Thursday, November 21, 2019

Four Approaches to Preschool and Why They Matter

When it's time to apply for your first job at a preschool, the options can be overwhelming. There's a temptation to apply everywhere and jump at the first job offer you get. However, before you send out your resume, it's worth taking some time to consider the type of preschool you'd love going to every day. If you've written a personal philosophy of education, start with that. What do you consider to be the most crucial part of a preschooler's education? Are you into Constructivism and a fan of free play, or are you convinced that school readiness should be the focus of a high-quality program? You may fall somewhere in the middle, and that's OK. What matters is that you know where you stand so you can focus your efforts on finding a good fit with a school you love. To focus your search, consider the following four popular approaches to preschool and think about which may be the best environment for you as a teacher.

Four Approaches to Preschool and Why They Matter


HighScope schools focus on active learning. Children are encouraged to construct their own knowledge through the Plan-Do-Review framework. The most famous iteration of the HighScope curriculum may be the Perry Preschool Project, which established the value of early childhood education, both on a human scale and as a financial consideration. Another famous school system that often uses the HighScope curriculum is Head Start.

Reggio Emilia

The Reggio Emilia curriculum is named after a town in Italy called, you guessed it, Reggio Emilia. Hallmarks of the Reggio approach include:
  • The Hundred Languages of Children. This phrase refers to the belief that children have infinite ways of expressing themselves, each of which should be honored.
  • Provocations. Provocations are open-ended (but not unplanned) materials that are set out for the children to explore without direct instruction and without a specific end in mind.
  • The three teachers. The first teacher in Reggio Emilia's thinking is the parent, the second is the classroom teacher, and the third teacher is the environment. Therefore, Reggio-inspired teachers pay special attention to setting up the environment. The moment you walk into a Reggio Emilia school, such as Little Sunshine's Playhouse, you will notice the breathtaking beauty of the environment. 
  • Documentation. In the context of the Reggio Emilia curriculum, documentation doesn't necessarily refer to file folders full of reports or to statistics reported to a governing body. Instead, the documentation is part of the learning and reflecting process. It may involve children's work or photographs of the children working. A standout feature of Reggio-style documentation is that it is displayed publicly for the children, their parents, and visitors to see.


Maria Montessori was a pioneer in the field of early childhood education. She set out to teach "unteachable" children, and her methods were so successful that they have been applied to learners of all ages. In the preschool context, the Montessori curriculum focuses more on regulation and practice than on free play. Still, the children are free to choose their own activities within the structure of the Montessori classroom. Familiar features in Montessori classrooms include:Self-correcting materials. The Montessori method centers on specific materials that don't turn out right if not put together correctly. For example, when working with the Montessori cylinder block, a child quickly learns that, if even one cylinder is out of place, not all the cylinders will fit back into the block.
  • Self-correcting materials. The Montessori method centers on specific materials that don't turn out right if not put together correctly. For example, when working with the Montessori cylinder block, a child quickly learns that, if even one cylinder is out of place, not all the cylinders will fit back into the block.
  • Practical life elements. Practical life materials are easy to notice in the Montessori classroom because they include real glasses, child-sized water pitchers, and so on. The children use them to practice real-life skills at a scale they can handle.


Waldorf schools focus on the whole child and do not emphasize academics at an early age. In fact, classic Waldorf schools don't teach reading to children younger than age seven. Some Waldorf-inspired schools approach academics earlier than age seven, mainly when they are motivated by state school-readiness standards. Other unmistakable features of Waldorf preschools include:

  • Imagery. Rudolf Steiner, the man behind the Waldorf philosophy, believed in the great power of imagery and metaphor. Therefore, imagery is the foundation for many aspects of the Waldorf approach.
  • Natural materials. You won't find plastic toys in a Waldorf classroom. Instead, the children use natural materials in their play, including wood, silk, and beeswax.
  • Learning through story. Story is an underlying theme in Waldorf curriculum. Children learn from stories in all subjects, not only literature and history.

Some schools blend two or more core philosophies or take bits and pieces from all over. Others adhere strictly to one ideology. When you start researching new opportunities, read the job ad carefully but then go to the center's website and read the philosophy and curriculum pages. Although they're geared toward parents, they will give you a wealth of information about what goes on behind the scenes. Before you interview, make a note to yourself about your have-to-haves, nice-to-haves, and deal-breakers. That way, you're less likely to get caught up in the moment and accept a job that honestly isn't a good fit for you. Wherever you end up, you're sure to learn a lot and make lots of fun memories along the way!

Disclosure: This is a partnered post. 

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