An Early Childhood Pedagogy Guide

Making the decision to enroll your child in daycare or preschool can be confusing. As you begin to research providers, you may wonder what teaching strategy is best for your family. Here, we’ll help differentiate between common types of programs.

As we review each type, keep in mind that there will be consistencies throughout. Regardless of the type of program, you can expect to see a regular schedule that outlines the day, including things like play time, snack, circle time, lunch, and naps. 

While we’re focusing on the most common types of programs we encounter, there are many dedicated, high quality programs that don’t advertise a philosophy at all. At the end of the day, the best fit will be a mixture of important factors, like educational style, location, class size, your personal connection with the program, and your impression of the care providers.

To begin, we will start with the distinction between traditional style preschool programs and child-centered programs. The popularity of programs of this type can be dependent on your place of residence. 

Traditional Preschools: 

  • Each age has its own class and curriculum geared toward their distinct developmental stage. 
  • Children graduate into the next classroom each year and typically move on to a different teacher. 
  • The teacher provides one lesson to all children at one time and lessons are repeated yearly based on a set curriculum. 
  • Children work on the same projects at the same time. Walls of the classroom often display projects made by all the students, giving it a uniform aesthetic. 
  • The environment is replicative of a traditional kindergarten class, likely with more free play and outdoor time. 
  • There is a strong emphasis on academics and kindergarten readiness. 

Child Centered: 

The learning tends to be play-based and is driven by the curiosity and interests of the child. Here are the most common examples: 

  • Montessori: 
    • A key component is that a range of ages are combined in one classroom. A daycare may combine children 6 months to 3 years in the same group, while a preschool may have ages 2 years to 5 years in the same group. 
    • Children learn from one another by modeling, leading, and imitation. Older students model and lead younger students both academically and social/emotionally. Younger students learn by observing and interacting with older kids, and older students get to enhance their learning by teaching it back to younger students. 
    • The classroom is set up with many play-based learning stations (called “work” stations) and children are encouraged to “work” on what is interesting to them at the moment.  
    • Children choose their stations freely, and this fosters an investment in their own learning. 
    • The teacher is positioned as a “guide” and works to help children develop skills and learning as they are ready. 
    • Academics (learning numbers, letters, puzzles.) are introduced based on age appropriate standards as well as each child’s individual readiness. A 2 year old and a 5 year old would have different stations available to them for learning based on their readiness, despite all being in the same classroom. 
  • Reggio Emilia: 
    • These are typically mixed age classrooms, however children may be separated by age for certain activities. 
    • Teachers position themselves as co-learners who diligently create curriculum based on the interests of the children. They observe the children and take notes on their curiosities, and then translate that information into the next lessons. For example, if the children are very interested in robots, teachers will develop lessons through the lens of learning about robots.  
    • There is a strong emphasis on emergent learning, exploration, self-discovery, and responsible community building both inside and outside of the classroom.
    • Children’s social, emotional, physical, and intellectual development is fostered by following the children’s interests. 
    • Collaborative, long-term, project based activities are the norm. 
    • Documentation is a key component. Classrooms are decorated with themes and projects that display the lessons the children have learned. 
  • Waldorf/Steiner:
    • Arts are a key component of the curriculum, as are everyday practices of life such as gardening, baking, cleaning, cooking, and so on.  
    • Classrooms only consist of natural materials for tools and toys, as they are thought to foster imaginative play and reinforce identification with nature.
    • Electronics or technological media are not commonly part of learning, as they are seen as hampering the imagination. 
    • There is a strong emphasis on learning about many different cultures from around the world. Students learn by trying different foods, photos and videos, cultural celebrations, and music. 
    • Classrooms are set in home-like environments.
    • Learning is experiential through imitation, sensory experiences, and self-guided play with natural materials.
    • This program sometimes consists of mixed age classrooms in the preschool years. 

Play Based/Play schools: 

  • Classrooms are set up with multiple play stations for children to self-select, such as a kitchen area, reading area, arts table, water table, and doll areas.  
  • Social emotional learning is paramount, as children learn to navigate social relationships through play. They learn to negotiate by taking turns, communicating what they are feeling, asking others to listen or share. 
  • Vocabulary and language are enhanced through play, and teachers may contribute to learning by introducing new words connected to the play. For example, if the children are pretending to be construction workers, the teachers can introduce words and concepts about building and name different types of materials, trucks, and tools.
  • Learning is encapsulated in play. Math skills are organically integrated by playing with blocks or pretending to buy groceries.  
  • Teachers will help guide the students in learning and will give small lessons through play as the children become interested. Generally, there are no formal academic lessons planned. 

Picking the right program is a decision based on the unique needs of you and your family.  The best way to really understand each program and decide if it is the right fit for you and your family is to take a tour, and meet the provider. 

Now that you’re up to speed on types of programs, find your perfect match by logging into Kinside, favoriting providers near you that sound promising, and letting us know you’re ready to learn more.