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Approaches to Early Childhood Education: The 5 Preschool Models Explained

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15th December 2022

What to Look for in Quality Early Education

If you’ve begun the process of researching preschools, then you’ve likely noticed a wide variety of options that exist. The sheer number of preschool models can seem overwhelming. Ultimately, the differences between each preschool curriculum model come down to values and philosophies. Once you understand the values and philosophies behind these common preschool models, you’ll have an easier time deciding which one is right for your child. Remember, preschool is all about helping your child develop a love of learning — in the best way for them.


The 5 Most Common Preschool Education Models

Embracing the Montessori System for Holistic Preschool Development

In a model that promotes independence and inspires a passion for learning, the Montessori educational approach is a student-driven one. This tends to mean that each little one in the classroom chooses an activity that interests them and takes learning at their own pace. Rather than directing the curriculum, teachers act as gentle guides. Along with promoting practical life skills and academic ability, this preschool model also incorporates conflict resolution and social justice into its learning objectives. Through the observation-focused model that Montessori schools present, parents can learn a lot about their child’s early learning preferences. However, if your child is someone who responds best to a very structured schedule, then this may not be the best fit.

Waldorf Strategy: Creative and Integrative Early Learning Methodologies

If you want to encourage your child’s individualistic streak, then you may want to consider Waldorf preschools. These schools emphasize teaching a child how to think, not what to think. This, along with a cozy classroom setting, creates a “home-like” environment for students that aims to foster an enthusiasm for learning. Lessons are experimental and designed to build trust with the educator and encourage a deep understanding of every topic a child explores. Similar to other preschool models’ approaches to learning, Waldorf schools promote artistic exploration, however, Waldorf schools also incorporate mindfulness activities into the curriculum.

Reggio Emilia Philosophy: Progressive Early Child Education Techniques

Often described as taking a wholesome approach to early childhood education, the Reggio Emilia preschool model places as much focus on developing a child’s emotional intelligence as it does their intellectual intelligence. Creative space is important in this preschool model and expression of emotion and imagination are encouraged through activities that are often hands-on and include movement. While Reggio Emilia schools do focus on self-expression, they also focus on community, with children learning how to work with other children through collaboration and active listening. This preschool model’s open-ended philosophy has proven very popular, as many preschool programs in America (even those that don’t bear the name) have incorporated the same philosophy into their approach.

HighScope Framework: Structured Early Educational Strategies for Preschoolers

Another of the academic-style preschool models is the HighScope curriculum, which is designed to engage children through participatory learning. Through hands-on activities, the aim of this model is to develop an academic foundation as well as life skills, such as communication, problem-solving, and conflict resolution. The research-based approach focuses on development indicators, so teachers are monitoring each child’s progress toward development and learning goals. In this way, teachers interpret needs and choose age-appropriate activities to guide learning basics in math, reading, and science. The classrooms in these preschools are well-organized, often with reading and writing centers, and have a consistent routine. Unique to HighScope is its “play-do-review” structure, in which children choose an activity, plan for a goal to reach, and work with teachers to understand the results.

Forest Schools: Innovative Outdoor Learning in Early Childhood Programs

A concept that became popular in the 1950s, forest schools (also called “outdoor schools”) take a child-directed learning approach that allows each young learner to follow their inclinations and explore and connect with the natural world. As the name suggests, these schools have an outdoor learning environment with hands-on, experiential activities. This could mean learning takes place in woodlands, meadows, grassy parks, or beaches — the wilder, the better. The goal of these programs is to promote each child’s sense of imagination and creativity as well as build strong health and a well-rounded understanding of the natural world.

How to Assess Preschool Readiness

When assessing preschool readiness, it’s important to remember that each child develops at their own pace, and not meeting one or two criteria doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t ready for preschool. As you examine whether your child seems ready, it may be helpful to compare their current situation with the different preschool models and their learning model/environment as one may be better suited than another. A few things to consider as you assess are their:

  • social and emotional skills, such as the ability to interact with peers, handle emotions, and demonstrate independence
  • communication skills
  • cognitive skills, like basic problem-solving, recognizing colors, shapes, and numbers
  • ability to adapt to routines and transitions, along with their enthusiasm for learning
  • general health

It’s also helpful to communicate with preschool teachers or child development professionals for a more comprehensive understanding.

Finding the Right Preschool Learning Path for Your Child 

One thing you’ll notice in each of these preschool models is that children will learn mainly through play, which research shows is the best way for them to learn. Find the right program and place for your child by searching on Wonderschool.