Choosing a Preschool for your Child: What are the Options?

Toddlers helping and sharing in the playroom

The Montessori approach emphasizes nature, creativity, and hands-on learning with gentle guidance provided by the teachers.

As your wandering tot begins to turn into a more inquisitive toddler, you may be starting to think about preschool options for your child. There can be a lot of pressure to attend ‘this school’ or ‘that school’ as you prepare your child for entering school-age programs, but the most important thing to remember is to find the program that best fits your educational and family values and who your toddler is. Also remember to consider factors such as half-day and full-day programs, depending on your child’s energy levels, maturity, development and what your childcare needs are. And be sure to consider how many days of week your child will be attending and the options for starting at 2-3 days or starting at half-days and building up as your child gets older or more comfortable. Below are some key facts on 5 popular types of preschool programs that you may see in your research.


The HighScope Curriculum was developed in the US in the 1960’s and uses a carefully designed approach called ‘active participatory learning’. Children learn actively by having hands-on experiences with their surroundings, and learning is supported through consistent daily routines and well-organized classrooms. HighScope takes an academic slant for preschool age children with planned experiences in the basic subjects of math, reading and science. A key component of the HighScope approach is the plan-do-review sequence. Children first plan what materials they want to work with, what they want to do, and whom they want to do it with.

Key Takeaway: It is based on past and current child development research and uses the strategy of adult scaffolding — supporting children at their current developmental level and helping them build upon it — in a social setting where children have opportunities to choose materials, ideas, and people to interact within the projects they initiate.


This comprehensive program developed by physician and educator, Maria Montessori, takes a developmental approach to learning. All teachers must have an early childhood undergraduate or graduate degree and a Montessori certification. The goal of the Montessori method is to develop a child’s senses, character, practical life skills, and academic ability. The day is very child-centered and children are really encouraged to play and learn independently from teachers, and materials/manipulatives are meticulously chosen for independent learning at several different levels. Montessori also utilizes mixed-age classrooms and children typically have the same teacher for their entire time in the preschool program, placing strong emphasis on child/caregiver relationships.

Key Takeaway: The Montessori approach emphasizes nature, creativity, and hands-on learning with gentle guidance provided by the teachers in a mixed-age classroom.


This approach is based on the teachings of Austrian writer, Rudolf Steiner. Waldorf preschools strive to nurture a child’s spirit, soul, and body and to focus on the child’s interests. It involves creative play, hands-on group learning with a focus on cooperation and rhythmic repetition in a supportive environment. This approach strives to generate a strong inner enthusiasm for learning and develop children’s innate abilities and talents. Instruction is teacher-directed, and every teacher must be Waldorf certified. Teachers generally use qualitative rather than quantitative assessment methods to look at your child’s progress and they use theories of temperament to design individual activities, to group students and to direct instruction.

Key Takeaway: This play-based approach is characterized by a predictable structure, providing children with a dependable routine, such as certain days of the week for set activities like baking or gardening, as well as mixed-age classrooms with the same teacher for multiple years.

Reggio Emilia

Reggio Emilia schools formed in Italy in the 1940s, and today many school in the United States embrace this philosophy. The Reggio Emilia approach encourages exploration and focuses on the importance of community and self-expression. In a project-based curriculum, lessons are based on the interest of the students. There is no formal Reggio Emilia curriculum, teacher training, or credentialing because Reggio Emilia is not a set method, but an educational theory, practice and way of designing supportive environments for creative play.

Key Takeaway: Open-ended and child-led, students learn through art, projects, and activities that reflect their ideas and interests.

Parent Co-Ops

At Parent Co-Ops, parents are actively involved with their little one’s education on a daily basis and work closely with the classroom teachers. This hands-on approach allows parents and children to learn together in a nurturing environment with a focus on teaching preschoolers how to cooperate and resolve conflicts. Parents share in the business operation of the school by serving on the school’s board of directors and help run the day to day of the school, in and out of the classroom.

Key Takeaway: If you want to be directly involved with your child’s school experience, consider a cooperative preschool; however keep in mind that co-ops aren’t for everyone, because of the responsibilities and time commitments.

Before your child begins the preschool journey, join one of our Child Development classes to prepare you and your child for whatever new school environment you choose. Walkers and Talkers, for children aged 30-33 months, will introduce your child to a more structured, routine-based experience with chances to practice creative play, music, and several different child and teacher focused activities to prepare them for a school environment with their caregiver or parent present. Tot Time (available in spring and summer), for children ages 2.9 to 3.3 years, will build on these same skills in a familiar and comfortable environment with small class sizes and the additional ability to practice separation skills. All of our child development classes utilize portions of all of these different educational philosophies to prepare you and your child for any school that you inevitably choose.

About Kim Bennett

Kim has been a proud member of Isis Parenting since 2007. She holds a master’s degree from Wheelock College in infant and toddler development and intervention and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Middlebury College. After college, Kim gained experience in the field through conducting research on postpartum depression and maternal mental health at Mass General Hospital. Kim is a certified early intervention specialist who has conducted home visits, run developmental toddler groups and assessed infants and toddlers with special needs and developmental delays for several early intervention programs over the last few years. Kim is an enthusiastic instructor who loves teaching both early parenting groups and child development classes here at Isis. A Boston native, Kim currently lives on the south shore with her husband and two young daughters.

One Response to Choosing a Preschool for your Child: What are the Options?
  1. Yulia
    December 26, 2013 | 11:58 pm

    With so many options available today for preschool is so hard to choose! We have been struggling with decision for a while now for our 1 year old and still not quite clear what we’ll choose in the end. This is a good summary post that helps by highlighting features of each of the methods.

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