Before I had learned much about Reggio Emilia, I had heard about Montessori. Although Saskatoon is a little small-town when it comes to anything modern in the world (it’s getting better!), we do happen to have a couple Montessori schools. They are a really great option for families, when they are not sending their child to the public or Catholic schools. I have to admit that I am not well-versed in the school system here in the city, but I have educated myself in the philosophy.
I’m sure that many of you, because I have as well, had people say to you,”Oh! Reggio. That’s just like Montesorri right?” Umm, well, no. So here it is. If you are wondering what the actual differences are between Montessori and Reggio, or if you have had someone try to connect the two philosophies as the same, then hopefully this little breakdown will help you explain your Reggio-inspired teaching!
The schools are built upon a social constructivist framework that is inspired by John Dewey, Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, and Jerome Bruner. What is social constructivism, you ask? Well, it means that both adults and children construct their knowledge through social interactions with people and their environment. After WWII, the city of Reggio Emilia wanted to build a strong sense of community, and in turn, looked to education as a way to do this.
To understand the true difference between Reggio and Montessori, you need to understand John Dewey, because ultimately, it is his influence and philosophy that is most visible in Reggio Emilia. John Dewey believed that each child wants to connect with others, engage in learning, and to have a relationship with their environment. As many of you have heard, Reggio Emilia values the child as a capable and competent learner. The school does not transmit the knowledge, but the environment allows the child to be the knowledge maker (profound isn’t it?!).
In terms of assessment, the belief that Reggio Emilia educators have is that it should enrich the learning experience. Assessment isn’t done to find the weaknesses of the children, but to teach to their strengths. It’s about the process of learning, not the outcome. Every time I think about this, I feel a little tingle up of spine. It is such an inspiring and beautiful way to think about learning. It is in these moments that I truly feel like I have chosen the right path as an educator (and as a parent).
So of course, there are similarities between Reggio and Montessori and that’s why they can become interchangeable between individuals who aren’t clear on their differences. This method of education focuses on the role of childhood and how education is integral to the development of the child.
Maria Montessori implemented child appropriate furniture, life-skills within the school such as sweeping and personal care, and had large, open spaces in her classrooms that allowed children to come and go as they please in different areas focused on different lessons. Her beliefs allowed the children to work independently and become self-motivated. She observed independence as the aim of education, and the role of the teacher as an observer and director of the children’s development.
The philosophy of education was influenced by theorists who emphasized sensory exploration and manipulatives. It is believed that children should be able to act freely in an environment that is prepared to meet their needs. The Montessori Method focuses on educating young children stressing the development of a child’s own initiative and natural abilities, especially through practical play. This method allows for children to develop at their own pace and provides educators with a better understanding of child development. Students learn through activities that involve exploration, manipulations, order, repetition, abstraction and communication. The role of the teacher is to encourage children to use their senses to explore and manipulate materials, and create an environment that supports this development.
I hope this helps in giving a little bit of clarity to the difference between Reggio Emilia and Montessori. It can be a little murky when trying to explain to parents or other educators. The best advice I can give is to educate yourself in both methodologies. Here are some resources that I used to learn about Montessori, and some of my favourite Reggio resources too!