A Charlotte Guide to Preschool Philosophies

Know the options to help find the best fit for your family
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It’s no secret that securing a preschool spot in Charlotte can be challenging. With fewer available spots than children who want or need to enroll, waitlists at some Charlotte preschools can stretch beyond the two-year mark. While long waitlists and preschool talk among parents can lead to a lot of stress, the process of searching for the right preschool can be an exciting venture for families as they begin to think deeply about the sort of educational experience they want their child to have. 

Whether they feel more stressed or excited, parents who are beginning their preschool search often report feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of preschools in the area and the wide range of philosophies and environments they offer. By answering a few key questions about what they want and need in a preschool, parents can opt out of the preschool-choice anxiety that is prevalent in many social circles and spend their time and energy interviewing and touring at the handful of schools that will meet the needs of their family. In order to narrow down their options, parents should ask themselves three questions before they begin their search:

* How important is full-time care versus part-time care?

* How important is the location of the school?

* What sort of philosophy most closely mirrors the parenting philosophy used at home?

Most parents can easily answer the first two questions but unless they have a background in early childhood education, many parents aren’t able to articulate the major priorities and differences between the countless options available in Charlotte. 

As you begin your preschool search, take a peek at the round up of different early childhood educational philosophies found in preschools in Charlotte. 

The Montessori Method was developed by Maria Montessori over 100 years ago. In a true Montessori classroom, activities are self-directed, hands-on and play is collaborative. Children are encouraged to make choices in both how and what they learn and kids typically graduate a Montessori preschool program with lots of independence.

“The Montessori classroom is an environment where one sees every child happily engaged in doing something different, based on their own developmental needs,” says Joan Horlbeck, the center director at Anami Montessori School. 

“We work hard to help our students learn how to be a friend, how to be courteous, how to be respectful and how to be kind,” says Victoria Tucker, an administrator at Charlotte Montessori. “We also work hard to help children learn the practical skills they’ll use across their whole lives.”  

Best fit for parents who value self-directed learning and strive to incorporate self-direction and independence in their child’s routine at home. 

Play-based, Progressive Learning
Play based, progressive education is based on Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development and relies on the assertion that children learn best through experience.

“At Open Door, we believe that through play, children learn to solve problems, reason, develop vocabulary, interact socially, and fully engage their bodies, minds, hearts and souls,” says director Sheila Locklear. “When our students head off to kindergarten we want them to be confident, to have the vocabulary and skills to articulate their feelings, to be able to take responsibility for themselves and to be able to participate in classroom routines. When children have these foundational skills, their academics progress naturally.” 

Best fit for families who are committed to fostering their children’s independent decision-making skills and following their child’s lead around what and how they want to learn. 

Religious Weekday School
For parents whose religion plays a central role in their life, a church-based weekday school may be the way to go. “At Sardis weekday school we love our students and our parents,” says director Elizabeth Angerson. “Our goal is to ensure that the children in our care know how special and loved they are and that their parents know that their children are safe, well cared for and learning new things.” 

While most weekday schools have a dual focus on play and academics, their primary aim is usually to provide a safe, caring environment that helps children enjoy their first education experience.

Best fit for for parents whose schedule does not call for full-time care as many weekday schools run on a half-day schedule. Charlotte boasts religious weekday schools in many corners of the city and with a wide range of religious practices. 

“The Waldorf Philosophy is a humanistic, progressive, holistic pedagogical philosophy,” says Silvana Mitchell, an administrator at WaWa-Wasi Schoolhouse. “In Waldorf Education, the learning process happens organically, engaging head, heart and hands — or thinking, feeling and doing.” 

At WaWa-Wasi School House, this learning process is relationship based and includes practical, hands-on activities and a lot of creative, outdoor, unstructured play. WaWa-Wasi Schoolhouse is the only Waldorf Preschool in Charlotte and boasts programs for toddlers through age 5. 

Best fit for families who highly value outdoor time, strictly limit time with electronic toys and who are committed to creating a community within their school setting. 

Reggio Emilia
Developing independence and a sense of mutual respect is the foundation for the Reggio Emilio philosophy. At Little Scholars Academy in the Lake Norman area, teachers are intentional about creating learning environments that are centered on what individual children are interested in learning.

“Reggio is very child lead,” says Little Scholars Academy teacher Brittney Wardrip. “When children in our program begin kindergarten their parents often hear from their teachers that they are impressed by how independent they are when trying things for the first time and how social and collaborative they are both in play and on class projects.”  

Best fit for parents who believe in fostering independence and a sense of mutual respect in their children.

Julia Pelly works full time in positive youth development and writes about parents, families and children. Julia lives with her husband and two young children in southeast Charlotte. You can find more of her work at juliapelly.com.