Looking at Program Philosophies- A Parent’s Journey

“How does a Parent begin to know the type of learner their child is when they are so young?
That is a really tough question.
But,  I wonder….is this even the right question?
Should we be asking instead, as Parents and Teachers…
What is this young child’s disposition?” 

Lillian Katz a professor and researcher has been studying dispositions of young children for over 30 years. “…a disposition is a pattern of behavior exhibited frequently . . . in the absence of coercion . . . constituting a habit of mind under some conscious and voluntary control . . . intentional and oriented to broad goals.”  (Katz; 1993b, 16).

Whatever the specific question, parents typically begin the process to find the answer and they start by looking at their child because they are searching for the educational environment best suited for their little one.  Whether it be Preschool or Elementary School-  as parents,  you might begin navigating this road, seeking advice from those in your community. Your immediate family, your child’s Teachers, the Director of your child’s Preschool, Grandparents.. .perhaps close friends?

This quest might be compared to the chasm of asking 100 doctors for their opinions… if you did this you just might get 100 different answers. Asking for opinions coupled with every person’s personal ‘birth stories’ and the individual ‘Tales of Preschool or Kindergarten Expeditions’. These stories are either helpful or horrific and contribute to your personal journey in building confidence or anxiety and thus preparing you and your child- at least in part for the first expected formal transition(s).

And then there is us. Educators in some form. We are Educational Consultants, Therapists, Social Workers, Teachers, Administrators- all professionals. For those educators who invest in supporting parents and for parents who desire companions on the journey to find answers to these perplexing questions with their children-  I believe this. Partnerships between educators and parents empowers confidence.  When a parent seeks support in knowing their their child’s dispositions, gifts, talents and needs it transforms futures.

(Quote Reference: Katz, L.G. 1993. Dispositions: Definitions and Implications. In Talks with Teachers: Reflections on early
 childhood education, Washington, DC: NAEYC)

 An Answer

I Believe in Empowerment. I believe in parents and that you truly know what is best for your child. How do you find that answer? Through knowledge, power, information, support and searching your spirit and soul to enable you to make informed, healthy and honest decisions.

 Accessing Knowledge, Power & Information 


 What is a Developmental School vs. Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP)

Accessing knowledge, power and information on school environments begins at the basics. To get started on the philosophical journey, it’s important to understand the difference between Developmentally Appropriate Practice often referred to as DAP and a “Developmental School”. DAP which covers the age-range of birth-8 years old, typically through 3rd grade and is a widely adopted NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) position-statement used in both early-childhood and elementary education and beyond. DAP is an approach to teaching grounded in the research on how young children develop and learn and in what is known about effective early education. Its framework is designed to promote young children’s optimal learning and development. DAP involves teachers meeting young children where they are (by stage of development), both as individuals and as part of a group; and helping each child meet challenging and achievable learning goals”. NAEYC To review the entire position statement here. 

Preschool and Elementary Programs typically identify themselves by Philosophy or Pedagogy. Parents can begin to identify their own educational values and reviewing a school’s stated Philosophy Statement based on what they desire for their child as compared to that of the School’s Philosophy, Mission, Values and Goals.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children holds the copywright for all material. The position statements can be downloaded and reproduced for free. Excerpts can be reproduced with permission. Information is available on NAEYC's website. 

 Developmental Philosophy (Play-Based; Learning Through Play) 

High quality early childhood programs encourage children to think critically about situations and professional educators are typically open-ended, as they believe in life-long-learning. Teachers support creativity as a matter of process vs. product so that students may achieve and thrive in a multifaceted, dynamic and demanding social world. Focused play that is led emergently by children often through projects and scaffolded by adults is developmentally appropriate and is a substantial component of any superior early childhood program. Play is a method of learning for children. Children do not need to be interrupted to learn. Play is a natural way of expression, receiving the world and communicating. During a typical preschool day in a truly developmental, play-based program there will be structured and unstructured periods, empowering children to learn at their own rate. The following list highlights the significance of play-based environments in a child’s cognitive, social, emotional, approaches-to-learning, academic, and physical well-being and development:

PROGRAMS…”Playing to Learn/Learning to Play”)

Philosophical View of Children

  • Children gain knowledge by increasing knowledge
  • Children are encouraged to use their words, make choices & decisions
  • Children are thinkers, problem-solvers & social/emotional beings with inherent value
  • Focused Play is when children learn to process & reflect their efforts

Environments that Support Focused Play

  • Materials of various size, color, shape
  • Blocks, dramatic & imaginative play, manipulative/table toys, art & sensory, library area, music & movement, cooking, music, outdoor, soft spaces, writing & a print-rich environment


The Traditional Philosophy can stand alone as it’s own philosophy or can cover more specific similar like-minded philosophies for example Essentialism and Perennialism. In a traditional approach the focus is on teacher-centered instruction, high test-scores and grades. Students are typically matched by age and possibly matched by ability although this can vary from school-to-school. Some schools (in many philosophies) embrace a concept called Differentiated Instruction or Learning. Typically, in a traditional approach students in the class are taught the same material. Instruction is based on textbooks, lectures and mostly individual or at-times group assignments that are written or project-based. Subjects are independent of each other and rarely there is little connection existing from subject-to-subject. Often there is a focus on memorization of facts and objective information is shared although some schools embrace programs that encourage critical-thinking and a balance of group work to rote learning.

(Reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traditional_education)

Fundamentals of Traditional Education

In Mathematics:

  • Highly emphasize basic facts and mastering step-by-step processes. Typically one correct answer is sought. Some traditional schools have embraced more critical-thinking programs.
  • Mathematics is taught in it’s own discipline. Practical applications in science and technology may be utilized in upper grades.

In Science:

  • Typically fact-based, lab-based with experiments to follow-up with demonstrating knowledge through tests, written work and reading.

In Language:

  • Typically focus is on precise teaching to sound to letter relationship rules and methods as well as deciphering individual words. Once students have mastered phonetical skills and basic reading/writing they move on to more extensive creative writing, comprehensive reading/writing and the involvement of additional languages. Typically the first 3 years are learning to read and beyond- reading to learn.


“We may, I think, discover certain common, principles amid the variety of progressive schools now existing. To imposition from above is opposed expression and cultivation of individuality; to eternal discipline is opposed free activity; to learning from texts and teachers, learning through experience; to acquisition of isolated skills and techniques by drill is opposed acquisition of them as means of attaining ends which make direct vital appeal; to preparation for a more or less remote future is opposed making the most of the opportunities of present life; to statistics and materials is opposed acquaintance with a changing world” John Dewey

Dewey was most responsible for progressivism (1859-1952). With a background in philosophy and psychology, Dewey brought his liberal social reformer perspective to the field of education. Progressivism values and respects individuality, has a high regard for science and approachability for change. Natural and social sciences is an area of study accentuated in the progressive philosophy. Important variations in scientific, technological and social developments reflect the progressivist notion that progress and change are fundamental. Students learn to solve problems democratically through a perpetually enriching process of ongoing growth.

(References: Adapted; Cohen, L (1999) Philosophical Perspectives in Education)

Fundamentals of Progressive Education

  • Curriculum is focused around experiences and abilities of students
  • Students learn by doing, creating, communicating and interacting
  • Malleable, experiential, project-based, typically determined by students’ curiosities
  • Ideally, home, workplace, school blend harmoniously together


The Montessori method is a system of education that is both a philosophy of child development and a justification for guiding their growth. Maria Montessori is the creator of the method from Italy. The philosophy and method is based on two important developmental needs of children:

  • The need for autonomy within limits
  • A prudently arranged environment, which assures contact to materials and experiences.

Developmentally the child acquires intellect, motor and psychological proficiencies. Through a stimulating, child-centered environment, the method supports children’s desire to learn and develop their own unique set of skills. Students determine their own reply to opportunities in response to adults who are trained in the method and offer occasions for students to access. Montessori encourages students to develop skills using their five senses including kinetic, movement, spatial refinement, small and large motor skill coordination and concrete knowledge that later leads to abstraction.

(References: Adapted; rosehallmontesorri,org; chiaravalle.org)

Philosophical View of Children

  • Respect: Children are different than adults & respect individually
  • Sensitivities & Intellectual Abilities: Children are unique, they absorb the world differently.
  • First 6 years: The most important years of a child’s growth and consciousness
  • Purposeful Work: Children’s love is not necessarily for the completion of the job but for the sake of the activity itself. The most important goal is the development of the individual self.


Developed by Rudolf Steiner in 1919, Waldorf Education is a method of education for Preschool through High School and is based on the view that the human being is a life of body, soul and spirit. Waldorf teachers believe in the whole child- the heart, the hands, soul, spirit and the head. Curriculum is broad and comprehensive. Schools come from the view that children develop and respond within three developmental phases from childhood to adulthood. “Play is the heart of the Waldorf Early Childhood Program. Children develop the capacity for creative thinking, problem solving, abilities and social skills through their free imaginative play. Simple, natural materials- pieces of wood, seashells, beeswax, and handcrafted toys- encourages children to form their own games and stories.”

(References: Adapted; chicagowaldorf.org, wikidpeia.org/waldorfeducation,)

Reggio Emilia 

The Reggio Approach derives from its place of origin, Reggio Emilia, a city located in Emilia Romagna in Northern Italy. Loris Malagguzzi who was a young teacher and founder of this unique system collaborated with parents in the area to provide quality childcare and education for young children. The inspiration came from the need for women to return to the workforce after WWII and since it’s inception this distinctive program has captured many educators curiosity worldwide. This educational system offers itself to: the role of collaboration among children, teachers and parents; the co-construction of knowledge; the interdependence of individual and social learning and the role of culture in understanding this interdependence (Baji and Rankin, 2004). At the heart of the system is the powerful image of the child. Reggio educators do not see children as empty vessels that require filling with facts. Rather children are viewed as capable of building their own theories, hypothesis and full of potential. Reggio Educators honor many rights and values and hold them as sacred as they pertain to children- similar to other early education philosophies.

(References:Amelia Gambetti, Reggio Children)

Fundamentals of Reggio Emilia

  • Education based on Relationships
  • The Reggio Teacher is an observer, documenter and partner
  • The Environment as a Third Teacher
  • Long-Term Projects as Vehicles of Learning
  • Importance of Documentation
Please note**Inclusion on this list does not imply any recommendation by Andrea Petsche Education Consulting, LLC or her sponsors/supporters/clinets or school affiliates. Program perspectives should not be interpreted as exclusive to early learning or a complete definition of each pedagogy. All can incorporate different elements and approaches to meet the needs of children/students and families and throughout the educational process.
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