Breaking down the six types of preschool programs



The only thing more nerve-wracking than sending your little one off to their first day of preschool? Picking the program you’d like them to attend.


At, we know first-hand how many tough questions parents like you have to answer each day — including what type of preschool is best for your tot. 


That’s why we’re sharing this definitive guide to the six main types of preschool programs so you can better determine which is the right one for your child.


Bank Street


Most United States-based preschools fall into two categories: those that focus on learning through discovery and those that focus on learning through instruction and academics. The Bank Street approach falls into the earlier category, with most lessons involving hands-on activities like puzzles, blocks and imaginary play.


These programs were founded on the philosophy of John Dewym, an educational reformer who believed students thrive in environments where they can experience and interact with the curriculum. As a result, Bank Street preschools view teachers as a “guide,” there to help students on their active learning journey. Students usually work in small, non-competitive groups where they’re encouraged to build a sense of self through social and emotional learning. 




Like Bank Street, the HighScope curriculum relies heavily on active learning experiences. In these programs, preschoolers learn through a “plan-do-review” method. This allows students to plan how they’d like to tackle projects, do the work to complete it and then review what they learned along the way. These types of preschool programs also focus on teaching children how to take initiative and exercise independence — both inside and outside of the classroom. 


Math, reading and science skills are the biggest academic areas of focus for this curriculum. 




Of all of the types of preschool programs, Montessori centers are the most well-known. Developed by Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian physician, these schools take a child-centered approach to education. Unlike traditional classrooms, most Montessori rooms lack desks — instead having children sit at tables or on the floor. During class, students are encouraged to move freely about the classroom as they participate in sensory exercises focused on cultural studies, geography, language, math, music and science.


All Montessori teachers are required to have an undergraduate or graduate degree in early childhood education, along with a certification in Montessori teaching. Instead of traditional lesson plans, educators usually let children pick activities that align with their individual interests, and serve as a support system when students need it. Finally, these learn-at-your-own-pace environments are centered around mixed-aged classrooms that allow younger students to learn from older ones. 


Reggio Emilia


The Reggio Emilia program was first invented in Italy in 1940 and has since gained popularity across the world. Like the previous programs, these schools are very child-centric, with an emphasis on hands-on discovery and peer-to-peer collaboration. Reggio Emilia educators are unique in that they typically don’t rely on pre-set curriculum. Instead, they use ever-evolving lesson plans that are based on and guided by student interest and response. For example, if a toddler in one of these programs asked a teacher where butterflies come from, instead of providing an answer, the instructor would create a research project for the class focused on the topic.


Parent Co-Ops


If you’re looking to take an active role in your child’s education, a cooperative program is likely your best choice. In these programs, parents work closely with classroom teachers (that they’ve had a hand in hiring) to create curricula, lesson plans and more. These schools also give parents a say in important business operations decisions and how/when student observation occurs in the classroom. Co-op programs can feature a mixture of learning styles and often utilize mixed-age classrooms. However, it is important to note that these types of preschool programs typically require a hefty time commitment from families.




The goal of Waldorf schools is to create enthusiastic learners who have active imaginations. As a result, these programs focus on creative, hands-on learning that takes place in a group setting. All instruction is teacher-directed (rather than student-led) by educators who have been certified in the Waldorf method. Students in Waldorf schools rarely use books or worksheets, instead learning via dramatic play, storytelling and practical experiences. These programs also focus on growing five core competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making.


Want answers to the rest of your parenting questions? Our online parenting courses can help!  


Whether it’s how to continue your preschooler’s learning at home or how to ensure they’re eating healthy, we’ve got research-based tips and tricks to help you every step of the way. To learn more — and sign-up for a free seven-day trial — click here.