children play Montessori knob cylinder with teacher

A Comparison of Montessori and Reggio Emilia Approaches in Child Education

Choosing the right educational approach for your children is crucial to shaping their future. Two popular approaches often compared are Reggio Emilia and Montessori, originating from Italy and aiming to develop responsible citizens.

The Reggio Emilia approach was developed in 1945 in Northern Italy by a teacher named Loris Malaguzzi, while the Montessori method was established in Rome in 1907 by Dr. Maria Montessori. Both sought ways to educate children holistically and help them become harmonious citizens with their surroundings. In a deep comparison between Reggio Emilia and Montessori, this article will explore the history, philosophy, learning environment, and teacher role in both approaches.

Reggio Emilia Approach: Encouraging Creativity and Collaboration

The Reggio Emilia education method emerged in Italy after World War II, focusing on fully developing a child’s potential through interaction with the surrounding environment. This approach emphasizes three main principles: viewing the child as a subject with rights, acknowledging the crucial role of the environment in learning, and recognizing the significant role of teachers as facilitators.

In the Reggio Emilia approach, children are regarded as unique individuals with unlimited potential. They are given the freedom to explore the world around them and are provided with space to express themselves through various mediums, including art, music, and language. Teachers in this approach act as mediators who facilitate the learning process rather than merely imparting knowledge.

Montessori Approach: Encouraging Independence and Discipline

Meanwhile, the Montessori method, developed by Dr. Maria Montessori, prioritizes independence and discipline in children. This method emphasizes a well-structured environment where children have free access to choose activities based on their interests. Montessori classrooms are typically equipped with a variety of learning materials designed to stimulate critical thinking and creativity in children.

The Montessori approach emphasizes independent learning, where children learn through direct experience with materials rather than simply listening to explanations from teachers. Additionally, in the Montessori method, it is crucial to provide children with opportunities to learn at their own pace without external pressure.

Though both originated in Italy and emerged in the early 20th century, there are differences in historical background and initial motivations:

  • Reggio Emilia was born from the spirit of rebuilding post-war society, to create responsible citizens.
  • Montessori was inspired by the belief that children can learn naturally through self-directed exploration, starting with schools in the impoverished areas of Rome.

Key Differences Between Montessori and Reggio Emilia Principles

The Reggio Emilia and Montessori approaches have different philosophies and core principles in educating children. Here is a comparison of the main principles of both methods:

1. Child-Centered Learning

Reggio Emilia: Children are seen as the center of their learning process. They are encouraged to explore and discover knowledge through collaborative activities and open-ended projects. Teachers act as partners and facilitators.

Montessori: Children have the freedom to choose activities and work independently in the prepared Montessori environment. Inside, there are Montessori materials designed specifically to meet the developmental needs of children and expand their exploration of the surrounding world.

2. Curriculum and Learning

Reggio Emilia: Emergent, flexible, and evolving curriculum based on children’s interests and responses. Learning is based on phenomena and long-term projects. Emphasis on collaboration, creativity, and artistic expression.

Montessori: The curriculum in Montessori programs for preschool-aged children (2.5-6 years old) consists of 5 main areas: Practical Life, Sensorial, Language, Mathematics, and Cultural Studies. All Montessori materials/apparatus allow children to learn from concrete to abstract concepts, from simple to more complex ones.

3. Learning Environment

Reggio Emilia: Learning environments are designed to stimulate children’s curiosity through details such as texture and color. Children’s work is documented and displayed.

Montessori: The Montessori environment is arranged to provide a natural, orderly, calming, beautiful, and engaging impression for children, as well as providing adequate space for movement. Montessori materials/apparatus are neatly arranged on open shelves or places accessible to children. Other facilities, furniture, toilets, handwashing areas, and pantry areas are also available in child-sized proportions, allowing them to engage independently without depending on adults.

Group of children raising hands as teachers show them something exciting

Role of Teachers in Reggio Emilia and Montessori Education Methods

In the reggio emilia approach, teachers play a dual role – sometimes as instructors, and at other times as learning partners or researchers. They listen to and observe students to plan the learning journey. Learning is guided through teacher-led and student-led approaches. Students are encouraged to use various tools and materials to express themselves, such as dance, painting, storytelling, and poetry. They collaborate with teachers and peers to direct their learning and explore their interests while using the environment as a ‘teacher’.

Meanwhile, in the Montessori approach, teachers play a less intrusive role, directing education without excessive intervention. Students have the freedom to work independently, choosing from a variety of prepared activities. They are encouraged to learn naturally through play, which is considered their ‘work’. Students are given ample time to work without disturbance, determining for themselves when to interact with others, work independently, or rest. Practical skills such as cooking are also an important part of learning.

Though both approaches involve the entire school community in the educational process and have highly committed teachers, the roles of teachers and students in Reggio Emilia and Montessori have fundamental differences. Reggio Emilia teachers are learning partners who guide through observation and responsiveness to children’s interests, while Montessori teachers are more directive in guiding student learning.

Age Grouping in Classes

The Reggio Emilia approach focuses on preschool/preparatory education, while the Montessori approach spans ages from 3 years to adolescence. Montessori classes for preschool-aged children place children aged 3-6 in one class. The goal of combining children with a 3-year age range is to present a real social environment and reflect community life in the real world. In a community, we naturally interact with people of various ages, not just our peers. Additionally, in the Montessori environment, we will see how older children can foster their leadership skills, help younger children, and serve as role models in the class. Meanwhile, younger children can emulate and be inspired by older children.

Thus, age grouping in Reggio Emilia is more traditionally based on age ranges, while Montessori implements age integration in its classes.

Both education methods, Reggio Emilia and Montessori offer unique and effective approaches to child education. While Reggio Emilia emphasizes creativity, collaboration, and viewing children as active subjects in the learning process, Montessori emphasizes independence, discipline, and self-directed learning experiences.

Parents and educators need to understand the differences between these two methods and choose the one that best suits their needs and values. Ultimately, the most important thing is to ensure that each child has a learning environment that supports their holistic development, according to their unique potential.


The Montessori method emphasizes individualized learning within a structured environment, often featuring specific learning materials and a teacher acting as a guide. In contrast, the Reggio Emilia approach focuses on child-led, experiential learning, emphasizing collaboration, creativity, and the arts. While Montessori tends to follow a more prescribed curriculum, Reggio Emilia encourages flexibility and tailoring instruction to the interests and needs of each child.

In Montessori education, the teacher serves as a guide, providing structured lessons and facilitating the child’s learning process. The teacher typically introduces materials and activities and observes the child’s progress. In Reggio Emilia, educators are often referred to as facilitators or co-learners, emphasizing a collaborative relationship between teacher and child. Teachers in Reggio Emilia encourage exploration, experimentation, and critical thinking, acting as partners in the learning journey rather than instructors.

Montessori classrooms are typically organized into distinct learning areas with specific materials designed to stimulate different aspects of development. These classrooms often feature orderly, structured layouts to promote concentration and independence. In contrast, Reggio Emilia classrooms are often described as “the third teacher,” designed to inspire curiosity, creativity, and social interaction. They may include open spaces, natural materials, and displays of children’s artwork, with an emphasis on creating a supportive and aesthetically pleasing environment for learning and exploration.

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