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What’s in a name: Understanding preschool


Dad and child prepare for the first day of preschool. [Shutterstock image]

As children grow, their needs change – and their personalities begin to develop in earnest. In choosing a preschool, it’s important to match the school to the child.

Traditional, Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio-Emilia – what follows is a quick tutorial on the various schools of thought for educating little ones; however, nothing beats research. Parents should start with considering the child’s personality and learning style. Then, take time to visit the facility and talk with the staff. Finally, talk with other parents about their personal experiences and their specific likes and dislikes.

Traditional preschools are designed to graduate into kindergarten readiness. Typically, phonics, basic number/math skills, early reading skills and fine motor skills are taught. Socializing, kindness, taking turns and sharing are the focus.

The Montessori approach is student-guided, taking a development approach to learning. Teachers take a more passive role in the classroom, allowing children to choose their activity and stay at one activity for an extended period of time. The teacher offers support and guidance when needed, but the Montessori methodology believes that children will actively seek out knowledge and that drives the child’s curiosity. Often Montessori lessons include self-care and taking care of others. Educators are trained specifically in this method to be accredited.

The Waldorf style of preschool is play-based, with an emphasis on a predictable, dependable schedule. Creative learning is the focus, like singing, dancing, acting and reading. A true Waldorf-style learning environment discourages the use of media [computers, videos or electronics] of any kind. Its curriculum also excludes any kind of formal learning, even discouraging the use of desks. Like the Montessori approach, the Waldorf learning style encourages individualism and experiential learning. 

In a Reggio-Emilia classroom environment, the curriculum is project driven. Inquiring students learn through hands-on experience the answer to their questions. Reggio-Emilia teachers are trained to identify areas of interest as sparked by their students and turn them into an in-depth, long-term project that the class completes together. This project becomes the focus of the curriculum throughout the year, finding ways to bring the same project into all subject matters: art, language, math and science.

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