What You Need to Know About Montessori, Waldorf & Reggio Emilia Approach

Updated: Feb 7, 2020

Three of the most popular approaches to early childhood education are Waldorf, Montessori and Reggio Emilia. These three approaches, all with European origins are growing in influence in different parts of the world. Allow me to describe the features of each approach as well as its uniqueness. 

1.  Waldorf Education

Let us start with Waldorf education which was founded by an Austrian scientist and philosophical thinker, Rudolf Steiner. This approach emphasizes the integration of spiritual and scientific understanding and experiences of a person. It believes that children learn best through imitation. It also uses natural or organic materials which made me realized that this approach could probably work to some islands here in the Philippines since there is abundance of natural resources there compared to the city.

I remember when I was in elementary, most of the materials in our classroom are made of wood and we were exposed to natural environment. In front of our school are farms where we catch insects for our science experiments, behind our school is a river where we get water for our garden, and then across the river are mountains where we get raw materials for our projects. Thinking about it now, I feel grateful that although we did not have access to sophisticated learning materials then, our learning was not compromised because of the resourcefulness of our teachers.

2. Montessori Education

The second approach is the Montessori education developed by Italy’s first woman physician, Dr. Maria Montessori who believed in the child’s absorbent mind and sensitive periods. The Montessori approach advocates that children learn best by doing. What is unique about this approach is the prepared environment with self-correcting materials for work.

In the school where I currently work, we are integrating some of the Montessori principles and materials to our lessons. I like the fact that this method is very scientific especially the design of each Montessori material and how it should be operated. Montessori education is a hands-on approach and from my own experience, children really enjoy working with manipulative materials. However, although this approach has been around for decades and has been proven effective, its cost is quite high for a third world country like the Philippines.

3. Reggio Emilia Education

The third approach got its name from a small town in Northern Italy called Reggio Emilia. After suffering from World War II, people from Reggio Emilia started working together to reconstruct their society. Led by a visionary man, Loris Malaguzzi, they built exemplary child-care system that has since evolved from a parent cooperative movement into a global educational system. Reggio Emilia education strongly believes that children learn best through their relationship with others including their environment.

Aside from its view of children as competent learners, what struck me the most about this approach is the role of the atelierista. Atelierista is the one responsible for igniting the children’s curiosity and creativity by introducing concepts through different projects that children can engage with. It allows children to explore something in depth and it teaches them to take responsibility of their own learning. As a teacher, I find it most enjoyable whenever I am able to co-construct ideas with my students. It does not only motivate them to express their innate talents, it also encourages them to become reflective thinkers. I personally do not believe that experience is the best teacher. For me, the best learning happens when we take time to reflect from our experiences.

Overall, I could say that all these educational approaches are worthy of respect. Regardless of which one a school would use or adapt, what matters is to always put the learner at the heart of what we do as educators. Most importantly, we have to keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all in teaching children.

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