Montessori V Reggio Emilia: What You Need To Know

Written by Dan

Choosing the right educational approach for your child can be a daunting task with many philosophies and methods.

Two popular approaches that often come up are Montessori and Reggio Emilia. While both have roots in Italy and emphasize child-centred learning, they each offer unique perspectives and methodologies.

In this article, we’ll delve into the key differences and similarities between the Montessori and Reggio Emilia approaches.

We’ll look at their origins, principles, teaching methods , and the learning environments they foster.

Whether you’re a parent trying to make an informed decision or an educator seeking to understand these methodologies better, this comprehensive comparison will provide you with the necessary insights. Let’s dive in.

Origins of Montessori and Reggio Emilia

Brief History of Montessori

The Montessori method was developed by Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian physician and educator, in the early 20th century.

She based her educational approach on her scientific observations of children’s learning processes. Dr. Montessori believed that children learn best when they’re in an environment that supports their natural desire to acquire skills and knowledge.

Her innovative teaching methods were quickly embraced, leading to the establishment of Montessori schools worldwide.

Today, the Montessori method is recognized for its emphasis on independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a child’s natural psychological, physical, and social development.

Brief History of Reggio Emilia

The Reggio Emilia approach originated in the city of Reggio Emilia in Italy shortly after World War II.

It was developed by psychologist Loris Malaguzzi and parents in the community seeking a new approach to teaching to help their children understand the world around them.

The name “Reggio Emilia” comes from the city where this teaching style was first implemented. The Reggio Emilia approach strongly emphasises the importance of community and self-expression.

Children are viewed as competent individuals who can contribute to their learning.

This approach has gained international recognition for its innovative emphasis on children’s rights and potentials and its comprehensive integration of theory, observation and practice.

Principles of Montessori and Reggio Emilia

Key Principles of Montessori Education

The Montessori approach is based on several key principles:

  1. Child-Centered Learning: Each child is viewed as an individual who learns at their own pace. The teacher’s role is to facilitate, not direct, the learning process.
  2. Prepared Environment: Classrooms are designed to meet the needs, abilities, interests, and development stages of the children. It’s a space where children can do things for themselves and learn from their surroundings.
  3. Self-Directed Activity: Children can choose their activities based on their interests and needs. This fosters independence and self-confidence.
  4. Hands-On Learning: Montessori education emphasizes learning through all five senses, not just listening, watching, or reading.
  5. Respect for the Child: Children are treated respectfully and their opinions and feelings are valued.

Key Principles of Reggio Emilia Education

Reggio Emilia also has its own unique set of principles:

  1. Image of the Child: Children are seen as competent beings, capable of constructing their learning. They are full of potential and should be respected and listened to.
  2. Emergent Curriculum: Curriculum topics are derived from the interests of the children. Teachers plan activities and projects accordingly.
  3. Project Work: Projects provide opportunities for children to explore, observe, hypothesize, question, and discuss to clarify their understanding.
  4. The Role of the Environment: Reggio Emilia classrooms are often called the “third teacher”. The environment is designed to provoke wonder, curiosity, and intellectual engagement.
  5. The Role of the Teacher: In Reggio Emilia, teachers are co-learners and collaborators with the child and not just instructors. Researchers also document children’s work and community growth in their classroom.
  6. The Role of Parents: Reggio Emilia promotes a strong parent-teacher partnership. Parents are integral to the Reggio Emilia philosophy and are seen as partners, collaborators and advocates for their children.

Teaching Methods

Teaching methods in Montessori

The Montessori teaching method emphasizes hands-on, individualized learning within multi-age classrooms. It aims to develop the whole child physically, socially, emotionally and cognitively. Key aspects of this approach include:

  1. Self-Directed Learning: Children can choose their activities based on their interests and needs. They work at their own pace, allowing for self-discovery and exploration.
  2. Experiential Learning: Children learn concepts from working with materials rather than by direct instruction. This involves practical life skills, sensory activities, mathematics, language, science, and culture studies.
  3. Freedom Within Limits: Teachers set up the environment, but children decide how to use it. They work within guidelines that respect community needs, leading to an understanding of individual rights and responsibilities.
  4. Prepared Environment: Classrooms are designed to meet children’s needs, with materials accessible for them to use as they choose. The environment is calm and orderly, and instills a sense of security and trust.
  5. Mixed Age Groups: Montessori classrooms are organized into multi-age groups, fostering peer learning, cooperation, leadership, mentorship, and social interaction.

