Montessori, Waldorf, Bank Street and other Pre-school Curriculums

preschool performance, image by ronnie44052

Preschool Performance, Image by ronnie44052

Are you wondering what type of preschool is right for your child? With all the philosophies it is difficult to find one that will benefit your child’s unique needs. Let’s compare the top 5 early education philosophies that will best suit your child. We will compare Montessori, Waldorf, the High/Scope Approach, the Bank Street Approach, and various local preschools.

The Montessori Program

The Montessori Method is characterized by an emphasis on self-directed activity on the part of the child and clinical observation on the part of the teacher (often called a director, directress, or guide). It is also characterized by the use of autodidactic (self-correcting) equipment for introduction and learning of various concepts. Montessori method is characterized by an emphasis on self directed activity on the part of the child and the importance and connection of all living things, and the need for each person to find meaningful work and his or her own place in the world. Children also learn about other cultures, language, and complex mathematical skills. It also stresses the importance of adapting the child’s learning environment to his or her developmental level, and of the role of physical activity in absorbing abstract concepts and practical skills.

In the Montessori classroom teachers act as guides and observers so that they can recognize when students are passing into a sensitive period and are ready for an individual lesson on a work that will interest them and that they will willingly grasp. Montessori programs encourage a child’s sense of independence and self esteem. Montessori parents and teachers work to involve parents in their child’s education.

The Montessori Classroom

• Practical life — This area is designed to help students develop a care for themselves, the environment, and each other. Children lean pencil grip, moving from left to (to imitate reading), cleaning, pouring, buttoning, preparing food, cleaning up after themselves and much more.

• Sensorial— This area requires children to learn through the use of all five senses. Children match like sounds, tastes, materials.  Children will grade colors from light to dark, sort items from smoothest to roughest, tallest to shortest and so on.

• Language arts — Children express themselves verbally and are taught to trace, recognize letters, and learn their phonetic sounds as a precursor to learning reading, spelling, grammar, and handwriting skills.

• Mathematics and geometry — Children learn number recognition, counting, decimal system, adding, subtraction, multiplying and dividing numbers through hands-on learning using concrete materials.

• Cultural subjects — Children learn Geography, zoology, time, history, music, movement, science, and art.
All developmentally appropriate learning materials or “Work” as it is called in the classroom are laid out so each child can see what their choices are. Work options include items from each of the 5 sections practical life, sensorial, language arts, mathematics, and cultural.  When children are finished with a work they put their work back on the shelf so that another child may enjoy the work and they move on to something else.

Teachers work with children as a group and one on one, but most of the interaction is among the children. In a Montessori school, teachers aren’t the only instructors. Older kids often help younger ones learn how to master new skills. That’s why each class usually includes children from a two- to three-year age span.

The length of the day depends on the school and the age of the students. A typical Montessori preschool program runs from 9 a.m. to 12 or 12:30 p.m. Most offer afternoon / early evening care, too.
Is Montessori right for your child?

Children who want a hands-on learning environment suited to their own needs will flourish in this environment.  The individual attention given to each child makes each child feel important and valued.  Children who enjoy independence or have a strong desire to “do it themselves” progress well with Montessori. Montessori also works well for children with special needs.

Montessori schools believe in teaching children about a wide range of cultures, and most actively seek a diverse student body. If you’d like your child to be exposed to kids from all walks of life, this might be the place. Most Montessori schools take children starting at age 3 or 4, and prefer that they are able to go to the bathroom on their own. Some facilities offer limited programs for infants and young toddlers.

Local Preschools include:  Wake Forest Montessori, Heartwood Montessori School Country Day Montessori and Montessori Day School

The Waldorf Approach

According to Rudolf Steiner, founder of the first Waldorf school at the Waldorf Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1919, a person is made up of three aspects — spirit, soul, and body. Waldorf schools approach learning in early childhood through imitation and example. Waldorf pedagogues are considered to be supportive of the physical, emotional and intellectual growth of the child through assimilative learning.

In the classroom

Waldorf early childhood teachers try to create a comfortable, homelike environment that offers children plenty of opportunities to freely imitate what they see and to indulge in creative play.  Daily activities range from painting, coloring, singing, and reciting poems to modeling with beeswax, baking bread, building houses out of boxes, sheets, and boards, and dressing up and pretending to be parents, kings, and magicians. In Waldorf schools oral language development is addressed through songs, poems and movement games. These include daily story time when a teacher usually tells a fairytale, often by heart. Waldorf kindergartens and lower grades discourage exposure to media influences such as television, computers, or recorded music, as they believe these to be harmful to cognitive development in the early years.

