Comparing Preschool Philosophies: Montessori, Waldorf and More

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If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that preschools aren’t what they used to be anymore. As parents, we want what’s best for our little geniuses and a top-notch education heads the list of our worries. A good preschool education goes a long way, so make sure to get the most out of your child’s early years.



  • A very hands-on approach with focus on developmental learning as well as nature and creativity. Teachers play a guiding role as opposed to a leading role in the classroom. Children are encouraged to learn from their mistakes and correct themselves as opposed to being told so by an authoritative figure. Children will also learn beyond academics in the form of “practical life skills” lessons. Independent play is encouraged by teachers and child – and thus, Montessori teachers do not condone parent involvement during work time.

Who’s it for?

  • Children who are more independent and inclined towards self-learning. The Montessori environment is also very quiet and controlled as students will sit through a few hours (two to three) of work/play at a time, so more rambunctious and energetic children may find that this programme is not suitable for them. Parents who want to get involved in their child’s education may find that this programme is not for them either as their involvement is strongly discouraged by teachers.

Forest School


  • A forest school can be described as a classroom “without ceilings or walls”, ie, completely outdoors. Every activity is a lesson, from walking to the nature reserve (observation) to taking snack breaks (discussions and reviewing). Students can expect a wholesome education without any modern prompts. Not only that, trained teachers will formulate thematic lessons for the day to engage the children’s attention.

Who’s it for

  • Parents who want their children to put the smartphones/tablets down and spend more time communing with nature. Children will learn to not rely on standard toys and instead make full use of their surroundings in order to engage in play. Child development occurs through outdoor activities designed to meet specific needs. In order to run a forest school, qualifying needs have to be met with Level 4 being the highest qualification a forest school can achieve.



  • Waldorf schools (or Steiner approach) can be compared to play-based curriculums like Montessori schools. Unlike Montessori schools, though, Waldorf schools have more teacher involvement. A typical Waldorf classroom will be designed to resemble a cosy home and the lesson is structured around daily routines intended to emphasise daily, weekly and monthly cycles. The Waldorf approach also encourages the extensive application of imagination to play – thus, toys played with are designed to be as simple as possible and sourced from natural materials.

Who’s it for?

  • Children with an active imagination will definitely appreciate being sent to a Waldorf school. In a world where children being occupied by a screen is the norm, the Waldorf approach will also ease parents’ worries about their child’s dependency on electronics in order to have fun. The routine-based curriculum is also well-suited for children who enjoy a little order in their lives.

Bank Street


  • The Bank Street method takes on a ‘learn by doing’ approach to child development. With this method, the child is also in charge of the lessons, so to speak – their current interest at the time can result in a lesson plan based entirely around their interests. As a result, Bank Street teachers are required to be observant at all times so as to create new lesson plans in accordance with the children’s desires. Bank Street schools operate on mixed-age classrooms as well, and by doing so, eliminate a sense of superiority or inferiority by age in the children as well as discouraging competition amongst the students.

Who’s it for?

  • Outspoken children who aren’t afraid to voice their opinions and would much rather learn by completing a set of activities on their own. As children pave the way for the lesson plans, this encourages students to be more expressive with their feelings and desires. In a way, this method makes sure that no child is ignored and that every voice is heard. By way of ‘learning by doing’, the Bank Street school is also suitable for children who insist on a more hands-on experience.

Reggio Emilia


  • Communication is key and this approach strives to encourage children to express themselves through different forms (language, art, music). Adults play a secondary role to the acquisition of knowledge. Children construct their own lesson plans and are driven by interests to learn more. There is not so much of a hierarchy in the classroom – each child is considered an equal participant in group play. As the Reggio Emilia approach isn’t a method, there is no set curriculum on how to run a Reggio Emilia school, giving it that certain je ne sais quoi.

Who’s it for

  • Children who know what they want to do. They don’t necessarily have to have goals at that age, but are able to express their interests in contributing to the daily lesson plan. Since documentation is key to this approach, parents can follow up with the progress of their children and are also encouraged to be more involved in their child’s education. Similarly, children can learn from their actions through the documentation of their progress.



  • Seen as a predecessor to PERMATAnegara, the KEMAS programme follows the National Preschool Curriculum more closely than the other approaches. The curriculum is created based around the Rukun Negara and seeks to develop a social, intellectual, physical, spiritual and creative skills. Unlike PERMATAnegara, however, the KEMAS programme focuses on the children only.

Who’s it for?

  • The KEMAS programme was created to help provide child-care for low-income families in rural areas or local communities. As such, the fees per month vary depending on the annual income of each family. However, if a parent isn’t too fussed over matching a preschool philosophy to their child’s character, undergoing the KEMAS programme is just as good.



  • Based on the principle that “every child is precious”, the PERMATA programme is an education series that serves to cater to the needs of each child. The PERMATAnegara sub-programme is for children under 4 years old and seeks to nurture the child as a whole. PERMATAnegara curriculum is designed to improve on the mental, physical and emotional makeup of a child by six key learning areas. The aim of PERMATA is also to assist the local community by providing quality integrated childcare for a fraction of the cost of private preschools.

Who’s it for?

  • New families unsure of how to best approach their child’s early education. The PERMATAnegara programme mostly focuses on low-income families and offers everything a new family needs in order to maintain a healthy and harmonious lifestyle. Besides a quality early-years education, PERMATAnegara also provides an outreach programme, parenting courses, counselling and healthcare services.

Learn the questions every parent should ask to find the best school fit for your child:


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