Teaching methods in Reggio Emilia

Reggio Emilia is a pedagogical philosophy that views children as active participants in their learning. Key elements of this approach include:

  1. Project Work: Children engage in projects which are based on their interests. These projects are in-depth studies of a concept or idea that may be carried out over several days or weeks.
  2. Role of the Teacher: In Reggio Emilia, teachers observe their students closely, ask questions, and listen to their ideas. They document the students’ work and use this documentation to guide their lesson planning.
  3. The Environment as a Third Teacher: Classrooms are filled with natural light, order, and beauty. Access to a wide range of materials allows children to express themselves and learn in various ways.
  4. Collaboration: Collaborative group work is viewed as a fundamental way of learning. Through group work, children are encouraged to dialogue, critique, compare, negotiate, hypothesize, and problem-solve.
  5. Representation: Children are encouraged to explore their ideas and theories through one of a hundred languages. These include drawing, sculpture, dramatic play, writing, and painting.

Learning Environments

The Learning Environment in Montessori

The Montessori learning environment is often called the “prepared environment”. Here are its essential elements:

  1. Order: Everything in a Montessori classroom has a specific place on an easily accessible shelf. Materials are arranged by subject area and within each subject, from simplest to most complex.
  2. Reality and Nature: Montessori environments emphasize nature and reality. There is no fantasy; everything is accurate and factual.
  3. Beauty and Atmosphere: The Montessori classroom is warm, well-organized and inviting with plants, art, and music.
  4. Montessori Materials: Montessori materials are designed to provide very specific learning experiences for children.
  5. Freedom of Movement and Choice: Children can move around the room and choose their own work, fostering independence.

The Learning Environment in Reggio Emilia

Reggio Emilia classrooms are known for being aesthetically pleasing. Key aspects of these environments include:

  1. Atmosphere: Classrooms are filled with natural light and feature neutral colors.
  2. Beauty: Every material is considered for its purpose and aesthetic appeal. This creates an environment of respect for the children and their work.
  3. Visibility: Work is displayed in a respectful way to demonstrate the learning process. This often includes photographs, transcripts of children’s thoughts, and representations of their thinking.
  4. Flexibility: Furniture can be moved around to accommodate different activities and projects.

Comparing Montessori and Reggio Emilia

Similarities between the Two Approaches

  1. Child-Centered: Both approaches view the child as capable and competent and place the child at the center of the learning experience.
  2. Role of the Teacher: In both methods, the role of the teacher is to guide and facilitate, not instruct.
  3. Environment: Both emphasize a well-prepared and stimulating environment.
  4. Hands-On Learning: Both methods believe in the importance of hands-on learning experiences.

Differences between the Two Approaches

  1. Approach to Curriculum: Montessori schools follow a set curriculum, whereas Reggio Emilia schools follow an emergent curriculum, based on the interests of the children.
  2. Use of Fantasy: Reggio Emilia encourages symbolic representation and dramatic play as a means for children to express their understanding and thoughts. In contrast, Montessori emphasizes real-life experiences.
  3. Documentation: Reggio Emilia places a high emphasis on documentation, particularly through visible displays of students’ progress and process. Montessori also values documentation but it may not be as visually prominent.

Choosing Between Montessori and Reggio Emilia

Considerations When Choosing an Approach

Choosing between Montessori and Reggio Emilia depends on a variety of factors. Here are some considerations:

  1. Child’s Learning Style: Consider whether your child thrives in a structured environment or prefers more freedom to explore their own interests.
  2. Your Educational Values: Reflect on what you value most in an education. Is it creativity, independence, academic rigor, social development, or a combination of these?
  3. Logistics: Practical aspects such as location, cost, and the school’s schedule should also be considered.

Factors That Might Make One Approach More Suitable Than the Other

Certain factors may make one approach more suitable than the other for your child:

  1. A child who thrives in a structured, orderly environment might do well in a Montessori setting.
  2. Children who are highly creative and expressive might thrive in the Reggio Emilia approach, with its emphasis on symbolic representation and self-expression.
  3. Montessori might be a better fit if you prefer an explicit, established curriculum.
  4. If you value strong community involvement and parent participation, you might lean towards Reggio Emilia schools, which emphasize these elements.


We’ve explored the Montessori and Reggio Emilia educational approaches, delving into their teaching methods, learning environments, and their similarities and differences. Both approaches offer unique benefits and can foster a love of learning, independence, and creativity.

The choice between Montessori and Reggio Emilia ultimately depends on your child’s needs and family values.

Each child is unique, and what works best for one might not work as well for another. Whichever approach you choose, the goal is to foster a lifelong love of learning and provide a nurturing environment that supports your child’s development.

Taking the time to understand these approaches can help you make the best educational choice for your child.

About The Author

I'm Dan Higgins, one of the faces behind The Teaching Couple. With 15 years in the education sector and a decade as a teacher, I've witnessed the highs and lows of school life. Over the years, my passion for supporting fellow teachers and making school more bearable has grown. The Teaching Couple is my platform to share strategies, tips, and insights from my journey. Together, we can shape a better school experience for all.






Join our email list to receive the latest updates.

Add your form here