Who it’s best for

Children who like to work in large groups, or children who benefit from rhythmic repetition this may be a great fit for your child. Waldorf teachers believe that even children with special needs can bring something important to a group. However, the program is not recommended for children with severe developmental disabilities.

Local schools include:

The High / Scope approach

Research beginning in the 1970s set to  High document the powerful, positive effects of childhood learning on later life and to identify best practices in a broad array of educational settings. It was found that that education that focuses on early experiences of daily and annual rhythms, including but not limited to seasonal festivals drawn from a variety of traditions lead to profound learning in children.

Middle Eastern Montessori School, Image by amrufm

Middle Eastern Montessori School, Image by amrufm


The High / Scope program is based on the idea that children need active involvement with people, materials, ideas, and events. It is an environment where children and teachers both learn together. The High scope approach was and continues to be developed with the idea of helping at risk children.

In the classroom

The High / Scope curriculum identifies 58 key experiences preschool children should have. The experiences are grouped into ten categories:

•  Creative representation — Imitation, recognition, role playing

•  Language and literacy — Talking, describing, scribbling, dictating stories

•  Initiative and social relations — Making choices, problem-solving, relationship-building

•  Movement — Bending, running, dancing

•  Music — Singing, playing instruments

•  Classification — Describing shapes, sorting, matching

•  Seriation — Arranging things in order

•  Numbers — Counting

•  Space — Filling, emptying

•  Time — Starting, stopping, sequencing

Computers are often a regular part of the High / Scope program; teachers select developmentally appropriate software for children to use when they want to.

Individual programs decide the length of the school day. They may be part-day or full-day and operate in a preschool or a childcare setting. Hours are flexible and depend more on a family’s circumstances and needs than the High / Scope program itself.

Who it’s Best For
The High / Scope program is a good fit for children who needs individual attention. It was originally created for at-risk urban and was complimented by the governments head start program. It’s also effective for children with developmental delays and learning disabilities because it is tailored to each child’s individual level and pace. If you want your child in a very structured, adult-directed environment, High / Scope may not be the way to go.

The Bank Street Approach

The Bank Street Approach was developed by Lucy Sprague Mitchell (the first Dean of Women at the University of California at Berkeley) and colleagues. Through close analysis of the learning process of young children set the foundation for The Bank Street Approach. The curriculum is based on the idea that if children can learn about and study the human world, they can make sense of what they encounter. The best way to do that for children to focus on five key social studies subjects: cultural anthropology, history, political science, economics, and geography.

In the Classroom
Children usually play with toys and materials that leave a lot to their imagination — blocks, water, art materials, clay, puzzles, and so on. They can choose what they want to play with and can work by themselves and in groups. This helps them learn in their own way, at their own rate.

Who it’s best for

Like Montessori and High / Scope, the Bank Street program is a less structured one, leaving a lot of discretion to individual teachers and children to decide what to work on and when. If your child does well with a free-form schedule, she should be fine at a Bank Street-based preschool.

Other types of preschools

Thousands of independent preschools and childcare centers around the country don’t follow any one of the preceding approaches they pull from many philosophies to develop their curriculum. A large number of pre-kindergarten programs follow the educational paths laid out by companies like Teaching Strategies Inc., a for-profit enterprise that publishes the Creative Curriculum series of books and teaching guides. A somewhat similar program known as the Core Knowledge Preschool Sequence is also gaining in popularity

Many families will choose a local church or place of worship for their children’s preschool needs. Some will incorporate learning about learning about religion and others will not. If you choose this route choose something that is in line with your family’s belief system.

Community organizations, including like the YMCA or The Boys and Girls Club, often have preschool programs as well. Large companies will also have preschool in their facilities.  Local colleges will also have preschools on their campuses.  These tend to fill up fast so it is wise to place children on waiting lists as soon as you become pregnant or before you begin adopting a child because wait lists can be extensive. Some large companies also have in-house programs run by organizations such as Bright Horizons

If you look and nothing seems to be the right fit for your child you may choose to open your own school with the ideas and values that you appreciate. Surly there are other families who share the same beliefs as you.  No matter what you decide to do concerning preschool just make sure that your child is happy and that they are well loved where they are. Happy searching!

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