Which early educational philosophy is best for your child?

What and how children learn in the first few years can change the course of their lives. With so many different types of learning styles out there, how do you know which one to choose?

Research shows that high-quality child care and early education are crucial components of a child's healthy social, emotional, and academic development. If you need help finding the right child care program, just take The Child Care Concierge survey to get matched to care in your area.

Here is a breakdown of the seven most popular philosophies that you'll come across in your search for child care.

1. Montessori

Even if you're completely unfamiliar with early educational philosophies, you've probably heard of Montessori. It's a unique, child-focused method of education and one of the most popular styles of learning.

Montessori classrooms utilize specially-designed learning materials and constitute a collaborative, exploratory environment. Dr. Maria Montessori, a physician, educator, and acclaimed innovator pushed the boundaries of thought to develop a program that cultivates the natural desires of a learner. Montessori classrooms are typically multi-age environments that break into a Toddler, Primary and Elementary cycle. Multi-age classrooms allow for learning groups to be orchestrated that can meet each child’s area of need. The five Key Learning Areas of Montessori are Practical Life, Sensorial, Mathematics, Language, and Culture.

2. HighScope

Teachers and children are active partners in the HighScope learning process. This balanced approach to adult-child interaction—also called “intentional teaching”—is critical to the effectiveness of the program. It includes techniques to encourage learning in specific content areas, as well as strategies to help children resolve conflict. The curriculum is built around teacher-and child-initiated learning activities in five main content areas: Approaches to learning; language, literacy, and communication; social and emotional development; physical development, health, and well-being; and arts and sciences.

3. Reggio Emilia

Another well-known education style is the Reggio Emilia approach, which views young children as individuals who are curious about their world and have the powerful potential to learn from all that surrounds them.

With Reggio Emilia, educational, psychological, and sociological influences are important factors teachers consider when understanding children, and finding ways to stimulate learning in child-specific ways. Reggio Emilia teachers employ strategies such as exposing children to a wide variety of educational opportunities that encourage self-expression, communication, logical thinking, and problem-solving. The Reggio Emilia approach follows four major principles: Emergent Curriculum, In-Depth Projects, Representational Development, and Collaboration.

4. Waldorf

Waldorf programs strive to stimulate kids' bodies, spirits, and souls with a nurturing, home-like environment that engages all five senses. It's easy to spot a Waldorf classroom because they're all-natural: No televisions, computers, or even plastic toys.

This educational philosophy teaches that children benefit from the feel, sight, and smell of natural materials. Rudolf Steiner, who founded the first Waldorf school in Germany in 1919, believed that small children learn best through imitation and their physical surroundings. Creative play is the most important means of learning in a Waldorf classroom, with a heavy dose of teamwork and togetherness. In preschool, children learn concentration, interest, and a love of learning through cooking, dress-up, singing, art projects, storytime, and other activities.

5. Bilingual Programs

Bilingual immersion students master a second language in the same way that they learned English. The process is so natural because the second language is used as the language of instruction and as a means of communication.

Learning in a second language doesn’t interfere with the child’s primary language development. In fact, it improves it. Research shows that learning a second language has a positive effect on first language achievement. Students immersed in an environment with a second language taught match and often exceed the English skills of other students by fourth or fifth grade. Bilingual students’ exposure to another culture makes them respectful of differences and allows them to communicate effectively with people of diverse backgrounds.

6. Religious Programs

Religious preschools tend to be more focused on allowing children to come together to learn to share and play, with a specific faith consistently reiterated in conversations. Many faith-based families find comfort in sending their kids to a religious school that reinforces the same religious values and teachings upheld at home.

It may be easier to find a more social preschool at your local church rather than going through private or public options. Plus, religious preschools offer lower tuition rates than their private counterparts. The easiest way to do this is to send your child to the school that’s sponsored by your church or a church within your denomination.

7. Cooperative Programs

The cooperative preschool environment is perfect for parents who want and have the ability to be actively involved in their child’s first school experience and who would like to contribute their time and abilities to a small community of families. In “co-ops,” families are required to "work" in their child’s classroom usually on a weekly basis. Tuition fees are often a fraction of the cost of other preschool programs in exchange for parent participation.

Children can benefit from the experiences of many “teachers” with many different skills, a low child-to-adult ratio, and learning through positive role models. Children in cooperative programs often develop a positive attitude about school and as a result, tend to achieve more, regardless of ethnic or racial background, socioeconomic status, or parents’ education level, and behave better.


Some child care providers may follow one philosophy strictly, while others may take a blended approach, so be sure to have that conversation with them early on. It's also important to note that there is no one "right" choice when it comes to early educational philosophies. It completely depends on your family's preference and how your child responds to each approach.

Need help finding the right child care program? LegUp can match you to care based on your family's needs, alert you when open seats become available, and more—so you can get back to everything else.