Explaining Preschool Educational Philosophy: Waldorf Education And More
In our final installment examining early childhood educational philosophy, we explore the final few preschool approaches available in India — Waldorf education, the Reggio Emilia approach, and the Cooperative model — with help from Swati Popat Vats, an educator and president of the Early Childhood Association, an advocacy group that seeks to coordinate early learning stakeholders in India.
While the academic, play way and Montessori models are the most popular and common of preschool philosophy in India, these alternative approaches are gaining ground in the country’s early education scene, albeit in small numbers.
Also called Steiner education, the Waldorf educational philosophy is based on the anthroposophical philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, who divided child development into three major stages, each spanning seven years. Waldorf education, therefore, progresses according to children’s developmental needs, beginning with a focus on physical activity in the first three years and moving on to imaginative play in the middle years until age 7.
Experiential learning, the arts and rhythmic activities — like jumping rope, clapping hands to a song, or reciting rhymes — are primary teaching methods; the use of media is discouraged in the Waldorf education approach, since it is believed to conflict with the developmental needs preschool-aged kids.
Some critics of Waldorf education claim it is merely a front for what amounts to a theosophical cult. Only a handful of true Waldorf schools operate in India, though many preschools claim to be ‘Waldorf-inspired.’
Reggio Emilia approach
The Reggio Emilia approach was developed by teacher Loris Malaguzzi and inhabitants of the eponymous town in Italy, in the wake of the horrors of World War II. This preschool education philosophy is based on the belief that children are endowed with “a hundred languages,” such as painting, drama, and other arts, and consequently it focuses on promoting creativity and artistic expression.
Reggio Emilia training is expensive, and few trained teachers exist. Its components are also difficult to incorporate in other curricula, so a preschool is likely to be either all-or-nothing when it comes to this model.
As the name suggests, in co-op preschools, parents play an active role in running the school and participating in classroom activities in order to build trust and ease the child into the school environment. This educational philosophy began in 1916 by a group of faculty wives at the University of Chicago in the US. Co-ops are rare in India.
Ultimately, Vats says, a preschool’s educational philosophy matters less than the individual teachers, who should be fostering a positive learning environment, regardless of what model the school is based on.
“We need a system that encourages children to look for answers and doesn’t shut down their questions,” Vats says.