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Child Care

November 10, 2023

Early childhood learning theories/pedagogies and how to choose

By Bumo

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What are all the early childhood learning theories out there?

There are many different types of learning theories/philosophies/methods/pedagogies out there, and it can be confusing as a parent navigating these and figuring out what is best for your child. To make your lives easier, we did the homework for you! The following are the most commonly referenced and known early childhood learning theories/pedagogies out there. 


Reggio Emilia

  • Founder: Loris Malaguzzi
  • Explanation: This approach originated in the town of Reggio Emilia, Italy, and emphasizes a strong community involvement, including parents, teachers, and children as co-learners. The Reggio philosophy is that children are competent, confident and capable beings from birth. But that doesn’t mean that preschoolers are in charge or that the schedule is a free-for-all. Instead, children follow their own interests within a framework of activities directed by the teachers.
  • Theory: Children have multiple ways to express themselves, referred to as “the hundred languages of children”. The curriculum emerges organically as opposed to top-down, in partnership with the children, and within the context of the community. So instructors at Reggio-inspired schools are flexible and don’t start the year with a preconceived notion of what will be taught or when.

Waldorf (Steiner Education)

  • Founder: Rudolf Steiner
  • Explanation: Waldorf education is holistic, focusing on the development of a child’s intellectual, artistic, and practical skills in an integrated manner.
  • Theory: The approach believes in the development of the child’s spirit, soul, and body. Learning is structured in stages that correspond to a child’s natural development. They integrate the arts in all academic disciplines for children from preschool through twelfth grade to enhance and enrich learning. Waldorf education aims to inspire life-long learning in all students and to enable them to fully develop their unique capacities.


  • Founder: Friedrich Froebel
  • Explanation: Froebel believed that “play is the highest expression of human development in childhood for it alone is the free expression of what is in the child’s soul.”
  • Theory: He introduced the concept of “kindergarten”, a garden for children where they learn through play, activities, and songs. He believed that children learn best when they interact with the world and construct their understanding.

Bank Street

High Scope

  • Founder: David Weikart
  • Explanation: This approach emphasizes “active participatory learning“; the 5 active ingredients of learning are materials, manipulation, choice, child language & thought, and adult scaffolding. Children have direct, hands-on experiences with people, objects, events, and ideas.
  • Theory: Children learn best from activities they plan and carry out themselves. Daily routines include a plan-do-review sequence. High Scopes advocates for a unique set of dynamics involving shared control between child and adult that lays the groundwork for actively engaging young children in learning and establishing essential school readiness skills.

Parent Cooperative

Forest School

  • Explanation: This is an outdoor education model where children spend a significant amount of time in forests or natural settings. Forest School uses a range of learner-centered processes to create a community for being, development and learning.
  • Theory: Children benefit from learning in a natural environment where they can explore, discover, and connect with nature. It fosters resilience, confidence, and self-esteem.


Each of these pedagogies offers a unique perspective on early childhood learning and has contributed significantly to our understanding of child development and education.

And yes, there are several other early childhood development theories/pedagogies besides the ones we listed. In addition to the ones above, here are some additional approaches:

Project-Based Learning (PBL)

  • Explanation: PBL is an instructional method where students gain knowledge and skills by investigating and responding to complex questions, problems, or challenges over an extended period.
  • Theory: Children are more engaged when they have a hands-on role in their learning. Projects can be based on students’ interests, making learning more relevant.

Head Start

  • Explanation: Initiated in the 1960s in the U.S., this is a government program designed to promote school readiness for young children from low-income families.
  • Theory: By providing comprehensive early childhood education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services, Head Start aims to boost the school readiness of young children in challenging situations.

Multiple Intelligences

  • Founder: Howard Gardner
  • Explanation: Gardner proposed that there are multiple types of intelligences (e.g., linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, etc.).
  • Theory: Each child has a unique blend of these intelligences. Educators should cater to these diverse strengths rather than focusing solely on linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences.

Inquiry-Based Learning

  • Explanation: This method encourages children to ask questions, explore, and be curious. It’s closely related to project-based learning but emphasizes student questions.
  • Theory: Children learn best when they’re actively seeking answers, rather than passively receiving information.

Integrated Thematic Instruction

  • Founder: Susan Kovalik
  • Explanation: This approach organizes curriculum around themes, integrating various subject areas (like math, science, and language arts) under one overarching topic.
  • Theory: By making connections between different subjects, learning becomes more meaningful and cohesive for students.

Experiential Learning

Bilingual and Dual-Language Programs

  • Explanation: These programs aim to support bilingualism and biliteracy from early childhood.
  • Theory: Early exposure to multiple languages boosts cognitive flexibility and cultural awareness.

This is not a comprehensive list of learning theories/pedagogies, and there are many variations and hybrids of the above-mentioned approaches. The field of early childhood education is vast, with researchers and educators continuously exploring and innovating to find the best methods to support children’s development and learning.

How do I choose what is the best early childhood learning theory for my child?

Happy african american family having fun in the park. Parents want what is best for their children including figuring out the best early childhood learning theory for their children.

Choosing the right pedagogical approach for your child requires careful consideration of various factors. Here’s a guide to help you determine which might be the best fit:

Understand Your Child’s Needs and Personality

  • Learning Style: Is your child a hands-on learner, or do they prefer structured lessons? Some children thrive in self-directed environments like Montessori, while others may prefer the artistic and structured Waldorf approach.
  • Social Interaction: Consider how your child interacts with peers. Reggio Emilia and Parent Cooperative models emphasize collaborative learning.
  • Connection with Nature: If your child loves the outdoors, a Forest School might be ideal.

Determine Your Educational Goals

  • Holistic Development: If you’re looking for a well-rounded education that focuses on intellectual, artistic, and practical skills, Waldorf might be appealing.
  • Academic Rigor: If academic achievement is a top priority, you might lean towards methods that have a stronger emphasis on structured learning.
  • Community Involvement: Reggio Emilia and Parent Cooperative models emphasize strong community and parental involvement.

Visit Schools and Classrooms

  • Observing a classroom in action can give you a feel for the teaching style, classroom environment, and how children engage with the material and each other.
  • Engage with teachers and ask about their teaching philosophy, classroom management techniques, and how they handle individual differences.

Consider Practical Matters

  • Location: Is the school conveniently located? Proximity can be essential, especially for young children.
  • Cost: Some pedagogical approaches, especially private ones, can be expensive. Ensure the chosen method aligns with your budget.
  • Facilities: Check if the school has facilities that cater to your child’s interests, such as art rooms, playgrounds, or nature trails.

Seek Feedback

  • Talk to other parents whose children attend the school or follow the same learning theory/pedagogical approach. Their experiences can provide valuable insights.
  • Consider joining local parent groups or forums where you can discuss and compare different educational methods.

Trust Your Instincts

Sometimes, a gut feeling can be as informative as any research. If you and your child feel comfortable and happy in a particular school environment, that’s a strong indicator.


Remember that children change and grow. What works at one stage might not be suitable later on. It’s okay to re-evaluate and switch approaches if necessary.

Professional Guidance

If you’re still unsure, consider seeking advice from educational consultants or child psychologists who can provide insights based on their professional understanding of child development.

Lastly, remember that no learning theory/pedagogy is universally “the best.” It’s about finding the right fit for your child’s unique needs, personality, and circumstances. Whatever you choose, your involvement, love, and support in your child’s education will always play a crucial role in their happiness and developmental milestones.

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