Montessori vs. Reggio Emilia Approach

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I'm thinking Montessori may not be right for my son

May 2010


Have you considered Montessori or a Reggio Emilia-inspired preschool before? Our son has been at a Montessori preschool this school year, but lately I've been thinking it may not be the right fit for him. He is highly active, verbal, and social, and loves imaginary play. We're wondering if he may be happier at a preschool that follows the Reggio Emilia philosophy and methods.

I'd love for you to share your experiences either switching from Montessori to Reggio-Emilia, having different children at both, or just learning through Reggio-Emilia. Thanks! Mama of a Spirited Child

For reasons not related to the curriculum, my kids started out at a Montessori-based preschool and then switched to a Reggio-Emilia one. I didn't realize until we were well into the new school how much I preferred the feel of a Reggio-Emilia classroom. I think there is so much more room for kids' creativity and expression. I know there is great variance in how Montessori ideas are implemented, but even at our previous school, which was not all that strict, the kids were basically taught how to play with particular items. This feels so limiting, as if there is a ''right'' way to play. My kids absolutely thrived at their new school and are given so much opportunity to explore their own interests. Holly

I have only one child, a daughter, who sounds similar to your son. She began talking early and often was speaking in complete sentences by the time she was 11 months old.

We looked at Montessori schools - one very, very popular school in Oakland. When my daughter went for her ''interview'' she went to a tray to get a job. She borrowed a cloth from one tray to wash the table containing the ''tea.'' The teacher politely explained that each tray is a ''job'' and that you keep all of the items together. My daughter responded, ''I'm improvising.'' To which the teacher explained that she still needed to use the items from one tray, put the tray away and then she could use the items from another tray for the job. To which my daughter asked the teacher, ''Do the kids at your school EVER improvise?'' The teacher repeated the mantra about the jobs. My daughter turned to us and said, ''It's a very pretty school, but not MY school.''

We then went to Aquatic Park School in Berkeley even though we lived and worked in Oakland. It was worth the drive, the time and the energy. The teachers have actually visited Italy and understand the Reggio Emilia philosophy and have seen it in action. Children have barefoot days and ''wheel'' days. Children improvise daily.

I tell this story because we have a confident, bright, curious, creative daughter who is now 10. I believe she is this way in part because of the support she received in 3 years of preschool. Aquatic Park School trusts children to know their bodies- when they are and are not cold or hot, they are not afraid of dirt and mud, and reading is done ''at the request of the child.''

Another thing is that she was very, very prepared for school. Not only in the ''learn it'' academics but in the ability to transition to eating in the cafeteria, sharing tables/desks and transitions. Reggio Emilia is the way to go

My son spent a year at a Montessori preschool in San Francisco before we switched to a Reggio Emilia-inspired preschool--the Room to Grow in Rockridge, which has openings for fall, by the way!--when we moved to Oakland a year ago. Montessori seems to work well for kids who are comforted by structure and rules. My son did fine there. And because I didn't know any better at the time, I was not disturbed by the lack of creativity and imaginative play in the classroom. The weekly photos sent out to the families always showed groups of kids gathered around some wood pegboard numbers game or a map of Africa, learning some important new thing. And sure, it was cool that my son could identify Africa on a map at 3 1/2.

But now, at his Reggio Emilia inspired school, they might spend the week exploring leaves, or the worms they found in the compost pile, or the Wizard of Oz (my son is now obsessed with the Wizard of Oz!). They work with puppets, explore different textures and art materials, bake muffins, grow plants, build rocket ships out of paper towel tubes and tape, and basically let the kids' curiosity drive the agenda. Now my son comes home covered in paint, dirt, or whatever the material of the day might be, but man is he a happy kid. It's not a quiet environment--in fact, it can get pretty chaotic--but there are quite a few ''spirited'' kids there, and the teachers are very adept at handling them with compassion and respect, while giving the kids enough free reign to be themselves. So for us, there was no question that Reggio Emilia was a better fit--not only for my son but for our family (since we're the ones cleaning him up at the end of the day!). happy mama of a happy preschooler