out of an array of options.
- Children of different ages in a classroom, usually within a three-year age range.
- Opportunities to learn by discovery rather than through lectures or direct teaching.
Kids love fun, and this preschool style uses playing as the educational method. They learn from playing or doing structured activities. While doing these activities, they are getting social benefits as well by interacting with their classmates and teachers.
And while some parents might wonder if being allowed to play all day is teaching their child anything important, play has been recognized by experts as necessary for physical, social, cognitive, and emotional health.
This method can be a bit more fluid and less rigid than some of the others on this list. As such, it can be combined with other methods as well in classrooms. Since the focus is on fun playing and learning, children often enjoy this style of preschool.
Bank Street Method
The goal with this style is encouraging children to become lifelong learners. By getting children interested in their surroundings, such as the objects around them, places they see, and the people they interact with, it will spark a love of learning. Rather than just memorizing facts, children are given other ways to learn, such as puzzles, field trips, and blocks.
It isn’t competitive in this classroom – teachers encourage children to learn at their own pace and through interaction with their peers. Playing is one of the keys elements teachers use for learning.
Teachers try to touch on a subject through many disciplines. When children are playing with a toy kitchen set, teachers might be asking questions about food, stores, health, and could plan a field trip based off that play experience.
If you’re the type of parent who likes to do hands-on work or feels more comfortable if there is a parent in on your child’s education program, co-op preschools might be for you. This is also a great option for parents who can’t afford the high price tag that comes with other programs.
Co-ops are run with parent volunteers, although there are still paid teachers in charge of the classroom. Parents serve as helping hands, where they can help with making and serving food, cleaning, and doing administrative work. That reduces the cost for the program.
Co-ops can be run using different disciplines, but many focus on learning through playing, rather than solely pursuing academic preparation.
Some people think it’s easier to learn languages when you are younger. Knowing a second language can give a child career advancement down the road or it can preserve your family’s cultural background and ties.
To help with this goal, there are language immersion preschools. They can help introduce children to languages that aren’t spoken at home or can enhance a parent’s efforts to teach them another language. You can choose from partial or full immersion. In partial, about half the time spent in preschool is on language learning.
You can also have the option of a two-way program, where English and another foreign language are both practiced. Two-way programs are less popular than one-way programs that only focus on the foreign language though.
If you think children are spending too much of their time inside and you fondly look back at your childhood days of exploring the great outdoors all day, the growing outdoor preschool movement might interest you.
These programs, which might last three or four hours, require that children spend all or most of their program time outside. Nature becomes their classroom.
The curriculum and methods of teaching may vary, but the key component is spending time outside.
Active learning is the basis of HighScope preschools. By playing and their communications with others in the classroom, children will learn through their surroundings. They’ll work on academic skills as they also enhance their emotional and social development.
Teachers don’t take control – they are seen more as partners. They’ll hand out encouragement and be there to support kids as they work on problem solving.
Some preschools put a high emphasis on helping children develop their STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) skills. Rather than asking students to solely memorize facts, STEM-based programs seek to create independent thinkers. Student will learn about problem-solving, asking questions, experimentation, and making observations.
While obviously this won’t be nearly as entailed as the STEM work done in elementary and junior high schools, the theory is that it gives children a good start.
Gifted-prep preschools are aimed at parents who think their children may be unusually smart or those who need their child to maximize their potential. If your child can handle accelerated learning and working a grade level or two ahead, this may be a good fit for them.
The hours for gifted programs may be longer than ordinary preschools and there are often personalized learning plans. They may also have fewer students per staff member, so children get more individual attention.
A Hybrid or a Mash-Up Preschool
Not everything is always so cut and dried when it comes to preschool methods. Some preschools have had successful with using key components of more than one type and blending them with core elements from other preschool styles as well. The result is a preschool that incorporates two or more preschool methods.
For instance, you could find a preschool that offers STEM training and a strong curriculum geared toward academic achievement, but one that also uses a hands-on approach and believes in exposing children to different scenarios through the use of fieldtrips.
You might find one that puts a high emphasis both on fine arts and STEM.
While a school in your city might be advertised as using one method, such as Montessori, that school might not adhere as strictly to the principles as other schools using that name do. There can be some variation, even within a particular method.
Comparing Different Preschool Styles
The best way to compare the different styles is to ask to spend an hour or so viewing each preschool you’re considering. Sitting in the classrooms will tell you more about a particular method and how it is interpreted at that preschool.
Pay attention to whether the classroom is child-directed with teachers there in supportive roles for learning, or if it is teacher-directed, where the teacher devises the curriculum and leads the children through it.
Note whether the learning is play-based or academic, and how you feel about that method.
And when comparing preschools, don’t forget the type of method may influence how much you’ll pay. Co-ops are notoriously cheaper because parents pitch in to keep the overhead lower. While price shouldn’t be your deciding factor about which preschool to choose, it certainly will play a role.
You don’t want to create extra stress in your household because you’ll need to find a way to pay for the preschool of your dreams. If you’re having to pick up extra hours at work or take on a part-time job to pay for it, you may want to consider finding a cheaper preschool. While preschool is important, so is your child’s time with you.
How Do I Know Which Method is Best for My Child?
When determining which method is right for your child, you need to think about your motivation for sending them.
Do you want your child to have an advantage academically on her peers when she starts kindergarten? Or do you want her to concentrate on having fun and thinking of preschool in a positive light?
Do you want your child to be given the opportunity to learn at her own pace, so she doesn’t feel pressured to perform at a young age, or do you want her to get used to an academic lifestyle at a young age?
Or do you want a combination of all of the above.
Whichever preschool you choose, your child should feel comfortable with it and with the teachers they’ll be spending a significant amount of their time with. You don’t want to make them feel pressured or restricted at their preschool – that could convince them that they don’t like school at all, which can cause problems for the rest of their academic career. Having a positive attitude about learning because they see it as fun will be the key to unlocking their overall happiness and long-term success.
Watch your child and assess what their strengths are. What kind of preschool method do you think would play to those strengths and help them begin to love school and learning?
They Are Only a Kid Once
When in doubt, choose the school that seems the most relaxed and fun and that also helps teaches critical thinking. Also, follow your gut! If the school feels right when you tour the facility, observe the students in teachers in action and after you speak with the staff and possibly other parents that attend, then more than likely it will be a good fit for your family. It’s hard to go wrong with a school where your child feels welcomed, where they can feel free to explore, be themselves, and form tight bonds with other children.
No matter which method you choose, they will be learning something, and every lesson is a valuable one to their development.
If you’re worried that their preschool seems a bit light academically depending on the options available in your area, you can always work on their ABCs, reading skills, and basic math at home too to help supplement the education.