In general, parents are prepared that when their child eventually goes to university that choices will have to be made. Public or private? Big research institution or small liberal arts school? Close to home or far away? Business major or art major?

What most parents much less prepared for are the choices that need to be made about early childcare education. In addition, by the time university rolls around hopefully your child will be able to participate in the process and tell you directly what they think they want.

When they are a toddler, you have to try to intuit what they like and dislike in an effort to figure out what type of approach would be the best for them.

This is not an easy task. Studies show that early childhood education is critical for helping children succeed throughout their entire school career. As parents, we really want to get this right for them.

It also is important to pick wisely because it turns out that paying for each year of preschool costs just about as much as paying for each of those future years of university.

Here are some of the leading child development philosophies that have been applied in early childhood education centres around the world.


The Montessori method has a broad vision of education as an aid to life. It was developed by Italian doctor and educator, Maria Montessori. Montessori opened her first school in Rome in 1907 and since then it has spread throughout the world.

Her system is based on the idea of letting children have independence within the limits of what the classroom provides and having respect for children’s natural development. Montessori classrooms are mixed age, in part so that the younger children can learn from the older children.

This opportunity to “teach” benefits the older students’ development as well. At the preschool level, the main age range is 3-6. Montessori education generally utilises a specific set of tools for instruction. In this way, children learn from “doing” instead of just listening. The materials are constructed using varied materials like wood, steel, and glass, avoiding plastic wherever possible.

A typical task that helps children gain confidence, concentration, dexterity, and a life skill, is the pouring water activity. Children use child-sized glass containers to learn to pour water from one to the other without spilling.

Other tasks help children learn to count, recognise colours, and identify letters and numbers. The child gets to make the choice of what they work on. For example, if they want to spend two hours on opening and closing different types of fasteners, they can.

As part of this self-driven learning the materials are organised in such a way that children can take them out and put them back independently. They don’t have to ask the teacher for the scissors, they know that the scissors will be stored with other elements of the scissors activity.


This method also originated in Italy in the northern town of Reggio Emilia. It was created by psychologist Loris Malaguzzi and became popular in the years following World War II. It is similar to Montessori in the sense that it believes that children should have some control over their own learning.

In the Montessori classroom, the child has the opportunity to self-direct their study within the specific tasks that the method provides.

In the Reggio Emilia system, the child and teacher are more involved in creating the learning plan together and it can derive from anything the child is interested in at the time.

For example, if a child asked her teacher about the butterfly they saw on the playground, that might inspire the teacher to develop a lesson plan for the following day that examined the life cycle of a butterfly.

Projects are designed to give students the opportunity to explore, observe, question and clarify. Another aspect of this method is that it works to encourage students to develop a relationship with the other kids in their class.

The teachers believe this interpersonal development to be as important a skill to develop as, mathematics and reading. In addition, children in these types of learning environments usually come home with quite a few projects each week because of the focus on personal creativity and the idea that even children need ways to express themselves.

Resources For Infant Educarers

Resources for Infant Educarers or RIE differs slightly from the other types of learning philosophies in that it was initially geared toward the youngest of children, while most of the other systems were developed based on the needs and abilities of preschoolers.

Emmi Pikler, a pediatrician in Budapest, developed theories of infant care. Magda Gerber, another Hungarian moved to the United States in 1957 and introduced these theories to a school in California. They were so successful that in 1978 she formed the non-profit RIE.

RIE’s mission is to improve the lives of infants and young children through respectful care. Teachers observe the children, learn from these observations and then help create a safe environment for the child to continue to explore their world. Children are seen as beings, not objects and teachers strive to work with the children and acknowledge their feelings instead of simply exercising their authority over them.

Steiner Schools/Waldorf Schools

Steiner and Waldorf schools follow a curriculum developed by Rudolf Steiner, first put in place in 1919 at the Waldorf-Astoria Cigarette Company’s school for the children of its employees in Stuttgart, Germany. These types of schools offer an experiential education, in which students are allowed to learn by example.

They tend to have a daily routine that might begin with free play, then include artistic work, circle time, outdoor recess, and practical tasks like cooking and cleaning.

At a Steiner or Waldorf school, formal education doesn’t begin as early as in other systems. Generally, formal learning including: learning letters, writing, and math does not begin until around the age of seven. Steiner thought that engaging children with these more typical topics too early had the possibility of actually hurting their progress in the long run.

Steiner schools strive to provide a warm and nurturing environment with natural play materials and outdoor spaces with gardens and animals.

Forest Schools/Bush Schools

The concept of Forest schools was developed in Wisconsin in 1927. H.L. Russell, the Dean of the College of Agriculture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison proposed the idea. By the 1950s these types of schools had found acceptance in Europe especially in Scandinavia.

In countries like Sweden and Denmark, almost all preschools and kindergartens comprise at least some element of Forest schooling.

At a Forest school, children spend a majority of each day outside regardless of the type of weather. At a basic level, they learn about plants, animals, and the environment but there are many other benefits to a Forest school.

In his 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods, author Richard Louv presented the idea of nature deficit disorder which hypothesises that today’s children are suffering from obesity, attention disorders and depression in large part due to their disconnect from nature.

Forest schools can help children find this missing connection. In addition, children who attend Forest schools develop strong social skills, the ability to work effectively in groups, high self-esteem and confidence in their own abilities. In Australia, these type of schools are known as Bush Schools since that term more aptly describes the natural environment.


While the vast amount of choice when it comes to preschool learning philosophies can seem overwhelming, the good news is that there is likely to be an option that truly suits your child’s personality.

In addition to those discussed above, there are many others and some schools may create their own special type of program based on elements from several different systems.

The important thing is to do your research and pick a philosophy and facility that will allow your child to flourish.

At Harmony Early Learning Journey we draw on the knowledge and philosophies of these key early child development theorists to create an exceptional learning and development environment. In particular, Magda Gerba, Emmi Pikler and Maria Montessori. Read more about the Harmony difference.