Making Sense of All the Preschool Options

Our children's bodies, minds, emotions, and spirits combined make them the unique and amazing individuals that they are. It also potentially affects the kind of learning environment that they’ll thrive in. All kids are different. The good thing is that these days, there’s a variety of schools and teaching styles to choose from to really help bring out the best in our kids.

In your quest to find the perfect preschool, you’ll come across schools with varying philosophies and approaches. Some preschools’ focal point might be on creativity and individually focused learning, while other learning environments may lean toward group projects. Some programs promote play as the primary learning activity, and others follow a more traditional academic learning style. It pays off to do your homework and to be vested in the process. These are some of the most popular preschools out there:


The Waldorf philosophy, which began with the founding of the first Waldorf School in 1919, is a home-like atmosphere that encourages a creative, hands-on, group-learning dynamic with a focus on rhythmic repetition in a supportive environment. The main objective is to nurture a child's spirit, soul, and body, and to focus on their interests. The main principle of the Waldorf program is consistency. The daily and weekly schedule follows a consistent rhythm, and teachers often remain with the same group of students for as long as eight years. This long-term teaching commitment allows both teacher and student to develop a trusting relationship.

Reggio Emilia

Reggio Emilia schools were based on the highly successful preschools developed by the townspeople of Reggio Emilia during the 1940s, and they have become popular here in the States. The Reggio Emilia approach encourages exploration, community, and self-expression. The curriculum consists of projects that reflect the interests of the students. Teachers observe the spontaneous curiosity of their students, and then guide them to create projects that reflect their pursuits. There is no formal Reggio Emilia curriculum, teacher training, or credentialing because Reggio Emilia is not a set method, but an educational theory and practice.


The Montessori approach is a comprehensive program developed by physician and educator Maria Montessori, and it takes a developmental approach to learning, following a more rigorous schedule with guided learning. The Montessori approach focuses primarily on the importance of nature, creativity, and hands-on learning, with gentle teacher support and guidance. The goal of the Montessori Method is to develop a child's senses, character, practical life skills, and academic ability. The fundamental idea of Montessori is that children are individual learners with teachers merely acting as their guides.

Bank Street

Bank Street preschools are the brainchild of Lucy Sprague Mitchell, who in 1916 founded the first early childhood program at the Bank Street College of Education in New York City. The Bank Street school approach regards children as active learners, and the world around them is considered to be the most effective teaching tool of all. The lessons focus on social development, art, and science. The students are given basic toys to play with in class and encouraged to use their imagination. They work both alone and in a group setting with specially-trained teachers shepherding them. Bank Street programs are beneficial for children who learn better in an unstructured environment.

Parent Co-Ops

If you feel like a more directly involved approach to your child's school experience resonates best, then you might consider a cooperative preschool. In this learning approach, parents are actively involved with their little people’s education on a daily basis and work jointly with the classroom teachers. It’s a hands-on approach encouraging parents and their preschooler to learn together in a nurturing environment—with an emphasis on cooperation conflict resolution. Parents are involved in the business operations of the school by serving on the school's board of directors. While the concept of a symbiotic relationship is appealing, co-ops certainly aren't for everyone because of the responsibilities and time commitments.


The HighScope Curriculum uses a carefully designed approach called active participatory learning. Children learn actively by having hands-on experiences with their surroundings, and learning is supported through consistent daily routines and well-organized classrooms. HighScope approaches academia with planned experiences in the basic subjects of math, reading, and science. It also incorporates activities such as singing and dictating stories. The one-on-one approach makes it a great fit for special needs children.

Things to Keep in Mind

Be clear about what’s best. Carefully consider your little ones’ personality and what learning style would best resonate with them. Keep an open mind as you research the various types of programs available, and be certain that you make the selection that best fits their needs. Just because we like a certain school, doesn’t necessarily means that it’s right for your children.

See the bigger picture. There are a variety of early childhood philosophies, but here in the States, they tend to fall into two main categories: one approach is based on learning through discovery, while the second philosophy focuses on more academically-based programs. Decide on a teaching approach based on your child’s personality, and then begin the process of narrowing and individualizing the choices.

Consider full versus half-day. Take into account your children’s individual needs, such as their age, energy level, and maturity, and other factors. If you are not sure that they (or you) can handle a full day, then seek a school that respects your child’s limitations.

Finding the right preschool is an important milestone for our little ones, and a big decision for us. We have to do the research, but at the end of the day, follow our heart.

Currently researching your child’s preschool options? What type of schools/learning styles are you leaning toward? Share with us!

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