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Preschool philosophies, A to Z

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By GreatSchools Staff

Bank Street

Bank Street preschools are based on the early childhood program run by Bank Street College of Education in New York City, which was founded by Lucy Sprague Mitchell in 1916. In Bank Street programs, children are regarded as active learners and the world around us is considered to be the best teaching tool. Lessons focus on the social sciences (such as history, geography and anthropology). Artistic and scientific lessons are included within cultural lessons resulting in an integrated curriculum. Classroom toys are basic, encouraging children to exercise imagination during play. Children may work alone or in groups, with specially trained teachers guiding. Bank Street programs are good for children who learn well in an unstructured environment.


Many churches and religious schools offer preschool programs. They may follow any preschool philosophy in determining curriculum, and they may incorporate varying degrees of religious content and/or training. If you are interested in a religious-based program, be sure to ask about their curriculum and philosophy, too.


Community centers and childcare centers often have preschool programs. You can find preschools through your local recreation department, YMCA or Jewish Community Center. 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.


Parents who want a big role in their child's preschool education may want to consider a cooperative preschool, which can follow any preschool philosophy or a combination. Its distinguishing characteristic is that parents take on significant roles at the school. Participating parents take turns to fulfill various duties, such as school upkeep or preparing snacks. A professional teacher is usually hired, but may be assisted by parents in the classroom. This can be a less expensive alternative, as heavy parental involvement minimizes extra costs. Try looking for schools supported by a regional or state organization that regulates 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!

Developmentally appropriate/play-based

Developmentally appropriate (or play-based) preschools are fairly common. Their primary principle is to promote participation in age-appropriate activities, such as unstructured hands-on play, group story-time, and themed activities. Kids are encouraged to learn through play, though some have added more academic content in response to demand. Play-based philosophies may draw from multiple philosophies such as Montessori or Waldorf.

Language immersion

In a language immersion preschool, all or most of the classes are conducted entirely in the new language. The teacher may demonstrate her meaning while she speaks, but rarely or never translates. This method is more appropriate for young children than translation learning (the more common teaching method for adults). The content may be guided by other preschool philosophies. The focus on a new language develops the child's language acquisition ability while providing fluency in the new language. Language immersion is best for children who are developing first language skills at a normal rate. It may temporarily slow development of the first language, and so it's inappropriate for children who are struggling in this area.

International school

An international school is usually a school instituted by a foreign country in another country. The language of the country of origin (often English) is typically used to conduct most or all of the classes. These schools were often set up for the benefit of the children of expatriates and local children who wish to learn the language. An international school may teach other languages in addition to the main language. These schools are best for children who are temporarily in a foreign country or for parents who want their children to learn the new language.

Comments from readers

"This is a great article on the various types of school options available for my 2 year old son. I never knew there were so many disciplines and philosophies. I'm definitely better informed as I research which schools we have available nearby after reading this article. Thankyou! "
"I notice no mention of nature based preschools on your list. Research is showing that children today are growing up with a 'nature deficit'. Free play in natural places has greatly diminished over the past several decades with a variety of negative repercussions. Studies show that nature play positively impacts cognitive, emotional and social growth. There is a growing movement to reconnect children to nature, including the creation of nature based preschools."
"This is very informative. I have a 4 year old and never realized the differences of schools philosophies. This is truly opens ones view in education provided to ones child/ren. Outstanding..."