Preschool curriculum can be very diverse, ranging from the basics to intensive foreign language immersion. This article is an overview of basic preschool curriculum types and some tips for learning more about other, more intensive, curriculum options.
Bank Street College of Education runs the Bank Street Head Start with a curriculum based on the Bank Street Philosophy combined with the Head Start Positive Child Outcomes Framework. The Bank Street philosophy incorporates experiential education; takes the constructivist approach of seeing the child as the meaning maker; and encourages ownership of learning and building of relationships across multiple years. Elements of the curriculum include creative arts, literacy and language development, mathematics, science, physical health and development, and social relationships at home, at school, and in neighborhoods.
Head Start is the name of a national program to promote school readiness by making sure the children have opportunities for enhanced social and cognitive development through provision of services in education and other areas. Head Start provided performance standards that can be fulfilled by a number of different curricula. Programs may use a regional or local option, develop their own curriculum or use a published curriculum provided by an educational publisher. In any case, Head Start has requirements that the curriculum must meet. The curriculum must support children’s development in the realms of cognition (thinking) and language, with particular attention given to the emergence of literacy skills.
Montessori method is an approach to education derived from Dr. Maria Montessori (1870 - 1952), an Italian educator and physician and applied differently in different schools and by different educators. That is, there is no one exemplary enactment of the Montessori method. The method is based on the assumption that children have a natural propensity to guide their own development in a self-directed way and that what they need from adults is the removal of obstacles rather than adults providing the entire path and way stations for them.
Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget (1896 - 1980) has had a great deal of influence on educators’ thinking about child development, particularly cognitive development and intellectual growth. While there doesn’t seem to be a curriculum straight from Piaget himself in use, some curriculums announce their indebtedness to his research and theories. One such is High/Scope® Preschool curriculum, which is based on Piaget’s understandings of child development and prepared for children of all ability levels. It focuses on active learning that the children have a role in choosing, planning, carrying out, and reflecting on, with the support and guidance of trained adults.
Named for the town in northern Italy where it originated, the Reggio Emilia approach came into being when - in response to a law establishing free preschool education in Italy after World War II ended - parents built programs for their children under the guidance of Professor Loris Malaguzzi. The approach uses an emergent curriculum and a project-based approach, with projects originating with either children’s ideas or teacher’s ideas.
The Waldorf approach comes from Rudolf Steiner (1861 - 1925), founder of the anthroposophy movement and the first Waldorf School in Germany. Students learn through creative play, with emphasis on singing, dance, art, stories, and cooking. Education is done with, by, and through nature: computers and televisions do not appear in the classrooms or form part of the curriculum.
Other preschool curriculums - such as theme-based models, the project approach, etc. - are numerous, and the many idiosyncratic takes need to be explored individually, because there is no way to generalize about them. Among these, foreign language immersion curriculums for preschoolers are a more recent development and research is still helping to shape the field. This means both that the programs are not unified and that the concept of best practice in this area will likely continue to grow and change. The best approach is to search for the latest information at the time that you are enrolling your child.
For other programs, try these steps:
- Ask for a copy of the curriculum of any preschool you are interested in and read it. Is it well written? Does it make sense? Does it make sense for your child?
- Do an Internet search on the name to see if it is a widespread approach (one wouldn’t necessarily think that a name like “theme-based model” would be, but it is)? If the approach is practiced at more than one school, this gives you some grounds for comparison, so you can see how the preschool you are considering stacks up.
- Take the time to see the curriculum in action. Visit the school. Can you see how the curriculum is reflected in what’s going on? If you’re not sure, ask your guide to explain.