What types of program should I choose?

In this philosophy, most of the activities are initiated by the children, who are free to move from one to another as they feel motivated. They are encouraged to make their own activity choices, take out the appropriate materials, and put them away when they are done. Overall, this type of program has an unstructured or very lightly structured feel to it, which experts believe is fitting, because for very young children, most of the time at school should be devoted to free play. If the school is child-centered, learning is done at each child's pace, and the teacher's role is to arrange the environment and provide ideas and materials for children to choose their own activities.

Typical elements of a Child- or Play-Centered Preschool Is this right for my child?
Many children will thrive in this open environment, while others fare better in a slightly more structured setting than what most play-centered schools offer. It is difficult for many parents to be comfortable with what seems like a loud and chaotic atmosphere.

This is a more structured philosophy, in which the teachers generally plan the daily activities, and then guide the children in carrying them out. The teacher might ask specific questions, like "What letter is this?" or "Who knows what color this is?" These questions may be presented in a playful manner, such as a guessing game or sing-along. The general idea of the academic approach is to help children adapt to the classroom setting, and to prepare them for later, more formal learning.

Typical elements of a Teacher-Directed/Academic Preschool Is this right for my child?
If you know from experience that your child does well with a lot of direction and structure, and has demonstrated the ability to follow instructions, he may thrive in this setting. However, if your child is very physically active or has not shown that he can follow directions, this approach might be a little more difficult to get used to.

The teaching approach of a cooperative school may follow any of the other philosophies, but with one main difference: the board of directors is made up of the students' parents, who run the business of the school by hiring the teachers and ordering the supplies. Each parent is expected to help out in the classroom on a regular basis (anywhere from once a week to once a month), and many are also expected to serve on a committee. This approach results in parents getting a close look at how their children are growing and developing in the classroom setting.

Typical elements of a Cooperative Preschool Is this right for my child (and me)?
In this approach, parents need to consider their own calendar: for parents who work full-time, this type of program may not be feasible. For those who can make it work, this style of teaching can have a very nurturing feeling, since there are parents in each classroom. On the other hand, some children have a difficult time seeing their parents pay so much attention to other students. And for some children, who are prone to separation anxiety, it can be a better learning experience when their parents are not present in the classroom. These kinds of issues must be considered if you are looking into the cooperative approach.

This teaching method, conceived in Rome in 1907 by Maria Montessori, combines individualized attention with a carefully structured environment. Children are usually grouped into three-year age spans, forming a closely-knit community, where older children help the younger ones, and all are able to learn at their own pace. In this philosophy, teachers play a less demonstrative role in both instruction and nurturing, in order to teach the children life lessons through real experiences. Although some feel that the Montessori approach has a heavy focus on academics, the goal is to encourage individual progress and let children learn naturally and at their own pace. Children are encouraged to take care of themselves, and to select activities that capture their interest, rather than being told to work on projects selected by the teacher.

Typical elements of a Montessori Preschool Is this right for my child?
Many kids do well in the realistic environment that the Montessori approach creates. However, many will also find the structured curriculum and task-oriented activities difficult to follow. If your child has demonstrated the ability to follow instructions, he may thrive in this setting. The most important factor is that the parents are comfortable with the Montessori approach to teaching.

Reggio Emilia
This approach to teaching was developed by Reggio Emilia, in Italy, and is showing up increasingly in the U.S. This developmentally based program is designed to follow the child's interest and bring out his potential, rather than following a predetermined curriculum. One way this is done is through a strong emphasis on the arts, including music, drawing, sculpting, and dramatic play. Children work with very diverse materials, and their projects are documented, allowing them to see their work as important and to see how progress is made over time. Teachers encourage children to find answers for themselves, rather than simply giving them the answers. Relationships and cooperation between students are encouraged, and competition is not promoted.

Typical elements of a Reggio Emilia Preschool Is this right for my child?
If your child enjoys being creative with paint, crayons, and clay, he will likely do well in the Reggio Emilia setting. Most children, in fact, will flourish in this creative and community-oriented program. A child who is used to a lot of alone playtime may have a harder time adjusting to the focus on group projects, but will probably end up thriving in this environment.

The Waldorf approach was developed in Germany, by Rudolph Steiner. These preschools are child- or play-centered, but also have a definite structure built around routine and rhythm. Children work in mixed-age groupings, and stay with the same teacher from year to year. This philosophy emphasizes a healthy rhythm of activities, so that children move from physical games to free play, to more focused activities. Creativity is emphasized, while academics are not stressed so strongly. Waldorf teachers also model good behavior for children, rather than instructing them how to behave.

Typical elements of a Waldorf Preschool Is this right for my child?
A wide range of children, including those who may be somewhat shy or aggressive, often do well in Waldorf schools, because the approach is both gentle and nurturing, and offers a sense of balance for students. Children will blossom even more fully if the Waldorf approach of encouraging creativity is practiced in the home

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