Preschool Philosophies

preschool kids momIn general, most preschool philosophies fall within the categories of play-based preschools or academic preschools and teachers may typically incorporate ideas from both. Within those philosophies are several more specific approaches such as Montessori and Cooperative (aka Co-Op). Kidamentals aims to provide a high-level understanding of various approaches to help guide in your efforts.

Academic Preschool

Academic preschools still have some playtime, but the daily curriculum is more structured with scheduled lessons and activities. Academic preschool environments aim to ensure students are prepared for the academic requirements of kindergarten readiness. Teachers may develop lessons around concepts such as letters, numbers, shapes, colors, telling time, and other skills.

Play-Based Preschool

Play-based preschool education is based on research showing that children learn essential life skills and traits (social/emotional skills, sharing, etc) through playing. These skills are, of course, important for kindergarten readiness and future success in school and life.

In a play-based preschool, children choose activities based on their current interests. Play-based preschool programs let children choose their next activity rather than follow a set agenda. Teachers set up classrooms so that different stations engage students in different activities such as reading, building blocks, kitchen stations, water areas, or a vast array of other child centric ideas.

One distinct philosophy that includes a play-based approach is Waldorf. For details on a Waldorf preschool and all that it entails, learn more at:

Montessori Preschools

Montessori is a private, licensed program that strictly adheres to a specific model.

Montessori preschools are typically categorized as play-based preschools. Teachers serve as guides and children are encouraged to problem-solve on their own and learn through the act of playing.

Classrooms will include kids that span a particular age range (e.g. 3 to 5), often offering the opportunity to learn from older kids or teach / role-model for younger kids. Through this approach, Montessori aims to encourage independence, leadership, and self-esteem in students.

Additionally, Montessori students will often stay with a single teacher for several years and there is an added focus on academics.

For more information, Kidamentals suggests checking out the Montessori Frequently Asked Questions page ( where you will find answers to questions such as:

  • Will my child be able to adjust to traditional public or private schools after Montessori?
  • Is Montessori opposed to fantasy and creativity?
  • Why does Montessori put so much stress on freedom and independence?
  • Does Montessori teach religion?

Cooperative Preschools

Cooperative preschools (called co-ops) are typically categorized as play-based preschools and aligned with state learning standards. Each class is structured for a specific age group and with corresponding age-appropriate activities and materials.

Parents who want to have the greatest opportunity for involvement in their child’s preschool education often choose to take part in a co-op preschool. Parents (or guardians) serve as co-teachers in the classroom one or more days per week, helping manage and guide the children at the teacher’s direction. Parents are able to see their children in the preschool learning environment and can develop partnerships with the teachers and garner support (and key learnings) from other parents.

Along with the teacher, a trained parent educator may be present. Educators offer invaluable observation and advice to parents, both in class and in special parent-education sessions.

The Creative Curriculum for Preschool from Teaching Strategies

A comprehensive, research-based curriculum that features exploration and discovery as a way of learning. The structure includes 38 objectives that fall within the categories of Social-Emotional; Physical; Language; Cognitive; Literacy; Mathematics; Science & Technology; Social Studies; The Arts; English Language Acquisition.

Learn more about this philosophy at

Religion Affiliated Preschools

Many religious organizations, including churches, offer preschool programs that may be a good fit for families looking for age-appropriate religious instruction.

Programs vary greatly depending on the philosophy of the organization and teachers. The curriculum may include elements from academic and play based preschool philosophies, as well as religious content and/or training.

Project-Based Approach

The goal of a project-based preschool is to let children learn by experimentation, exploration, and collaboration. Children work independently and the teacher serves as a guide, providing advice or help when needed. Mostly, however, children are encouraged to decide how to handle the situations by themselves.

For example, the class may build a garden or set-up a restaurant in class and learn what it entails. The children will also learn cooperation skills, social / emotional skills, perhaps some math and reading concepts too.

One distinct philosophy that includes project-based activities within is Reggio Emilia. For details on Reggio Emilia, learn more at:

Self-Developed or Other Preschool Philosophies

Whereas some preschools may choose to adhere to one particular philosophy, many others may choose to incorporate portions of many. For example, a preschool may choose to implement some academic curriculum in addition to a project-based approach. Families who are looking at these types of preschools should ask for details on the philosophy and curriculum to ensure their expectations are met.