Here, there is no pre-planned curriculum that kids follow. Since teachers are following the children`s lead, what kids learn from year to year and between the morning and afternoon sessions may be different. Children work at their own pace, learning through play. The interaction is between the children as opposed to between the children and the materials (as with Montessori). At no prescribed points are children expected to learn any particular skill. In fact, specific learning through teaching is frowned upon. This explains why my daughter didn`t have a "unit" on shapes - This just wasn`t done in a progressive school. Social interaction between children is very important in a progressive classroom. There is much talk about "community." Separation between child and parent is seen as a major developmental step and a lot of time and energy is spent on this. The atmosphere is informal. Kids often call teachers by their first names and you would never find uniforms in such programs. The school is usually more relaxed about when a child should be toilet trained.
In a Montessori classroom, the main interaction is between the child and the materials, not the teacher and the children. At first, the teacher demonstrates to the children the proper use of each set of materials. Then, the child can take the materials out, place them on a mat, and use them as the teacher taught her. When she is finished, she puts it away before starting another project. The emphasis is on self-directed learning. Once the teacher has demonstrated the use of the materials, children work on them individually or in small groups. With this level of individualized instruction, children with learning delays or who are gifted often do well in a Montessori classroom. The materials used in a Montessori classroom are built around three areas. 1) Practical life skills (folding shirts, tying shoelaces); 2) Sensory (handling geometric shapes, putting blocks into the right holes) and; 3) Language and mathematics (handling sandpaper letters and numbers, counting beads on a long chain). As you can imagine, children learn a great deal with this curriculum - numbers, letters, adding, subtracting, practical life skills, information and more. The Montessori classroom is usually very bright, warm and inviting. There are usually several learning centers where children can explore via hands-on, tactile materials.
When I sent my daughter to nursery school, I wanted the most nurturing environment I could find. I chose a wonderful, progressive program in downtown Manhattan. A few years later, when we were interviewing uptown for a selective girl`s school, the admissions director told me that when my daughter would be interviewed there, they would test her. She would be expected to draw circles, squares, triangles and rectangles. My eyes opened wide in shock and I said, "But my daughter doesn`t know how to draw those!" She looked at my daughter`s file and said (rather snootily), "Oh yes, your daughter went to one of those downtown play schools." I was offended that she viewed the school I loved so much that way. But what could I do? Meanwhile, I ran into a neighbor who had sent her daughter to a fancy uptown traditional nursery school. She was applying her daughter to the same girl`s school. So I said to her, "Guess what! The kids are going to have to draw circles, squares, triangles and rectangles to get in." My neighbor said, "Oh, Erica can do that. They spent a whole month on a shape unit at her school." In fact, Erica had produced an entire shape book for every major shape (including diamonds!) during that unit.