What to look for in a preschool: Decoding the jargon

What to look for in a preschool: Decoding the jargon
PHOTO: Unsplash

If you are looking for a preschool in Singapore for your child, you may encounter early childhood jargon like "learning centres", "Reggio Emilia", "Montessori" and so on.

What do these terms really mean? We decode them for you.

Age-appropriate approach

It supports children's development and learning at different levels.

To ensure that children receive continuous education from toddlerhood to the preschool level, the curriculum is designed such that children's learning at each level is built upon the previous one.

Inquiry-based approach

An approach to learning where the natural curiosity of young minds are stimulated as children are guided to take an active role in their own educational process by asking focused questions and exploring their environment, to find answers to these questions.

Attitudes and concepts are explored through the integrated studies of familiar themes.

Learning centre

An area or corner within a classroom with specific task cards, games and activities that supplements lessons and reinforces children's understanding of concepts. The area is also designed to promote self-directed, independent and cooperative play and learning.


Named after Italian educator Maria Montessori, it emphasises self-directed activity on the part of the child, and clinical observation on the part of the teacher.

It stresses the importance of adapting a child's learning environment to his developmental level, and of the role of physical activity in teaching abstract concepts and practical skills.

It is also characterised by the use of self-correcting equipment for the introduction and learning of various concepts - that means that toys are made such that the child, through trial and error, can figure out the right answer by himself, like the pink tower.

The five traditional Montessori areas of education are: Practical life exercise, sensorial training, Montessori language, Montessori mathematics, and cultural subjects. Check out our guide to Montessori preschools in Singapore here.

Multiple Intelligences


First introduced by Dr Howard Gardner, the theory recognises that a child has different intelligences (abilities).

The eight kinds of intelligence of which a child may excel in one or more, are the naturalistic, linguistic, musical, logical, spatial, kinesthetic, intrapersonal and interpersonal.

To bring out the best in any child, the education method should provide opportunities for children to thrive in areas where they have high intelligence in.

Reggio Emilia

It is an approach started by the parents of the villages around Reggio Emilia in Italy after World War II. Some of its key features include:

• Role of the environment as teacher, hence the importance of the classroom's aesthetic and atmosphere.
• Children's multiple symbolic languages (similar to Dr Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences)
• Documentation as assessment and advocacy - that is, documenting and displaying the children's project work to allow them to express, revisit, and construct and reconstruct their feelings, ideas and understanding constantly.
• Long-term projects which are child-centred, suited to their interest, returning again and again to add new insights.
• Teacher as learner first, and then as a researcher providing necessary expertise.
• Home-school relationships (where children, teachers, parents and community interact and work together).

Schools who adopt this approach say they are Reggio Emilia-inspired preschools, as they can't replicate the exact conditions of Reggio Emilia.

Look inside a Singapore preschool that's Reggio-inspired here.

Thematic-based approach

An approach where different themes are identified for the year's curriculum (usually one theme per term) and from which different skill sets and knowledge in the area of mathematics, language, science and others are built and reinforced.

This article was first published in Young Parents.

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