From Public To Montessori, What Types of Schools Are There?

NOCO Has a Diverse Education Culture. Choose The Best Fit For Your Child.

By Melissa Shrader Editor/Publisher Fort Collins Macaroni Kid January 19, 2020

Choosing a preschool can be daunting. 

What do you want your child to get out of it? What will prepare them for the next step in their educational journey? This their first exposure to school. I have a list of 40 + questions to ask prospective schools but, where to start? What kinds of schools are out there? It's hard to gather the information on each type of school out there. I created this list to help you swim, rather than struggle through the types of schools and to help you prepare for the long road ahead for the education of your little person. 

Remember as you read through the list: You know your child best. You know how their little mind works. You can see those cogs turning and the light bulb go on behind those eyes. You can see when something "clicks" and they learn something that lights up their mind and makes them explore something new. Seeing with a scientist’s eyes creating slime for the first time, or Seeing with an explorer's eyes finding bugs in the back yard. How does your child learn? Hands on? Do they like to read? Do they like pictures? Do you have a little architect on your hands? Are they drawn to nature or are they more indoor and playful? Maybe they are reserved or outgoing? You know your child better than anyone else. Even if you don't think so. Listen to your gut. Read the list, evaluate with reason and find your child's best fit. 

What kinds of Schools and philosophies are there? Here are the main ones: 

1 – Montessori 

2 – Reggio Emilia 

3 – Waldorf 

4 – High Scope 

5 – Bank Street 

6 – Parent Co-ops 

7 – Religious 

8 – Public 

Here is the breakdown including philosophy, and history. 

Montessori  - 

The Montessori school philosophy is based on the work of Italian Educator/Pediatrician/Psychiatrist Maria Montessori, who founded the movement in 1907. The basis of Montessori is that children are individual learners who learn at their own Pace. Teachers are their guides. Children participate in a variety of hands-on activities with play materials designed for a specific purpose. Each activity and the materials guide the child’s playtime. Montessori fosters personal responsibility. Encouraging children to take care of their own personal needs and belongings. As an example, prepare their own snacks and cleaning up their toys. The classes may consist of a wide range of ages learning together in one classroom. Children are encouraged to help each other learn. This can feel like a family for the child. The educational journey is an individual path, each child works at your own pace. This promotes a healthy environment for all children from special needs to exceptional and everyone in-between. 

Montessori instructors graduate from a special training program. Schools have the option to affiliate with the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI or AMI-USA) or the American Montessori Society (AMS) but be aware that a school may use the Montessori name without being affiliated with a Montessori organization. Check the mission statement and curriculum of your Montessori school.

Reggio Emilia – 

The Reggio Emilia organization from Italy was developed by Loris Malaguzzi in the 1970s. As in Montessori, students take the lead in learning. The curriculum consists of projects that reflect the interests of the students. Teachers observe the spontaneous curiosity of their students, and then guide them to create projects that reflect their pursuits. Children are expected to learn through mistakes rather than correction, as they are considered equal learners. Their play and projects are documented in photographs and records of their own words, which allows teachers and parents to follow each student’s progress and helps children see their actions as meaningful. Reggio Emilia schools emphasize creativity and artistic representation, so they may be a good choice for students who are learning EnglishA Reggio Emilia classroom focuses on using the four senses to learn, and the teacher is more of a facilitator, allowing student questions to guide learning. The idea is that cooperative learning creates respectful and responsible citizens of the world.

Waldorf – 

The Waldorf philosophy, which began with the founding of the first Waldorf school in 1919, is based on the ideas of Austrian educator Rudolf Steiner. The underlying principle of the Waldorf program is dependable routine. Waldorf education aims to see the potential in each child as a fully rounded individual. Their self-driven learning builds a passion for education through artistic activities in all academic subjects. The Waldorf approach focuses on a child’s spirit, soul, and body. Teachers seek to foster an inner drive for learning and to uncover a child’s innate strengths and abilities. The Waldorf method is quite different than most for a few other reasons: It excludes any kind of media (computers, video, or any electronics), and does not involve traditional academics. Note: Children are not introduced to reading in the preschool years–this happens in the first grade in the Waldorf method. 

HighScope – 

Originally developed for at-risk urban children and is appropriate for children who benefit from one-on-one attention, including special needs children. High Scope has based its curriculum on a series of key development indicators (KDI) to design an encouraging classroom for every student. These KDIs guide teachers in choosing activities and projects appropriate for every age. They also help teachers understand and interpret young students’ needs to best guide their learning. A student’s day consists of hands-on experiences in well-organized classrooms with consistent daily routines. The focus is on academics. Teachers support students at their current level and support them as they extend and build skills. The program uses a research-based approach called active participatory learning. A tenet of this method is the “plan-do-review” sequence. Before beginning an activity, students actively create and express a plan for what they are setting out to do, who they’ll do it with, how it will go. Once an activity is completed, they review how it went, taking ownership in the learning process. Some programs involve computers in the learning process. 

