When it comes to early childhood education and development, there are three “progressive” teaching philosophies:

  • Montessori
  • Waldorf
  • Reggio Emilia

According to Early Childhood Research and Practice, all three are “built on coherent visions of how to improve human society by helping children realize their full potential as intelligent, creative, whole persons.” While they are similar to each other in most respects, they shouldn’t be confused.

“Freedom within Limits”: Montessori

Developed by Italian physician Maria Montessori in 1907, the Montessori Method seeks “freedom within limits,” meaning that children are free to guide themselves in their learning in a prepared environment.

Teachers who teach the Montessori Method let children practice and master skills on their ownwith little intervention on their part other than gentle guidance and advice. Children learn at their own speed and are not moved up to the next level until they are ready. Thus, rooms aren’t organized according to a specific age, but developmental stages.

Montessori schools teach children practical life skills like how to care for themselves and the world around them. Learning these skills early on teach children how to be leaders and not only care for themselves, but others.

“Educate the Whole Child”: Waldorf

The Waldorf method was founded in 1919 by Rudolf Steiner in Stuttgart, Germany. It was coeducational and self-governing with an emphasis on spiritual guidance. It seeks to “educate the whole child—the heart and the hands, as well as the head.” Imagination is very important to this method, as it builds confidence and a desire to learn.

Waldorf teachers directly lead classes that focus on natural materials and open-ended toys with minimal detail to encourage imagination. Unlike the Montessori Method, Waldorf puts off more academic pursuits like reading and math until a later age. Instead, it stresses the importance of imagination and the “magic of fantasy,” so technology is kept to a minimum. “Natural” pursuits like knitting and woodworking are taught instead.

Learning Together: Reggio Emilia

Reggio Emilia was founded in Italy in a town of the same name after WWII. Reggio Emilia is aproject-based teaching method where lessons are based on the interests of the child. Thus, children learn cooperation and conflict resolving skills.

Unlike Montessori or Waldorf, Reggio Emilia is not a formal model. Rather, it’s a philosophy that emphasizes community values and exploring the world. Reggio Emilia teachers serve as guides for children. If a child is interested in learning about something, like how a plant grows, the class goes out to find out together instead of being told. Reggio Emilia teachers also record the progress of children in which they will go through with them and their parents to review their progress throughout the year.

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