Italy is not a huge country, nor one that dominates research in scientific areas like biotechnology or computer science; but in the particular field of early childhood, it can be described as a kind of gifted, creative giant. Italians have always revered beauty, architecture, painting, cuisine, and creative design. In a similar fusion of art and science, they have produced two of the 20th century's most innovative and influential leaders in early education, along with their methods of pedagogy and philosophies of education. The two figures were Maria Montessori (1870-1952) and Loris Malaguzzi (1920-1994).
Both Montessori education and the Reggio Emilia approach provide strong alternatives to traditional education and inspiration for progressive educational reform in the United States and around the world. Because they seem to share many common elements of philosophy and practice, people wonder, "But how are these approaches different, exactly? Don't they have a lot of similarities?"
This article provides an overview and comparison of the two approaches, to introduce and highlight key points of similarity and difference. What were their historical origins, foundational philosophical premises, and concepts about child development and learning? How do they compare with respect to organization for decision-making about environment, curriculum, instructional methods, observation, assessment, and teacher preparation? Of course, we must remember that large variations always exist in how both approaches play out in specific cases and applications. Here we can only describe their general tendencies and visions of "best practice."
Reggio Emilia is a city in northern Italy where a volunteer group of educators, parents, and children came together after World War II with a shared vision for how to reconstruct society through a new kind of education for young children. After the suffering and destruction of the war, they wanted to offer hope to society and improve life for children and families. Under the leadership of the founding director, Loris Malaguzzi (1920-1994), the system then evolved from a parent cooperative movement into a city-run system of first preschools and then also infant-toddler centers. Malaguzzi was a social constructivist, influenced by classical progressive educators and psychologists such as Dewey, Piaget, Vygotsky, and Montessori, and by contemporary psychologists including Bronfenbrenner, Bruner, and Gardner. The system exercises a leadership role in educational innovation in Italy and Europe, and now increasingly in Asia, Australia, and other parts of the world (New, 1993).
Through their experience in the Reggio Emilia preschools, children learn to engage in dialogues and debates with others in a nonviolent and constructive manner and develop problem-solving skills. Children (and families) are also encouraged to express and discuss ideas in open democratic meetings and to form close, longterm relationships with others in the school. The schools are publicly funded and inclusive, giving first priority to children with disabilities or social service needs (Edwards, Gandini, & Forman, 1998; Gandini & Edwards, 2001). Reggio Emilia is not a formal model like Montessori education, with defined methods, teacher certification standards, and accreditation processes. Instead, educators in Reggio Emilia speak of their evolving "experience" and see themselves as a provocation and reference point, a way of engaging in dialogue starting from a strong and rich vision of the child (Katz & Cesarone, 1994; New, 2000).
Reggio Children/USA is the North American arm of Reggio Children S.r.l., the Italian organization set up in 1994 to protect and enrich the educational theory and practice accumulated in the Reggio Emila municipal infant/toddler and preschool centers. The ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education maintains an extensive website with a Reggio link presenting information about Reggio Children/USA and a list of self-nominated schools in North America with programs based on or inspired by the approach used in Reggio Emilia. The Merrill-Palmer Institute of Wayne State University publishes the periodical Innovations in Early Education: The International Reggio Exchange and provides current study tour, conference, and contact information.
Maria Montessori preceded Malaguzzi by about half a century. A brilliant figure who was Italy's first woman physician, she reflected a late- 19th-century vision of mental development and theoretical kinship with the great European progressive educational philosophers, such as Rousseau, Pestalozzi, Seguin, and hard. She was convinced that children's natural intelligence involved three aspects from the very start: rational, empirical, and spiritual. After innovating a methodology for working with children with disabilities, she started her Casa dei Bambini (Children's House) in 1907 for children aged 4-7 in a housing project in the poor slums of Rome. Her movement spread to other countries, especially once the Fascist regime denounced her methods and she left Italy. In the United States, there was strong but brief interest from 1910 to 1920; but then Montessori education fell out of favor (Torrence & Chattin-- McNichols, 2000). During that time, however, the movement flourished in Europe and India. In the 1950s, an American educator, Nancy Rambush, led a movement of renewal and Montessori education spread as an independent school movement (Loeffler, 1992).
There are probably 5,000 or more schools calling themselves "Montessori" in the United States (Ruenzel, 1997). Of these, about 20% are affiliated with the two major certifying organizations. Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) promotes the study, application, and propagation of Montessori's (original) ideas and principles for education and human development. The American Montessori Society (AMS) supports Montessori education in the context of contemporary American culture (Loeffler, 1992). There are many Montessori teacher-training programs in the country, more than 60 of which are affiliated with AMS, and 15 with AMI. In the 1960s, furthermore, American parents began to advocate for Montessori education in public school, leading to hundreds of programs (often magnet programs) at the preschool and elementary levels, and now increasingly at the middle and high school levels, too (Chattin-McNichols, 1992b). Montessori education at the infant-toddler level is also growing rapidly.
