Different Preschool Philosophies and Where to Find them on the Seacoast


It’s Preschool Registration time! It can be an overwhelming moment in time but I am here to help! No matter where on the Seacoast you live, there are so amazing preschools. 

I’m here to help with a rundown of different preschool philosophies and where to find them on the Seacoast.

I am a pediatric occupational therapist. I work in private practice, but consult and provide intervention at the preschool and public school levels. Because of this work, I get to see the insides of our local preschool and daycare classrooms: a lot of them. It’s my job to help a student with their classroom and school function meaning I help them with motor, social and sensory skills so they can be developmentally independent in the classroom. I discuss preschool with all of the families I work with. “Where does my active son belong?” “What environment will my super-sensitive daughter thrive in?” “What schools have the most outdoor play time?”

At the heart of it, we are all figuring out what’s best for our children. 

Day Care vs. Preschool

The main goal for these settings is to offer developmentally appropriate childcare and early childhood education.

  • Day cares typically have longer hours and can better serve full-time working parents. They run year-round and don’t typically close for  those week-long breaks like April vacation. Tuition can often be paid weekly, and children are reserved for a full-time or part-time slot.
  • Preschools often offer a 2-day program for a 3-year old, 3 days for a 4-year old. Preschools are not traditionally full-day but there are exceptions. Some preschool programs offer early drop-off or a lunch program, extending the day.  Preschools follow the public school calendar and often close twice a year for parent-teacher conference days. Closed for the summer, some programs offer a half day camp for a few weeks in July. Tuition is paid in larger chunks before the school year starts.  

Regardless of what category a school falls into, it’s good to understand their philosophy to some degree. Please note that this post focuses on more traditional preschool settings, but there are plenty of day care and home-based nursery programs in our area to explore! 

Types of preschool philosophy


Montessori focuses on child-lead learning, with teachers as the guide. Many classrooms have a morning “work cycle” where students choose their own activities. Materials are specific and hands-on. Montessori emphasizes independence – to take care of their own belongings, set up their own “work” and clean up. Classrooms are often multi-age (ages 3-6).

Brixham Montessori Friends, Cornerstone, Newburyport Montessori, Amesbury Montessori, Little Tree


Waldorf focuses on “the home” in early childhood, with consistent rhythm of the day and a dependable routine. With natural furniture and play elements, you won’t see bright-colored plastic toys or busy wall decor. Daily activities include food prep and cooking, simple process-focused art, and even folding laundry. Waldorf instruction involves a lot of outdoor time as well as singing, play-acting and storytelling.

Seacoast Waldorf School 

Reggio Emilia

This preschool philosophy focus on creativity and art. Teachers observe the interests of the child and develop projects to support their learning. Children are expected to learn from their mistakes, in self-directed experiential learning. Documentation is important via photographs and portfolios to track student progress.

My School Dover, Appleseeds Day School


Nature-based are a newer trend for Seacoast Preschools. Programs occur outdoors as much as possible, even through the winter months. Nature is at the heart of everything so these schools combine early childhood education as well as environmental practices. Depending on the school program, curriculum might be survival focused, science/math based, or even social/play based.

Acorn School, Live and Learn, Timbernook, Eyes of the World, Merrohawke, White Pine, Chesterbrook, Heartwood Nature School

Project Based

These types of preschools consider children to be individual learners and teachers to be their guides. The two work together to plan, negotiate and work through their projects, which are enhanced by field trips and real-world connections.

Building Block Commons 


This kind of preschool may follow any philosophy but relies heavily on parent participation. Typically with one hired teacher, classrooms depend on parent involvement as volunteers for classroom upkeep, snack prep, etc. There is usually a discounted tuition as compared to other schools.


These preschools are typically associated or housed in a community center such as YMCA, recreation department or Jewish Community Center. They can follow any type of philosophy.

Stratham Circle Learning Center, Seacoast Community School, Berwick Academy, Sparhawk School

In NH, many towns offer preschool spots to tuition-paying families as a lottery, to fill openings in their inclusion classrooms. This means that children receiving special education services are integrated with their community peers for preschool (as they would be in any grade). Its not easy to find program information on the web, so ask around or call the local school department. Towns that have information available include:

SAU 50/Greenland , The Community School/Portsmouth, Exeter Developmental Preschool, Dover /Woodman Park

Universal Pre-k

Some states offer FREE preschool programming to residents by town. Massachusetts folks can check availability of their towns programs here. There are increasing programs available in Maine and the town of Eliot currently offers free preschool for 4 year-olds. Unfortunately, NH tax dollars don’t leave much room for this so New Hampshire lacks any pre-k programs. However, some towns in NH offer Head Start programming for families who meet eligibility criteria. 


Several churches and religious organizations offer preschool programs and they may follow any type of philosophy. They offer varying amounts of religious content and education, depending on the school. 

Temple Beth Israel, Saint Patrick Academy, Portsmouth Christian Academy, Sacred Heart School

Language Immersion

Language Immersion preschools are more common in bigger cities such as Boston and New York. Here, preschool may be taught bilingually or entirely in a new language. This type is most appropriate for very young children who are developing language at a typical rate.


Play-Based preschools are very common. They focus on developmentally appropriate activities, hands-on play, group activities and seasonal themes. These types of schools may follow a hybrid of philosophies, blending methods from Montessori and/or Waldorf.

Children’s Garden, Treehouse School, Rye Country Day, Small Wonders 

Laboratory School

This type of school is associated with a learning institution so uses college or high school students as teachers to receive credit for their classes. They receive teacher training and professional development, and children are part of their research and learning. 

UNH Child Study and Development Center, Little Clipper Preschool, Wright Start Preschool 


Preschool through the lens of a STEAM education. Helping to enable and develop technology fluency.

Hampstead Academy

Choosing the “Right” Preschool for Your Child

Most Seacoast preschools, even if they fit under one of the mentioned categories, are a blend of philosophies to some extent. Whatever the philosophy or affiliation, it is important to look at particular facets of the school. From class size to outdoor space, make note of everything important to you. When you visit – notice how you feel. Is it welcoming or overwhelming and chaotic? Are children happy, attended to and cared for? Is the environment presentable, thoughtful, tidy? Is the outdoor space inviting? Ask about the communication with parents, drop off/pickup procedures, family involvement and school community. 

Overall, make sure you’re comfortable with staff/student interaction, quality of teaching, school environment, and monitoring of student performance. Spend time touring schools, and sitting in the classrooms observing. Bring your child for a visit and watch their reactions. There are so many choices, but trust your gut. 

If your child(ren) go to a local preschool, let us know! How do you like it? Would you recommend it?


  1. My kids go to Lee Hill Early Learning Center! Nature based and play based! They love it. They go on nature walks, have extended hours, and are right next to the elementary school and library.

  2. Village Nest Cooperative in Eliot is a Forest Based preschool and kindergarten alternative with summer and vacation week programs for school age kids.
    It, along with eyes of the world in south berwick, were originally the outdoor preschool at the kittery community center.

    Gazebo School in York is an outdoor school with a philosophy based on Gestalt therapy and offers a nice hybrid of play and community.

    So many nature focused programs to pick from that embrace the “play is the work of childhood” philosophy!

  3. The best advice about preschools
    I can offer is to get on many wait lists, and when your child is situated in one, and it’s ok to leave if it’s not a good fit. It’s OK to pull your kid out and try a different style where it benefits both the child, family and budget. Just because you finally made it in, doesn’t mean you have to stay!

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