Popular and Prevalent Preschool Philosophies

Preschool, at its most basic function, serves as an introduction to childhood education and a structured school system. Experts estimate that at least 75 percent of all children will have some sort of experience within a preschool or childcare setting. As such, when looking into a preschool you want to make sure you are placing your child in a facility that will best suit their individual needs. This can be a daunting task for a parent given all of the different choices available, such as private vs. public, secular vs. non-secular, etc. As you begin researching different preschools you may also notice that they are not all created equal. Most preschools subscribe to one of five different philosophies. The following is a breakdown of some of the more popular philosophies that are prevalent today:

1. Developmentally appropriate
Otherwise known as DAP, the developmentally appropriate model is recognized primarily for its use of age appropriate and individually appropriate activities. Ideally, a good DAP teacher will identify each individual child’s needs and abilities and then plan a curriculum based on those requirements. This model generally believes in providing a combination of structured and unstructured activities, relying heavily on learning through play and taking advantage of “teachable moments”. The developmentally appropriate model doesn’t really teach academics such as reading or writing, but instead puts the emphasis on preparing the child to learn once they enter kindergarten. It prepares a young child for the more structured routine found in a regular school setting and introduces the teacher as an authority figure. This model presents benefits for the child as they learn basic social and problem solving skills. They gain knowledge through exposure to a number of different activities and experiences. The advantage for parents is that most of the existing preschools in this country today operate under the developmentally appropriate model, so there are plenty to choose from.

2. Cooperative
Similar to the developmentally appropriate model, the cooperative model also relies on teaching through play. Where these models differ however is the integration of parents and caregivers within the classroom setting. Parents, teachers and preschool directors all work cooperatively to enhance a child’s learning experience. The thinking is that when the parents become more involved in their child’s preschool education, then both parent and child have the opportunity to learn and grow together. While the children may be learning new skills, the parent learns exactly how their child takes in their world through socialization, choice making, and play. It is thought that with this knowledge the parent can then better support their child in meeting their intellectual and emotional needs. This is a great model for the truly “hands on” parent.

The advantages of a cooperative preschool include affordability. Because of required parental involvement, there is less of a burden to pay employee salaries. As such, cooperative preschools are able to keep tuition and other school fees to a minimum. Cooperative preschools are also great at fostering a sense of community since everyone has a vested interest in making sure the facility operates at optimal capacity. Some of the disadvantages to this model are the lack of accredited teachers. Unlike traditional preschool settings, co-op teachers are trained, but do not have to be accredited with the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), and are generally not certified to teach. Another disadvantage to this model can be the amount of time a parent is expected to devote to the preschool. Although some parents will see this as a great advantage, others may see this as overwhelming and burdensome. Before enrolling your child in a cooperative preschool parents really must ask themselves if they can make the time commitment.

3. Montessori
This philosophy was created by Maria Montessori, an Italian educator and physician who believed that “children learn from doing.” According to Montessori, “A child’s work is to create the person she/he will become.” and that learning should occur in an inquiring and nurturing atmosphere. As such, a typical Montessori classroom would be filled with children of various ages, at various skill levels, the thinking being that children learn best by watching other children. Also, by grouping these children together, it is thought that this establishes more effective social skills as well as a stronger sense of community. Montessori preschoolers are encouraged to take their own initiative in learning, as opposed to being spoon fed a lesson plan. Children are asked for their input regarding whether or not they are interested in learning a new activity and if they feel they are emotionally ready to attempt a new skill.

The Montessori classroom is probably not the right fit for a parent who is looking for a more structured setting for their child. Something else to note is that anyone can use the Montessori name. If you’re looking for a true Montessori classroom then make sure to ask if the teachers have been formally trained by the American Montessori Society or the Association Montessori Internationale.

4. Waldorf
This philosophy is based upon the principles of Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian scientist, philosopher and educator. Steiner’s philosophy promotes itself on being progressive and is based on the belief that that it is imperative to develop the whole child – including the spirit, the soul, and the body. Within this model, academics again take a backseat to more artistic and creative endeavors. The Waldorf method has generated some controversy based on its close ties to Anthroposophy. Steiner defined Anthroposophy as “a path of knowledge leading the spiritual in the human being to the spiritual in the universe.” Critics of Anthroposophy have compared the tenets of this philosophy with that of the New Age movement and have even gone so far as to call it “cult-like.” Some parents find the Waldorf philosophy to be too much at odds with their own more traditional religious beliefs.

5. Reggio Emilia
In 1991, Newsweek acknowledged the Reggio Emilia approach to education as an exemplary model of early childhood education. This program, while not widely prevalent in the United States, originated in Reggio Emilia, Italy. The philosophy revolves around the belief that a child is full of possibility and potential with the ability to gain knowledge through interaction with others. This philosophy also puts a great emphasis on learning through art. Yet another emphasis of this model is the use of a child’s environment. A typical Reggio Emilia classroom includes an atelier. This is a French word that means “artist’s studio” and it is where the children gather to explore different artistic mediums such as, paints, ceramics, clay, etc. The children are encouraged to express themselves artistically and to appreciate others within their environment. One drawback to the Reggio Emilia philosophy is that it offers no set lesson plans, which may hinder a child’s readiness for kindergarten.

Whichever preschool philosophy you may subscribe to, you should always make sure that it is currently licensed. While accreditation is not required, the NAEYC will certify preschools that pass its strict evaluation process. This type of official recognition by the NAEYC is a great endorsement and should be kept in mind when considering any preschool.

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