Child Development Theory and Curriculum
Both the Reggio and Montessori approaches view children as active authors of their own development, strongly influenced by natural, dynamic, self-righting forces within themselves, opening the way toward growth and learning. Both also respect young children's desire to approach the complex, to ask "big questions," and to learn about the whole picture before focusing on its parts and mastering simple steps.
Loris Malaguzzi's thinking reflects a social-constructivist view of learning. Yet he rejected Piaget's formal sequence of cognitive stages (sensorimotor, preoperational, and concrete operational) as too limiting a guide for teachers. Instead, he drew a powerful image of the child as social from birth, full of intelligence, curiosity, and wonder. He envisioned an "education based on relationships," one that would place each child in relation to others and activate and support the child's reciprocal relationships with people, society, and the environment (Malaguzzi, 1993). This resourceful child generates changes in the systems in which he or she is involved and becomes a "producer of culture, values, and rights" (Rinaldi, 2001, p. 51).
Reggio Emilia teachers seek to hold before them this powerful image as they support children in exploring and investigating. Children grow in competence to represent ideas and feelings symbolically through any of their "hundreds of languages" (expressive, communicative, and cognitive)-words, movement, drawing, painting, building, sculpture, shadow play, collage, dramatic play, music, to name a few that they systemically explore and combine. The curriculum does not have separate domains. Teachers follow the children's interests and do not provide focused instruction in reading and writing; however, they foster emergent literacy as children record and manipulate their ideas and communicate with others. Learning involves purposive progression but not defined scope and sequence as in the Montessori curriculum. Teaching and learning are negotiated, emergent processes between adults and children, involving generous time and indepth revisiting and reviewing. Longterm, open-ended projects are important vehicles for collaborative work, and some observers have noticed that the projects undertaken by Reggio preschool children are similar to the research projects encouraged in Montessori elementary classrooms. Topics for multiage, multischool projects that have been portrayed in exhibits and publication address rich, complex topics like "Shadowiness," "The Rain," "Seeing Ourselves," "Amusement Park for Birds," "Angels," "A Guide to Our City," "The Rights of Children," and "Portrait of a Lion [Sculpture]."
Classroom environments are carefully prepared to offer complexity, beauty, and sense of well-being and ease. The programs serve only children under 6, but American educators have drawn useful insights for elementary education.
Maria Montessori surely influenced Malaguzzi and many others to see the young children as intelligent in a qualitatively unique way. She saw development as a series of 6-year periods, like repeating waves, each with its own particular strengths and sensitivities. A pioneering constructivist, she posited an active child, eager for knowledge and prepared to learn, seeking perfection through reality, play, and work. In contrast with some other later constructivists such as Piaget, she believed that even young children can approach big, abstract topics like the earth's geography, if done in the right way through sensorial exploration and guided construction of knowledge.
In Montessori education, children usually are grouped into multiage classrooms spanning 3 years, in order to promote adult-child continuity and close peer relationships. Birth to age 3 is the time of the "unconscious absorbent mind," while age 3 to 6 is the time of the "conscious absorbent mind" (Montessori, 1995). In both the child seeks sensory input, regulation of movement, order, and freedom to choose activities and explore them deeply without interruption in a carefully prepared (serene and beautiful) environment that helps the child choose well. During the infant-toddler (birth-3) and preprimary (3-6) years, classrooms usually have more than one teacher. To introduce new curriculum, teachers present demonstration lessons at the point when an individual or small group indicates readiness to advance in the sequence of self-correcting materials, in the areas of practical life, sensorial, mathematics, language, science and geography, and art and music (Humphreys, 1998). Montessori designed famous materials still in use. In addition, other classroom materials are created or put together by individual teachers or groups as they carefully consider their classroom observations. The Montessori curriculum is highly individualized but with scope and sequence, and clearcut domains. The individualization results in some young children mastering reading and writing before age 6 following Montessori "writing to read" methods. Preschool children in full-day programs usually address the Montessori curriculum in the morning and typical childcare play including fantasy play in the afternoon.
From age 6 to 12, children are expected to explore a wider world and develop rational problem-solving, cooperative social relations, imagination and aesthetics, and complex cultural knowledge. The elementary school curriculum is structured around five "great stories" that appeal to children's imagination and provide a gateway into the study of the humanities and sciences: Creation; the Coming of Life; Coming of Humans; and the two Human Tools: Language and Mathematics (Loeffler, 2002; Maier, 2002; Chattin-McNichols, 2002). The Montessori program of Cosmic Education stresses the unity of all beings, evolution, interdependence in nature, human needs, and humans' place in the cosmos (Renton, 2002). It is approached in an integrated, imaginative way that builds on children's particular interests and involves them in projects and small-group work. From 12 to 18, children reconstruct themselves as social beings and are humanistic explorers, real-world problem-solvers, rational seekers of justice.
