You’re looking for a great preschool with a learning program consistent with your worldview – and – there are too many choices! Faced with a plethora of preschool possibilities and curriculum strategies, philosophies, and, of course, research findings, we worry about the best approach for ensuring that our child will be ready to socialize and learn effectively. Will it be the Waldorf approach, Montessori, HighScope, Piaget – based principles, or an eclectic mix cooperative?
At the core of curriculum decision-making, is early childhood development pedagogical theory, with approaches that vary in their emphases. Pedagogy is the art and science of formal teaching; within this, curriculum is a study set designed to accomplish particular learning objectives. Based on your ideas of what is meaningful formal learning, and the kind of studies that you believe will best help achieve meaningful learning, you should sort out three primary ideas that will help you make concrete decisions about preschool. First, do you believe play-based or academic-based learning is more productive? Second, do you believe one-on-one or group play and learning will bring your child the greatest benefit? Finally, is your view that spontaneous learning or thematic learning will help your child to best learn and adapt to structured learning environments? Don’t forget to reflect on the importance of creativity, curiosity, and innovation in childhood development.
Play is child-centered, though there are various degrees of it. Academic training, suggests the introduction of structure and rigor in early childhood development. Is the preschool you are considering, supportive of individual development or does it lean more toward group learning, as an early learning method? Spontaneous learning encourages child-centered creative endeavors; thematic learning, might be a study plan on colors, or textures and can also produce engaged and innovative learning. How attention and focus are considered differs from program to program. Some approaches are prominent and merit consideration in your decision. I’ll touch on a few of them.
In 1919 Rudolf Steiner founded the Waldorf School movement. Three languages, including German are usually taught at Waldorf Schools. Emphasis is on developing strong social interactive skills rather than early reading. Curriculum at Waldorf includes learning poems, eurythmic movement, dress up and pretending to be parents, learning to bake from scratch, and biodynamic farming and the role of healthy foods in life.
Another development pioneer – beginning in 1897 as a student of pedagogy – Maria Montessori undertook experiments and opened her first classroom in 1907. Montessori curriculum is based on a set of stations where children engage in spontaneous activities and learn by doing. Curriculum is based on learning life skills, exercises using the senses, speaking and basic reading, math, and social and natural science studies. While children may play in groups, there is a focus on each child.
The HighScope Model came about as an offshoot of at-risk, urban Head Start Programs and research that examined the adulthood, the life outcomes, of former Head Start alumni. HighScope makes early use of technology in learning. Programs tend to emphasize role playing, movement includes rhythmic dance; activities include classifying shapes, learning to count, sequence, and seriate things. Group development is valued, with less focus on individual wants and needs.
There are many more programs, and there are synthesis programs, some with curricula based on work by education pioneer, Jean Piaget. Some parents may prefer cooperative schools, involving parents in day-to-day classroom activities. Others may take an interest in established community outreach programs, such as those offered by the YMCA. For profit schools may be a good fit for some parents needs, such as those providing late night childcare. Have a look at programs such as Creative Curriculum and Core Knowledge.
Ultimately, your decision is likely to be based on your worldview, and what feels most comfortable for your child. Once you look into a school’s curriculum and learning philosophy, you can combine this information with practical concerns for parents, such as the school’s position in your community, days and hours of availability, and the cost of attending. By all means, visit the school and take the time to observe your child there.
Association of Waldorf Schools of North America:
Montessori Foundation: http://www.montessori.org
HighScope Educational Research Foundation: http://www.highscope.org
Cooperative Schools: http://www.coopschools.com