Understanding different kinds of preschool

With the many different kinds of preschool, it can be difficult for parents to know what each one will mean for their child's experience. Here is a breakdown of the most common preschool educational philosophies and types so you can determine the best fit for your kids.



As the name implies, young children learn through play. In a play-based preschool, you’ll often find a variety of stations setup and the children have time in their day where they can choose which station or activity they want to participate in. Children can take the lead in sharing their interests and ideas and teachers will derive activities and teachable moments from the children’s interests. Some people confuse “play-based” with a free for all where children just play among themselves without any structure but that is not the case!

Reggio Emilia

Similar to play-based, the Reggio Emilia philosophy was developed in the 1940s in Reggio Emilia, Italy. Reggio Emilia schools use a child-led type of learning based on children’s interests. Teachers are there to help students develop their impromptu ideas and encourage kids to learn through their mistakes rather than through punishment.


In emergent preschools, teachers observe and create lesson plans based on individual class interests, skills, and needs, while incorporating school readiness skills. The lessons are often project-based, meaning teachers take note of student interests they observe and then create projects based on those interests, keeping in mind each class’ skills and needs. The goal of emergent learning is to emerge children into meaningful learning experiences.


HighScope is a preschool philosophy started by Dr. David Weikart. Using active participatory learning, teachers put together organized learning spaces and regular routines. HighScope’s focus is more on academics than it is on emotional or social advancement, with a curriculum that includes math, science, and reading lessons. Teachers use hands-on experiences and encourage students to make independent choices.


Created by educator Maria Montessori, Montessori preschools focus on individual learning. Montessori certified teachers act as guides to students who get to be hands-on and enhance independent skills, such as making their own snacks. Classrooms typically contain children of multiple ages to help develop social skills, and children get to select their own learning experiences. The Montessori philosophy wants children to learn based on their interests and at their own pace.

Cooperative or co-op preschools

Cooperative preschools can follow any preschool philosophy or even utilize a combination of philosophies. Typically teachers are present, but parents work closely with them and assist them in the daily happenings of the school. Parents are heavily involved with their children’s education, and parents and their kids learn together daily. Cooperative schools are usually less expensive than other kinds of preschool because you’re volunteering your time, and it’s even possible to start your own cooperative preschool with like-minded parents.


Based on Rudolf Steiner’s ideas, Waldorf preschools focus on play, creativity and cooperation. Waldorf schools are known for being earthy and outdoorsy.

Many preschools follow one of these philosophies or a combination of these philosophies. Check out each preschool on Winnie for its specific goals and focuses.

Updated April 2019

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