Do your child's preschool prospects make you feel like a babe in the woods? It may seem like there are more preschool possibilities than ever before, but as it turns out, alternative preschool philosophies have been around for a lot longer than you think. Here's the scoop on three of the most popular preschool pedagogies around:


Founded by Dr. Maria Montessori in 1907; Over 5,000 schools in the U.S.

In a nutshell: Children thrive in an environment of consistency, order, and empowerment. Teachers are only facilitators and not the primary focus. Most classes are large (25-30 kids), with a two- to three-year age span. Children are treated as responsible individuals, cleaning up their own spills, cutting up raw fruit and veggies to make their own snacks, going to the bathroom without assistance, and sweeping and dusting at the end of the day.


Founded in Germany in 1919, by Rudolf Steiner; 750 schools worldwide

In a nutshell: Children need to develop their five senses, free from the distractions of TV, the computer, and video games. This is a homelike environment where open ended, creative play is viewed as the work of the young child. Fantasy is integral. In a Waldorf school, a broom can be a spaceship, or a horse, unlike in a Montessori school, where it would never be used that way – since the whole point is a reality based program. Waldorf schools use "toys" like pebbles, wood sticks, or yards of cloth to encourage children to imagine what they can become.


Founded in 1970 in Michigan, by Dr. David Weikart

In a nutshell: Originally created for at-risk urban youth, this program has been highly successful with Head Start students. HighScope emphasizes individualized attention, and is especially good for children with developmental delays, since it is tailored to meet each individual student's level and pace. The day is divided into blocks of time, some small group, some large group. Each day starts with a plan-do-review sequence: first, kids plan what they will do for the day (who they will play with, what areas they will visit, which materials they will use), then they have an hour of work time in which to carry out their plans, and finally they discuss what they've learned and done. Computers are a key component in the classroom.

It's important to remember that preschool is a lot more than crayons and crackers. A child's early education paves the way for a lifetime of learning, and now is the time to begin looking for the perfect fit. The right preschool can help your child become the practical and creative individual you've always imagined them to be, and introduce them to the social, intellectual, and creative challenges of the waiting world.