Preschool approaches

The different ways your preschooler could be learning

The first day of preschool is equally anticipated and dreaded for many parents. Is my child too young? Will my child be homesick? Plus, the task of choosing a preschool can be daunting, as there is no shortage of options. Schools vary in subject matter, price, and the amount of parental involvement required or asked for.

Preschool makes transitioning into traditional school settings easier for all, however, and because many preschools are either half-day or half-week, acclimation is usually easier.

This is a guide to popular preschool methods, many found in the Minneapolis area, and a summary of the curriculum in each approach.

Academic preschool

This type of preschool prepares students for elementary school by acting as a kindergarten: Teachers introduce math and reading skills to children in a classroom-like setting. Some academic preschools give grades as a regular school would, but each classroom varies in their grade policy. It is argued by some child development experts that academic preschools put too much pressure on children too early, which lessens their self-esteem and mistakenly puts their focus on academic development rather than social development and interactions.


These groups focus on academics as well as physical wellness. The groups typically utilize a “learning through play” environment much like that of a daycare, but many locations have more structured classroom learning setups. Students at these preschools are often offered more physical activity than their peers in other programs, as many of the classes and activities offered in the program, such as karate and gymnastics, are often available to students and their families at a discounted cost.

Bank Street Approach

Bank Street preschools operate similarly to Montessori preschools because the pace of learning is set by students and guided along by the teacher. Teachers in both schools recognize that students learn at different paces and each child is allowed to set his or her own speed. The topics introduced, however, are different. Bank Street preschools focus on five topics: cultural anthropology, history, political science, economics, and geography. Art and science are also learned, and most lessons are demonstrated or taught through hands-on activities with blocks, water, clay, or puzzles.


A cooperative preschool is made up of a group of parents with similar interests or who live in close proximity who share responsibilities and are the preschool teachers. Some groups employ an outside teacher, but parents run the program. Each parent or family unit receives an assigned job (such as cleaning, providing snacks, leading lessons, etc.) and they rotate on a weekly or monthly basis. Cooperative preschools typically require larger time commitments than most preschools, which make them difficult for parents with full-time jobs. Normally, rates for cooperative preschools are lower than organized schools, though rates greatly depend on a variety of factors.

Early Childhood Family Education

Early Childhood Family Education centers are schools for both parents and children. At many meetings, parents hear from a parenting expert or have a discussion relevant to common parenting issues while children meet with a licensed teacher. After these educational sessions, children and parents typically engage in a free-play activity. Some meetings are held during the day and some are during the evening, so parents should evaluate their schedules before signing up for classes. The sessions are typically organized according to interests or nationality. For instance, one session could be comprised of families committed to living a sustainable lifestyle, and another session could be devoted to Asian-American families. Different locations cater to different parent groups, so it’s best to research topics and class sessions before enrolling.


Students earn an academic and religious education at faith-based preschools, which are often found connected to places of worship or private religious schools. Children will be involved in activities and learning with like-minded students, which will aid in involvement and feelings of inclusiveness. Programs that are part of private schools usually cost more for tuition and sometimes require uniforms.

High/Scope Approach

When this program was introduced, it targeted at-risk, urban children who were at an early-learning disadvantage. One of the lesser-known preschool approaches, the High/Scope approach gives children highly individualized attention and care. The students do most of their core academic work on a computer with teacher-selected, age appropriate software. Students are taught the basics like language, literacy, and numbers, but they also learn how to interact with other students and how to take initiative with their own education.

Language immersion

These preschools teach children the core subjects needed for starting kindergarten just like any other preschool—just in another language. It is believed that starting a child in a full immersion program while they are young will help them pick up the tongue faster and better than waiting until junior high or high school. The second language is introduced in a way that helps strengthen a child’s understanding of the English language while also developing an appreciation for two different cultures.


Teachers in Montessori preschools are guides and observers to their highly independent students. Children learn by engaging in activities at five stations: practical life, sensorial, language arts, math and geometry, and cultural subjects. Each station is within clear view of the others so students take in many subjects at once. Reading, like all Montessori subjects, is introduced individually to each child at his or her own pace. Classes aren’t separated by age and older children act as teachers to younger students. If possible, observe a classroom before enrolling your child; the Montessori name isn’t trademarked and can be used by any preschool.


Play-based preschools are essentially daycares with a more structured, timed day. Children learn through interaction and activities with other children, but play is more emphasized than work. Children who attend play-based preschools are sometimes not prepared for the academics students encounter in kindergarten, though studies show that children make up the time easily and quickly.

Reggio Emilia

Children who attend a Reggio Emilia preschool are exposed to beautiful classrooms and highly individualized education plans. Named for the small Italian town where this approach was started, the program introduces children to longer projects rather than day-to-day schoolwork most children receive. Some of these projects take three weeks or longer to complete, which teaches children focus as well as fundamental subjects. Each child receives individualized, one-on-one attention from a teacher, though the child really sets his or her own pace in the program.


The Waldorf method is similar to that of the Montessori because it encourages learning by engaging all five senses. Academics aren’t stressed and reading is introduced through vocabulary and lessons in letters. Media such as computer games, television, and movies are strictly banned from Waldorf classrooms and snacks are typically nutritious and organic. The Waldorf method also teaches children about the connections between human life and nature, which teaches respect for the planet and can be used in their everyday life after leaving preschool.

It’s best to research preschools before enrollment begins, just as you would an elementary school. The different options cater to diverse parenting types and schedules, and some schools are better suited to individual personalities and varied learning levels. Children learn in different ways, and choosing the right preschool will provide the education most beneficial to them as they take steps toward elementary school

Upcoming Events

Loading upcoming events...