Reggio Emilia vs Montessori Approach — Which Is Better?

Reggio Emilia Approach
Last updated on 23 Nov 2023

Reggio Emilia vs Montessori Approach — Which Is Better?

Reggio Emilia Approach
Last updated on 23 Nov 2023

Reggio Emilia and Montessori are two of the best-known educational approaches around the world. Many parents are often torn when trying to decide between the two. 

Both have their benefits. The Reggio Emilia approach largely focuses on child-led and collaborative learning, community involvement in the learning process, and socially contextualised knowledge-building. 

The Montessori approach, on the other hand, is about child-centred and independent or self-guided learning, mixed-age groups for collaboration in the learning process, and a carefully prepared environment.

Before deciding on one of these two options, it’s wise to look deeper at what they can offer and where they diverge, as well as which one better aligns with your child’s needs.

The Key Similarities between the Reggio Emilia and Montessori Approaches

When you compare the Montessori approach vs. Reggio Emilia, you see that they have in common a focus on flexibility. 

Both approaches value flexible learning. They typically provide significant freedom to children in the learning process. 

Children are generally allowed to choose their own work and activities, for example (with some teaching guidance). They’re allowed to explore most learning spaces freely, try both solo and collaborative work, and progress at the pace where they’re most comfortable.

This means that both the Reggio Emilia and Montessori methods value learner agency and freedom, as well as the interactions that happen between the students and those who guide them. 

The Key Differences between the Reggio Emilia and Montessori Approaches

Even with the shared emphasis on child-centred learning, there are still differences between the two approaches. To be exact, you can see the divergence between the Montessori and Reggio Emilia approaches when you look at their methods on grouping, teachers’ roles, the curriculum, and classroom design.

Grouping in Reggio Emilia vs. Montessori

This is one of the simpler and clearer distinctions between the two. In Reggio Emilia, children are grouped with others of the same age, but in Montessori, children are allowed to learn in mixed age groups.

The latter permits a limit of up to 3 years in the age variance for members of a learning group. This is ostensibly so children can progress according to ability as opposed to age.

Role of the Teacher in Reggio Emilia vs. Montessori

This is another area where the two approaches have a difference. In the Reggio Emilia approach, teachers are seen as partners and guides for the students’ learning process. They help children explore their interests and learn things in the process.

In Montessori, we see teachers playing a director’s role instead. There’s a little more top-down guidance in this approach thanks to the increased emphasis on structure in the curriculum – which we’ll discuss next.

Curriculum in Reggio Emilia vs. Montessori

When comparing the two approaches’ ideas of what goes into a learning curriculum, one can see another difference. The Reggio Emilia method prefers a curriculum better-described as emergent, but Montessori opts for one that favours structure.

What does this mean in practice? Among other things, it means that the Reggio Emilia approach has a more flexible approach to the curriculum. In fact, you usually don’t have a specified curriculum in a Reggio Emilia-inspired preschool.

Rather, Reggio Emilia-inspired programmes have a tendency to evolve as they go. This is because the students’ reactions and level of interest in what is happening is taken as feedback that can shape the lesson plan.

In Montessori preschools, there’s less of a sense of the curriculum evolving. In fact, the Montessori approach is structured enough that you can more or less expect certain subjects to appear in the general curriculum for each preschool: maths, language, science, cultural studies, practical skills, geography, and music.

It’s also typical for Montessori institutions to spend less time on arts and creative forms of expression than Reggio Emilia-inspired ones.

Classroom Design in Reggio Emilia vs. Montessori

The typical classroom design for the two approaches also sees some variation. 

In Reggio Emilia-inspired classrooms, you get an emphasis on crafting a space that’s both warm and welcoming. Airy and light classrooms are preferred, not least because classrooms are meant to be visually attractive to the children themselves.

Artwork is often displayed too – specifically art and projects done by the children themselves. Details like colours, textures, and the like are incorporated to stimulate children’s interest as well.

Since the Reggio Emilia approach holds that children learn from their environment, learning materials are always within reach. Moreover, every classroom in a Reggio Emilia-inspired school is designed to reflect the complex and fascinating culture and world that the children actually inhabit.

Montessori classrooms, by contrast, are designed with more specificity in sectioning and function. They have specific materials set up by the instructors, wth both individual and group learning areas.

Children in Montessori classrooms usually work on tables or the floor instead of desks. There’s a sense of learning materials being within easy reach too, however. In Montessori, one of the ways you’ll see it is in the sizing of furniture for children, e.g. bookshelves designed to keep books at children’s eye level.

Self-correction is also baked into the classroom design and materials in a Montessori school. The idea is to encourage children to try again when they fail to solve a game or puzzle for the first time.

Explore a Reggio Emilia-inspired preschool for your child now

Overall, it’s important to remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to early childhood education. Each child is unique, with their own set of interests, learning styles, and needs, and what may work best for one child may not be ideal for another.

The Reggio Emilia and Montessori approaches each offer distinct educational experiences. Both are widely considered among the best in the world. 

The best way to decide between the two is to visit centres, talk with educators, research widely, and consider all approaches. If you want to get started on exploring the Reggio Emilia approach in particular, reach out to us at Lily Valley. 

You can register for a school tour and see what our facilities look like, as well as ask our professional educators about their processes and work. Contact us today.