Every parent knows the struggle of choosing the right preschool for their child. Which philosophy is best? How do you choose the right school of thought to make sure your kid will thrive? Is there a secret formula for figuring it out?
Wouldn’t that be nice! Of course, as all parents know, there is never a magic, one-size-fits-all answer for these big questions. Instead, it all depends on your child and who they are. There is good news, though! While it may be tempting to be swayed by a program based on rates or location, a great and often overlooked way to choose the right preschool for your child is to take a close look at their temperament. Depending on their temperaments, different children will thrive in different preschool environments.
Your job, as a parent, is to consider your child’s temperament and decide what type of preschool would be best for them. Simple, right? Well, not really. There are a lot of factors here, and sometimes there is no immediately clear answer. In Inceptive's class ‘Temperament: Preschool-Child Fit’, a child development expert, Noelle Cochran, PsyD, takes parents through the seven main temperament traits and five main preschool types to inform parents about their options and how to find the best fit for their child, giving you the insight of an experienced clinical psychologist.
It can be tempting to think of temperament as being the same thing as personality, but it is actually a completely different aspect of a person. Temperament has a biological and genetic basis and is set by the time a child is six months old. It remains stable across a person’s lifespan, and very rarely changes, except in cases of trauma. The younger a person is, the more raw and unfiltered their temperament will be. Part of growing up is learning how to cope with and control your temperament.
The seven main temperament traits are:
- Approach or withdrawal
- Frustration tolerance
All of these are measured on a high to low scale. Each of the temperament types interacts with the others, and will cause different children to express their temperaments in unique ways. The temperament types can be mapped as a temperament constellation.
As a child is growing and learning, their environment can help or hinder them. This is where the concept of ‘the goodness of fit’ comes in. If the child is in an environment that works well with their temperament, then they will be able to express the positive aspects of their temperament, while the negative aspects can be minimized. This is why it is so important to consider your child’s temperament constellation when considering what type of preschool you will enroll them in.
There are five main types of preschool:
Each of these schools has positives and negatives, depending on your child’s temperament constellation. It is also important to remember that each individual school will be different, and will follow their particular school of thought differently. Schools that are ‘Montessori influenced’ will follow the teachings of Montessori much less strictly than 'by-the-book Montessori' schools, for example. To get an idea of how much flexibility each school has, you will have to ask the staff directly. In addition, you should visit a few and see how they interact with children whose temperament constellation matches your child.
Let's consider Montessori, perhaps the best known of the preschool types. The philosophy behind Montessori is one of personal responsibility, with children being treated as individual learners and teachers acting as guides. Toys are functional, the classrooms tend to be multi-aged and children have clearly defined jobs. Children are encouraged to be independent and have freedom within limits to explore the world around them and learn through those actions.
- If you have a high movement child, you will want to explore how much active time your child would get, as well as note how the teachers interact with any high movement children in the classroom at the time of your visit. A Montessori school with its reliance on independent learning and uninterrupted work time, may prove to be a challenge for a high movement child.
- Conversely, a child with a low regularity temperament, who thrives in environments where the rules are clear and regular, would be a good fit for the disciplined and defined nature of the more strict Montessori schools.
The temperament of the teacher should also be part of your observations. A high intensity teacher matched with a high intensity child can be a recipe for disaster, especially as high intensity children will often match their intensity to those around them.
As with all questions of parenting, there is no one magic answer. It all comes down to understanding your child and their needs. Consider having your child’s temperament constellation mapped, so you have a more clear idea of their individual needs and challenges.
If you would like to learn more about the temperament traits and how they respond to types of preschools, participate in Noelle Cochran’s Inceptive course, where she covers these topics in great depth.
 “Montessori Programmes.” Association Montessori Internationale, montessori-ami.org/about-montessori/montessori-programmes.
 “Waldorf Education - Association of Waldorf Schools of North America.” Waldorf Education - Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, www.waldorfeducation.org/waldorf-education.
 “General Questions.” North American Reggio Emilia Alliance, www.reggioalliance.org/general-questions/.
 Play-based learning. In: Tremblay RE, Boivin M, Peters RDeV, eds. Pyle A, topic ed. Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development [online]. http://www.child-encyclopedia.com/sites/default/files/dossiers-complets/en/play-based-learning.pdf. Updated February 2018. Accessed February 14, 2020
 “Childcare Co-Ops.” Childcare Co-Ops | California Center for Cooperative Development, www.cccd.coop/co-op-info/co-op-types/childcare-co-ops.