Bank Street – 

In 1916 in a program run by Bank Street College of Education in New York City , Lucy Sprague Mitchell set out to develop an approach to education that focuses on the whole child’s development. Children are regarded as active learners and the world around is the classroom. The classroom fosters the unique emotional, physical, social, cognitive and intellectual facets of each student. The play-based, active learning through experience curriculum, takes the emotional and intellectual changes that occur at each age and incorporate these into how they approach lessons. Curriculum includes history, geography anthropology artistic and scientific interests. The classroom mixes ages, and students work together no matter their stage of development. This discourages competition among the group when exploring their play-based lessons. Students learn at their own rate, decide if they’d rather learn through observation or by a hands-on approach to experiential projects. Kids receive one-on-one attention as the day goes on, but the child’s passions direct the lesson of the day. Like Montessori and High Scope, Bank Street is less structured. This is great for kids who learn well in an unstructured environment. 

Parent Co-Ops – 

Designed for parents who want to have a direct hand in helping educate their children. The preschool has professional teachers that fit the teaching style the parents desire. Each is independent and unique. Parents and teachers work in tandem. Parents work both in the classroom and in administrative roles. This builds a tight night community. Consider looking for schools supported by regional or state organizations that regulate parent participation preschools in your area. Also consider finding a school that has not joined an organization or even starting a new one yourself or with a group of similar-minded parents!

Religious – 

There are several religious organizations that offer faith-based preschool and K-12 education. The level of religious focus depends on each individual school. The curriculum may or may not focus on developing on the spiritual beliefs of a child but remain open to incorporating church values and stories in their lessons. Similar to Coops each Religious school has their own curriculum and philosophy. Be sure to ask what it is to make sure it’s a fit for your family.

Public (AKA Traditional) – 

Public Schools are run by each city and state government and have set curriculum administered by paid professional teachers in a lecture, hands on, and instructional manner. Each school is run basically the same with similar curriculum to meet standards to achieve Kindergarten or school ready children. Focus is on identification of basics such as color identification, measuring time, problem-solving, basic writing, basic reading and basic math skills. Each is unique in philosophy and should match your family needs too. This method is very structured and readies the child for a full day of school in the public-school system. 

Community Centers – 

Many community centers have preschool programs like YMCA or City Community Centers such as a Recreation centers. Like religious schools, they may follow any one preschool philosophy or a combination, so it’s a good idea to ask questions about their philosophy and curriculum when you are checking these schools out

Project-based – 

Children are considered individual learners and teachers are guides. Projects are negotiated, planned and worked through with teachers and other students or individually. Lessons are enhanced with real world connections, and field trips. This encourages skill application and positive learning habits by making learning pleasant and self-motivating. Good for kids who work well in unstructured environments.

Developmentally appropriate (AKA Play-based) – 

The primary principal is to promote participation in age-appropriate activities such as unstructured  hands on play, group story time, and themed activities. Learning through play and some academic content is combined with several of the preschool philosophies mentioned above such as Montessori  and Waldorf to name a couple.

Language Immersion – 

Most classes are conducted entirely in a new language, hence the phrase language immersion. Teachers will demonstrate the meaning of a word while speaking the word but rarely translates it. This method works well with all ages but is more easily adapted by young children. This can be combined or guided by other preschool philosophies. This helps the child’s language acquisition ability while providing fluency in a new language. This match works best for children who are developing first language skills at a normal rate as It may temporarily slow development of the first language. It may be difficult for children who are having learning challenges with their first language.

These are the basics of each type of preschool. 

Each has their own philosophy. As you review all the different schools think about your child’s personality and learning style. Try to imagine how your hild willfit in each environment. Keep in mind that many types may be possibilities but focus on what an individual school offers to your school as much as the overall philosophy. 

Make sure you visit the schools and see how your child interacts and get a “feeling” for the school. Your intuition is always right. You know your child better than anyone else. If it seems right most likely it will be. If you aren’t comfortable, move on. 

Think about these 3 things when interviewing preschools. 

Make it personal – 

It is isn’t it? Find a program that is a good fit for your child and your family. Consider your child’s personality and learning style. 

Remember the big picture – There are a couple philosophies – 

  1. Learning through discovery, child directed activities. Teachers are guides and plan activities based on the child’s developmental level. 
  2. Philosophy based schools that are more academically based. Including drill and practice components. 

Consider full vs. half-day – 

This can be tough. Do you want to begin with full day and expose your child to a regular daily schedule similar to school? Or do you want to bring them into the fold gradually? Consider if your child still relies on their nap time. Do they do well alone without you, or do they feel they can do ok for a short time? Consider too their individual needs like age, energy, maturity. Half day programs offer the chance for you to provide extra stimulation at home by reading, physical activity, crafts etc. 

I hope this helps guide you through the preschool jungle with some basic knowledge of each program. The Key is to match your child with the right school. It truly makes all the difference in the world. 

And remember: 


I wish you well on your journey through the preschool jungle!