What Type of Preschool Best Suits Your Child?
Deciphering Major Preschool Philosophies
Developmentally Appropriate Preschool
There are several different philosophies to consider when choosing a preschool program for your tot. Preschool can be a wonderful, exciting time, but it’s important to understand your child’s development and personality in order to make the right choice. Remember the goal of preschool is to develop readiness skills so that your child will succeed when entering kindergarten.
Preschool is not a formal academic program, but a time to allow your child to learn by exploring, playing, and experimenting with objects. Children at this age learn through direct sensory activities. So, when making the decision it’s important to understand the goals and philosophy behind the different types of preschool programs.
This the most common type of preschool philosophy in the United States. A developmentally appropriate program tends to emphasize the different areas of a preschooler’s development, which are physical, cognitive, emotional, and social. The classroom is set up with a “hands-on” approach.
In this type of program there is a mixture of both self-directed and teacher directed activities. The teacher may have a curriculum or activities that fit the child’s age and level of development however, the child may lead the play and the teacher will join in. For example, a child may show an interest in the kitchen area and the teacher will take that opportunity to talk about cooking or mealtime.
There is usually a schedule that is followed each day, but may be looser in the morning with “free play” and later may be more structured with circle time or a group activity. These types of programs usually shy away from activities that seem strictly academic and believe that structure isn’t the best way for a preschool child to learn.
These programs are based on the philosophy of Dr. Maria Montessori, PhD, from the early 1900s, who believed that children learn by accomplishing different tasks, or using toys as tools to accomplish these tasks.
A Montessori classroom is very structured, with children moving from activity to activity but at the child’s own pace. This is a very individualized program and children are encouraged to work without other children. The classroom is very orderly and children learn to use a toy or tool in one way only and are discouraged from dramatic play.
In a Montessori classroom teachers are there to control the environment, not the child. Dr. Montessori found that children in this type of setting developed strong self-discipline and lengthened attention spans. Some parents find this approach anti-creative, too restrictive, or not playful enough, while others feel it is the right place for a child who may thrive in a calm and orderly setting.
If you choose a Montessori preschool program and plan to transition your child to a developmental kindergarten, your child may find this a challenge. The structure found in most public kindergartens is very different from Montessori-style teaching, and the absence of any Montessori tools can be a shock to a child. Keep this in mind if your child has difficulty with transitions.
There are just over 120 Waldorf preschools in North America. This philosophy was based on Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner in the early 1900s.
In this program the classroom offers plenty of opportunity for dramatic, imitative, and creative play, as well as an emphasis on practical activities such as gardening and cooking. Academics are de-emphasized and there is a strong importance on developing the child’s senses. A major difference with this curriculum is, if a child stays in the Waldorf school, he or she will continue with the same teacher for eight years. The goal of this practice is to promote encouragement and understanding of each individual child.
Reggio Emilia Preschool
This curriculum was developed in Reggio Emilia, Italy. It combines some characteristics of both developmental programs and Montessori. The central element in this approach is the emphasis on a child’s symbolic language such as drawing, dramatic play, and writing. This is considered an extension of the “whole language” approach. In a Reggio Emilia classroom the environment plays a key role, as it is often considered another “teacher.” In the classroom there is a conscious use color, natural light, and space. Children are taught to value and respect their environment.
Another important factor is parental involvement. School and home are considered a partnership. The classroom is very child directed and projects tend to follow a child’s interest. It is unusual to find a time limit on any one project. This philosophy believes that projects are developed over time and children should be able to go back and revisit their work. This is believed to develop forms of self-expression.
Parent cooperative preschools are formed by groups of parents with similar philosophies who organize to provide their children with a quality preschool experience. The school is administered and maintained by the parents on a non-profit, non-sectarian basis, and are owned and operated by the parent members. Each family volunteers to do a job related to the business operation of the organization as well as serve as an educational assistant in the classroom on a rotating basis.
The basic philosophy is that children and parents go to school together with guidance from a qualified teacher. The focus is on child development. The teacher plans the curriculum and also helps to educate the parents about teaching and parenting methods. The parents often contribute their talents to help enrich the classroom. This creates a triangular relationship where the children, parents, and teacher all learn from one another.
Questions to Ask When Choosing a Preschool
There is so much to consider when selecting the right school for your child and your family. Answers to the following questions will help you in the decision-making process.
- Are they licensed by the state? Do they have national accreditation, such as NAEYC (National Association of the Education of Young Children). The NAEYC sponsors an accreditation process, which evaluates every component of a preschool program.
- What is the student-teacher ratio?
- What are the backgrounds of the teachers?
- What is teacher turnover rate?
- Do the teachers take part in continuing education programs?
- What is the daily schedule? Remember, this age group learns best by play.
- How does the program handle a child who is having a tough time separating from Mom or Dad?
- What is the discipline policy? The goal of discipline is self-control, not punishment. Avoid a program that uses corporal punishment.
- Are parents encouraged to get involved?
- May I talk with other parents at the school about their experience?
- Are parents welcome to observe a class in session?
- How is information about the child’s day shared with parents?
Once you have found a program that interests you, bring your child and use your instincts as your guide. Does your child seem comfortable with the teacher, with the kids, and the classroom? Is the teacher making an effort to make your child feel welcome? Does it seem like a place that you would like to spend several hours of your day? It’s important to talk about the program and ask your child their thoughts. Transitioning to preschool can take some time, especially if your child has little experience away from a familiar relative or favorite caregiver. A good preschool should welcome your decision to stay with your child most of the first day or the first hour or so every day the first week. Once your child knows what to expect, your presence shouldn’t be necessary.
Lastly, enjoy this time! Your preschooler will be bringing home stories, experiences, and a broader world—and the one she wants to share it with is you!
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