The different types of preschool curriculum

Share this article with other mums

With so many different preschool programmes and curriculums, how do you know which one is right for your child?


While the main aim of any preschool is to foster the development and education of children in a play-based, child-centred environment, there are a variety of curriculum approaches that are used to achieve this.

The best preschools develop their curriculum by understanding various early childhood approaches and developing an individualised curriculum that follows the children’s interests and needs. Most preschools in Singapore do actually do this, even if they do officially claim to be focusing on one particular curriculum over another.

Related: How to chose the right child care centre

“It’s very important that the curriculum responds to the children in the room. They should take a bit of this and a bit of that and put it together” says Alexandra Senanayake, whose 2-year-old has recently started preschool “It was important to me that the curriculum was developed taking different approaches into consideration as all children learn differently.”

Preschool curriculums encourage the teacher to not only understand educational approaches, but also to foster the children’s development within the educational framework in a manner that best suits the individual child and the group as a whole.

“A preschool is only as good as its teachers” states Ms. Lim, a parent who has decided to change her child’s school. “It’s not just about the curriculum but also the delivery. I didn’t feel like the teaching methods suited [my child’s] way of learning.”

Searching for a preschool for your child can be a rather daunting task – from locations, costs and waiting lists to truly understanding what makes one stand out from another – there is a rather large amount of information to understand.

As we step into different learning centres, we quickly realise that there appears to be an alarmingly varied number of curricula that are all aimed at bringing out the best in our children but how does one choose?

Related: Letter from a preschool teacher to her parents

There are six main curriculum approaches available in Singaporean preschools: Montessori, Waldorf Steiner, the Play-Based curriculum, the Reggio Emilia approach, the High Scope Method and the Theory of Multiple Intelligences.

In addition to these, there is a newer curriculum approach that is now becoming more widely available, known as “whole brain learning” which is available through schools such as MindChamps. Though all are child centred, each approach is unique in its teaching methods and an understanding of the key principles of each will help parents in finding a preschool whose philosophy and educational beliefs are in line with their own. This reduces the risks of parents being dissatisfied with the school and feeling the need to put the child through the sometimes difficult experience of changing schools.

Here’s a list of the major preschool curricula currently being used, with some of their main features and guiding principles.

Curriculum approach Origins Key Principles
Montessori - Developed by Italian Maria Montessori in the late 1800’s
- Montessori started by studying children with special needs and worked with them till they came to a “normal” level of functioning, her success incited her curiosity to study the manner in which “normal” children would respond to her methods
- Learning is spontaneous and is dependent on the educational environment
- The teacher is a facilitator, particularly when a child is exploring a new task in order to prevent them from developing incorrect habits
Reggio Emilia - Originates from the Reggio Emilia area in Northern Italy
- Developed by Loris Malaguzzi and the parents of the Reggio Emilia region
- Project based, community learning that is centred around the interests of the children
- Relationships are central in children’s learning. Relationships with adults, other children and their environment all shape their learning
- Linked to this principle is the “Pedagogy of Listening”. It’s important not just for the child to listen to the adult but for the adult to listen to the child as well. These interactions will help the adult in understanding the children’s way of thinking. This will allow them to foster the children’s interests to develop into projects that facilitate their education
- “100 Languages of Children” is central in the Reggio Emilia approach. Malaguzzi identified this as the range of ways children express themselves. He highlights the importance of allowing children the opportunity to keep and use these 100 languages while being respected. Children learn through their experiences. They need to see, touch and fully explore their environment while having control over their learning
Play Based - Based primarily on theories of Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky, however, a variety of educational theories based on children’s development and learning are essential in the play based curriculum - The key principle in a play based curriculum is that children learn the most when they are interacting with materials and their environment in a manner that is fun and interesting
- Teacher’s observations of the children and setting of the classroom environment is essential- this stimulates the children’s interests and therefore, learning
Theory of Multiple Intelligences - Proposed by American developmental psychologist Howard Gardner in 1983
- Gardner’s theory challenged the world’s view on intelligence by putting forward the view that intelligence is multi dimensional unlike what was previously believed
- There are eight accepted areas of intelligence with Gardner’s theory:
o Spatial: the way in which one interacts with the space around them and the ability to visualise space with the mind’s eye

o Linguistic: Learning of languages, spoken and written

o Logical-Mathematical: This area is closest to the traditional concept of intelligence. Predominantly focuses on reasoning capabilities and scientific investigation

o Body Kinaesthetic: The ability to learn and have control over your body including having a good sense of timing

o Musical: Relates to an awareness of sounds, rhythm, tone and music

o Interpersonal: The way one relates with others

o Intrapersonal: The ability to self-reflect and understand oneself

o Naturalistic: The way one relates to the environment and natural surroundings

Waldorf Steiner - Based on the educational viewpoint of Austrian philosopher, Rudolf Steiner
- The first Waldorf-Steiner school was set up in 1919 for the children of employees of the Waldorf Astoria cigarette factory
- Waldorf Steiner schools focus on children learning though sensory experiences and having the children get involved in practical activities
- Television and exposure to large amounts of media is discouraged in Waldorf Steiner schools as it is believed to limit the children’s development of imagination and creativity
- Traditionally, it would not be unusual for one teacher to be with the same group of children over a period of a few years as he believed that the role of the teacher is as a mother figure whose goal is to allow the child’s innate self-motivation to predominate
High Scope - Developed in Michigan during the 1960’s by the Director of Special Services in the Public School District, David Weikart with the collaboration of teachers within the schooling district. The High Scope method draws on the educational teachings of Jean Piaget, John Dewey and Lev Vygotsky
- Weikart and his colleagues wanted to understand what it was in the teaching methods and curriculum that appeared to consistently be failing a certain population of students
- The Perry Preschool Project was undertaken to make changes to curriculum and teaching methods which would help children from disadvantaged backgrounds to study how the changes they proposed would affect the children
- The HighScope method has a strong emphasis on children learning through interaction with their environment
- The daily routine is also essential. The day follows a predictable format which includes small group times, large group times and transitions. The large group time is generally where the teacher and children plan what they will do that day. The children disperse to small groups to the carefully designed and defined interest areas, play and also have the freedom to move to other areas. They come together again and review what they had undertaken. This is the “plan-do-review” component which is central in a High Scope program
Whole Brain Learning - Developed through research of all the earlier curricula and newer studies
- Combines key elements of the play based curriculum and Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences
- Aimed at making children learn in a holistic manner
- The process of learning is recognised as being as important as the outcome
- Play is recognised as being the work of a child. Children need to “Explore, Experience, Experiment and Enjoy” their environment on their own and also with the guidance of the teacher to help the child understand a particular learning goal or outcome.