I read this great article on POPSUGAR Moms about sweet little Prince George heading off to preschool. He will be attending the Westacre Montessori School in Norfolk. In POPSUGAR’s article, they asked readers this question, “Is Montessori right for your tot?” I wanted to respond with a blog post about Reggio Emilia. Although I think Montessori is truly a great form of Education, and from a previous post you can read how Reggio and Montessori are derived from similar philosophies, I don’t think Montessori is right for everyone (as Reggio Emilia may not be either) and I wanted to offer readers the opportunity to determine what suits their child the best.
As stated in the article, Montessori school comes with a price tag, and usually a steep one for most families, where as Reggio-inspired teachers are often public school teachers that have been influenced by the Reggio Emilia philosophy and apply principles of learning to their classroom teachings. (So far, there are no Reggio Emilia schools within Saskatoon, so my post is based on how Reggio Emilia is applied within our school division and has a heavy influence in our Early Curriculum resources.) So here are my five suggestions to find out if a Reggio-inspired classroom is the right fit for your child.
- You are a parent that likes to be involved.
Reggio Emilia prides itself on being very involved with families and integrating their knowledge and home life into the curriculum that is being taught. Currently, in my classroom, we are working on adding each home language that is spoken within our classroom by inviting family members in to share their language and help us add each language to our math number charts. In Reggio-inspired classrooms, families are often invited in to participate in classroom learning opportunities and are often asked to be involved in the planning of the curriculum content. One of the best ideas I have heard about involving families, is to post on chart paper one of your learning goals and have parents add their own knowledge about the topic and/or ideas to the paper. What a great way to plan with parents and families in mind! You can read more about my personal views about families in my blog post.
2. Is your child a critical thinker?
This is so very important! Do you have a child that is constantly questioning life’s big wonderings?? (Honestly…who doesn’t?!?) I feel like this is all Jude does…”Why is the sky blue?” “Why are the animals in the cage at the zoo?” and it goes on and on. My little Jude is a critical thinker and is constantly questioning the ways of the world. However, I have noticed, especially this year when I returned to teaching following my maternity leave, that somewhere along the way, children begin to lose this amazing quality. I work very hard in my classroom to engage children to think about these big questions in the world. Not only do these questions serve as fantastic ways to begin an inquiry or project in the classroom, but they also cause children to stop and think about issues that are very important in our society. We don’t want children to lose this important skill of questioning; this is how change happens and Reggio-inspired teachers work tirelessly at engaging children through their curiosities in order to inquire further and discover answers to their [endless] questions!
In today’s society we are so focused on being efficient, completing tasks quickly so that we can move onto to something else. However, most children aren’t like that and although it might annoy us to no end when we really need to make that specialist appointment that you have had scheduled for 4 months, kids love to stop and ponder, explore, and study those tiny little details. In the summer, Jude can lay and stare at the little insects crawling around in a tiny section of dirt for what seems like an eternity! He loves exploring rocks, moving them from hand to hand or stopping to draw little swirls in tiny piles of gravel on the side of the road. Although this can drive me crazy at times, I try to let Jude have as many of these moments as possible, and as a Reggio-inspired teacher, this just makes me smile from ear to ear! It is this appreciation for those tiny little specks of dirt, that small sparkle of a star in the night, or the utter joy of seeing a snowflake up close for the first time that I thrive upon! That’s the passion that we search for as educators, what allows us to build knowledge and guide learning in an area of the curriculum that can be dry if only a worksheet was handed out to complete.
Okay, this might be a touchy subject…so let me explain myself. In Saskatoon, we do not have any Reggio Emilia schools, but we do have a few different Montessori private schools/daycares. The principles of Reggio Emilia that are implemented in a school setting are done in the public or Catholic school systems. The school systems are regulated to follow the Saskatchewan Curriculum. So, even though I practice Reggio Emilia within my classroom, I do so with the curriculum in mind. (This is why I am “reggio-inspired.”) I have had many parents ask me about Montessori school vs. Reggio Emilia education and their concern with the fact that there child may not be following the Saskatchewan Curriculum if they attend the Montessori schools and if that will effect them in their education later when they make the switch to mainstream education. This is up to you as a parent. Although you may find comfort in the fact that educators within public schools follow the curriculum, I am confident that the learning that takes place in a Montessori classroom is incredibly valuable and rich in experiences for the children that attend.
5. The community of the classroom is important to you and your family.
Now this is where Reggio and Montessori classrooms are very similar in a lot of ways. Both follow principles of design that allow children to explore their environment and discover their learning through play-based education. The work with natural materials is important for children to learn to manipulate and allows for a natural curiousity and appreciation for nature to take place. I can only speak from what my experience within my own space and the spaces that I have observed from entering into other Reggio-inspired classrooms, and that is that the environment reflects and is guided by the learning that takes place within those walls. Documentation (documenting the learning of the children) is also practiced within Reggio Emilia classrooms and allows for reflection and planning on the part of the teachers and children to take place, and also allows for parents to get a glimpse into what took part during a project.
As a parent, you know what is best for your child and if you can afford the cost of sending your child to a Montessori school, it is a great option. However, if it’s a bit too pricey, it’s a great idea to head out to your community open house events, ask questions that are of importance to you when it comes to your child’s educational experience and meet the teacher that will be teaching your child. (I would suggest doing this at any Montessori center as well.) Neither Reggio Emilia nor Montessori are the be all and end all of education for your child. There are fantastic educators, that do not follow either philosophies, that allow wonderful learning opportunities to take place throughout the school year and by focusing only on one form of education, your child may lose out on an incredible teacher. If I think back to my own experiences as a child, some of my most loved teachers were not concerned about the students manipulating natural materials or followed a project based approach, but I still enjoyed every moment of their class.
The classroom experience is what you and your child make of it. Working alongside teachers, offering support, and being present will allow for your child to be successful no matter where they attend school.