Learning philosophies - choosing a preschool with a curriculum that suits your child

A new addition to the family. There's much planning to do if you are a parent of a new baby. One of these decisions will centre around childcare options for the little one right up to their preschool years.

Whether you decide to return work full-time, or care for your child on a full-time basis, parents today have the luxury of choice, be it settling on a full day childcare centre, in which case, you can start dropping your bub there from as early as she is 18 months old, or opting for a kindergarten that offers shorter classroom hours, and where programmes begin for children from about 3 years old.

As you do your research into the programmes that promise quality and holistic childcare, you would certainly have come across some jargon that are bandied about - think "Montessori", "Reggio Emilia" and even "Waldorf".

If you have found yourself wondering what these names mean, they actually refer to the educational approaches that the various preschool or childcare centres have adopted. Some aspects of these learning methodologies may be obvious to the outsider, but if you're like me, you would be wondering what they all mean to the parent who is looking for a suitable preschool.

Here's a summary of some terminology and teaching approaches you're likely to encounter as you navigate the world of early childhood education:


If you ever wondered why we also refer to preschools as kindergarten, you can thank Friedrich Froebel. The German worked as an educator in a secondary school in Frankfurt, where he came into contact with Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi's beliefs that every individual was capable of learning right and wrong, who was himself a social reformer and well-respected educator in the 19th century.

Frobel's experiences growing up left him with a love for nature. Together with his faith, his ideas centred on the unity and inner connecteness of life.

He believed that humans are creative beings and play was a necessary developmental phase for educating the 'whole' child.

He opened the first "Kindergarten", literally, a children's garden.

Before Froebel, children aged 7 and under did not attend school - society did not recognise that young children were capable of learning social and intellectual skills. Once they reached the age of 7, they were treated as adults and expected to go to work.

His contributions to education included the 'kindergarten system' with the value placed on play and its use of 'gifts' - coloured balls, geometrical building blocks, mosaic tiles, and 'occupations - the way these learning materials could be used by children.


Possibly the most bandied-about name in preschool education, this method is named after its founder, Maria Montessori, an Italian doctor who worked with mentally disabled children. As a psychiatric doctor in the University of Rome, she helped such children learn to read, write and pass the same exams as 'normal' children of the same age.

She went on to develop her approach based on her insights to how young children learn.

According to the American Montessori Society, this approach is a child-centred one based on scientific observations of children from birth to adulthood, and views the child as eager for knowledge and capable of initiating learning. (http://amshq.org/Montessori-Education/Introduction-to-Montessori)

Key characteristics of a Montessori programme include mixed aged classrooms groupings to foster peer learning, uninterrupted blocks of work time, and teachers who guide children on their choice of work activity.

In addition, specialised Montessori learning materials are laid out for use in a beautiful and inviting environment. The classroom is prepared by the teacher to encourage independence, freedom within limits, and a sense of order. An open layout in the classroom also allows children to learn at their own pace, as the teacher offers support and guidance when needed.

The teacher, known as a 'directress', won't present information for rote learning. She will demonstrate learning materials that allow children to investigate and discover the lesson for themselves, observe each student's interests and understand his developmental needs.

Parents may choose a Montessori programme because they believe it helps their children acquire leadership skills.

Multiple Intelligences

A psychological theory proposed by Harvard psychologist, Howard Gardner, suggested that all people have different kinds of intelligences. Gardner suggested that people have different kinds of intelligences. He outlined eight - visual-spatial, linguistic-verbal, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic, and a possible ninth intelligence known as existentialist intelligence.

Gardner's theory may have received criticism from psychologists and educators because the eight intelligences may represent different talents and personality traits, but that has not stopped early childhood educators from employing multiple intelligences in the classroom.

In a childcare centre that uses the multiple intelligence approach, a teacher may offer different kinds of activity to learn any concepts. For example, a teacher may use audio or written reports, ask the child to draw a mural, role-play, or work in groups, and even sing or play a music instrument to reinforce a lesson.

However, most childcare centres which may not openly endorse the multiple intelligence theory also use such learning strategies.

Play-based learning

The term is quite self-explanatory, but the idea is that a child learns new concepts through play and socialisation instead of sitting still and listening to teachers. Children can choose to play-act in a 'dramatic centre' and re-enact scenes from real-life or use building blocks in a 'manipulative centre'.

Daily activities are not so structured and teachers look out for areas that children show more interest in and takes the opportunity to teach them about reading and writing skills, or concepts such as days of the week if they are captivated by a calendar.

A play-based preschool is typically separated into several sections - with areas for reading, science, a block section, kitchen, art, music and more. Children can easily move from one activity to the next, or stay as long as they like in one section - this may mean they're playing alone or in small groups.

The Waldorf approach is a play-based one, and provides children with a dependable routine, such as setting aside certain days of the week set activities such as baking or gardening. A Waldorf school does not use traditional grading systems or employ the use of any electronic media. There is also no homework, tests or worksheets to complete. Classrooms are filled with wooden toys and natural materials and children spend a lot of time outdoors.

Parents may choose this if they wish to help develop their child's individualism. The child learns how to think, and develops himself by satisfying his innate curiousity and love of learning.

Reggio Emilia

Reggio Emilia schools employ a project-based approach, with lessons developed around students' interests. Developed in the 1940s in the town of Reggio Emilia in northern Italy, school teacher Loris Malaguzzi, together with parents in the community, wanted to help children become better citizens.

Children are encouraged to explore their surroundings, and teachers help them do so.

The philosophy uses observation to find out what the children know, are curious about and what challenges them. Teachers use these observations to reflect on ways to help children expand their potential. Children, teachers and families join together in collaboration and co-operation to improve the system.

Lev Vygotsky

The name may sound a little unfamiliar, but the methods certainly won't.

Lev Vygotsky, a Russian psychologist, contributed a social-cultural theory that has given basis to how children learn. Vygotsky reasoned that culture and social interactions shape a child's higher cognitive functions, such as speech and reasoning. So a child would be able to

Through social interactions such as playing with a parent or a caregiver, children develop their cognition development. Interactions also involve relationships with significant objects such as toys, books or activities at home, in the classroom or on the playground. Children are active partners in these interactions and construct their own set of knowledge, skills and attitudes. (http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/pioneers-our-field-lev-vygotsky-playing-learn)

Through what he called the proximal zone of development, an adult, such as a teacher, can provide encouragement and assistance to boost a student's competence to achieve a task, and the child will be able to achieve more, compared to if he was to try and learn the skills by himself.