This is a question parents often ask me when they come to visit my preschool so I thought it would be worth writing about it. There are many types of preschools all of which follow their own methodology such as Montessori, Steiner, high-scope or play-based. Each take a slightly different approach to early years learning but all methodologies and approaches also need to follow the Irish framework of Aistear and Síolta which I will write separately about.
So to give you a brief overview of the main methodology’s used in Ireland. I’ll start with Montessori as it is a term often used in the early years. Montessori was developed by Maria Montessori in 1907 in Italy. She designed specific didactic materials for children to use independently and she was the first to emphasise the importance of child size furniture to facilitate independency in children in an early years services. Montessori has 5 areas – practice life, sensorial, language, maths and culture – and specific equipment has been designed for each area to enable a child’s learning. The Directress’s role is to set-up the environment for the children, provide lessons on the equipment’s so that they can confidently use and hone their skills. The directress observes the children and only intervenes in their work as appropriate.
Steiner or Waldorf schools were established in Germany by Rudolf Steiner in 1919. Waldorf schools are very much nature based and are often set in forest settings and children remain with the same teacher for several years as they process through school. The materials used are all from natural products and they use nature objects for their play. Direct teaching of numbers and literacy is postponed until children are 6-7 years old.
High-scope was developed in American in the 1960’s. It is a play-based methodology where children follow a 3 step work cycle – choose, play, reflect. A child entering a high-scope service will initially choose their play activity with their key worker, play with the activity and after the activity reflect on it. This promotes a child’s free thinking and communication skills.
These are the most popular methodologies used in Ireland each having their own philosophy on early years learning. Further to these methodology other services, like mine, prefer a play-based programme which uses elements of each of these methodologies when designing an early year’s programme. For example we would offer Montessori practical life activities to refine fine motor skills. We offer a selection natural objects such as seeds, horse chestnuts, leaves for children to explore and use in our circle time for group discussion where we encourage listening to each other and turn taking.
I use a Reggio Emilia approach to my service. Reggio Emilia is an approach, not a methodology, in the sense that it is an interpretation of what has been created in Reggio Emilia services in Italy. Please read my other post – Reggio Emilia – to find out more. This approach is child-lead, where the practitioner sets up ‘an invitation to play’ based on children’s interests. The invitation to play generally uses loose open- ended materials for children to explore and play with. The practitioner observes the play and interactions amongst the children. She may make some suggestions or comment on their play to encourage their creativity and social interactions. The practitioner documents their learning mainly through photographs and art work. The Reggio Approach encourages collaborative project work which may run over several days or weeks. All learning is done through play.
I hope this has provided you with a good overview of the various types of early years approaches offered in Ireland.