The preschool philosophy cheat sheet for parents

One of the most important aspects of my job as a school consultant is helping clients figure out their philosophies of education. A philosophy of education lets families know what their child’s school day and educational environment will look like. And though those without an education background might find this question stumps them at first, the philosophies are actually easier to relate to than people realize.

To learn more

Join Laura Gradman with Bump Club and Beyond Tues., Oct. 6  at The ABCs and 123s of Preschool: School Panel and Meet and Greet, presented by College Illinois.

BCB Resident School Expert, Laura Gradman–The Chicago Preschool Pro–will moderate a panel of some of the top private preschool/school options in Chicago that represent most of these philosophies.

You will be able to hear directly from the schools about selecting a school that is right for your family, the admissions process and more, before having ample time to walk around and talk with the many schools who will be on hand.

This is a great, intimate way to meet many of the best private preschools/schools in Chicago in a manageable environment. Includes a light dinner.

Use the code TEACHMEPLEASE for off an Admit Two Ticket. Registration, school list and more can be found here.

As you begin your research, keep in mind that many schools subscribe to more than one philosophy.

Check out the following cheat sheet of terminology you’ll see as you navigate your school search.


A progressive school believes that school is part of life. Learners are active participants, and teachers are facilitators. There is a shared decision-making process in which parents serve as resources. In the lower grades, learning happens through play (play-based learning).  The various disciplines are integrated and assessment takes many forms. In a progressive environment, there is an emphasis on entrepreneurship and social responsibility.

Reggio Emilia

The main principles of the Reggio Emilia approach are respect, responsibility and community. Learning happens through exploration and discovery, and the interests of children affect curriculum. Teachers, parents and the environment are considered the three teachers. This philosophy teaches that children learn through touching, moving, listening and observing.


In the Montessori philosophy, there is an emphasis on independence, freedom within limits and respect for a child’s development. You will see mixed-age classrooms and children working in blocks of time. Learning materials are deliberately placed around the room, and children have freedom to choose within their prepared environment. Human tendencies are thought to drive behaviors, and education should respond to and facilitate their expression.


The Waldorf philosophy emphasizes the role of imagination in learning. There is a holistic integration of intellectual, practical and artistic development. In early childhood, creative play is emphasized. As children grow, the emphasis is on artistic and social capabilities, then ultimately on critical reasoning and empathic understanding.


A traditional school believes that school is preparation for life. Learners take a more passive role, and teachers are the authority figures. The goal for learning is mastery in the core subjects of math, reading, writing, science and social studies. Administrators are the main decision makers. Test results drive curriculum, which tends to be focused on recall and memory.

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