Roles of the Teacher
The teachers in both approaches share in common the goals to be nurturers, partners, and guides to children. They depend on carefully prepared, aesthetically pleasing environments as a pedagogical tool, providing strong messages about the curriculum and respect forchildren. Partnering with parents is highly valued in both approaches. However, their contrasting views of the nature of children and of learning lead them to act out differing roles in the classroom. Of course, teacher roles with children change with age; adults are more nurturing with younger children.
In working with children, Reggio Emila teachers seek to play a role of artful balancing between engagement and attention (Edwards, 1998). They ask questions to draw out the children's ideas, hypotheses, and theories. Then teachers discuss together what they have recorded and make flexible plans and preparations. They are an endless source of possibilities and provocations to the children. They also act as recorders for the children, helping them trace and revisit their words and actions. Teachers offer new ways of looking at things to children and provide related experiences and materials. They provide instruction in tool and material use when needed, help children to find materials and resources, and scaffold children's learning-sometimes coming in close and interacting actively, sometimes remaining attentively nearby. They also nurture the children's emotional needs and support and develop relationships with each family. They act as advocates for high quality services to the public and the government.
The methods used in the Reggio Emila approach are flexible and allow for input and decision making on the part of all participants. The methods must be adapted to each context and situation, with its own particular history, set of problems, and resources. Reggio Emilia teachers work in pairs, and collaboration and mentoring between personnel throughout the system is strongly promoted. A pedagogista (pedagogical specialist or education coordinator) works with several schools to guarantee high quality services. In addition, each school usually has a specialist (atelierista, specialist trained in the visual arts) to work with teachers and children to encourage expression through different media and symbol systems. The classroom should offer complexity, beauty, organization, and sense of well being and ease, through physical qualities such as transparency, reflectiveness, openness, harmony, softness, and light (Ceppi & Zini, 1998). It should convey to children, parents, and teachers that their presence is noticed, valued, and respected (Gandini, 1993). A classroom atmosphere of playfulness and joy should prevail in this kind of environment.
Time, too, is treated with special care in Reggio Emilia. Close and extended relationships are formed because children and teachers usually stay together in the same group for 3 years, so that a strong link is formed for the child between home and school. Children's own sense of time and their personal rhythm are considered in planning and carrying out activities and projects. Children have time to explore their ideas and hypotheses fully and in depth. Projects and themes follow the children's ideas and development of concepts. Projects, activities and experiences such as field trips and celebrations build upon one another over time. They can extend for a couple of days, weeks, or months depending on the age and interest level of the children. Children review and revise their original work and ideas, refining them as they have further experiences, consider further questions, notice more details, make more connections, and acquire improved skills.
Collaboration is encouraged among Reggio Emilia children from an early age. Children are active participants in their learning. They make many choices throughout the day, including where to go in their classroom and building and on what to work. In addition to ongoing projects, children engage in many other forms of activity and play, including pretend play, singing, group games, storytelling, reading, cooking, outdoor play, rest, and sociable meals together. They become part of a close-knit group, with their own unique rituals and ways of expressing friendship and affection for one another.
The Montessori teacher plays the role of unobtrusive director in the classroom as children individually or in small groups engage in self-directed activity. Based on detailed, systematic observation of the children, the teacher seeks to provide an atmosphere of productive calm as children smoothly move along in their learning, alternating during the long 3-hour morning learning time between periods of intense concentration interspersed with brief moments of recovery/reorganization (Oppenheimer, 1999). The teacher's goal is to help and encourage the children, allowing them to develop confidence and inner discipline so that there is less and less need to intervene as the child develops. During the early childhood years, the teacher brings the young child into close contact with reality through sensory investigation and practical activity and then relies on the child's unfolding inner program of curiosities and sensitivities to ensure that the child will learn what he or she needs. During the elementary school years, the teacher takes advantage of the children's unfolding imaginative and logical capacities, and peer-group interests and sense of morality and justice, to investigate how things relate in the universe, the natural order, and human societies, how things have come about, what parts they play over time, and what people today can contribute to world peace and progress.
Montessori classrooms provide carefully prepared, orderly, pleasing environments and materials where children are free to respond to their natural tendency to work individually or in small groups. Books, toys, and materials are carefully chosen to favor refined quality and natural materials, and children learn to treat them respectfully. Books present images of the real world in a beautiful way, waiting to introduce fantasy until age 5 or 6. Children progress at their own pace and rhythm, according to their individual capabilities. The school community as a whole, including the parents, work together to open the children to the integration of body, mind, emotions, and spirit that is the basis of holistic peace education (accepting and relating harmoniously with all human beings and the natural environment).
Assessment, Evaluation, and Research
In both approaches, children are assessed by means other than traditional tests and grades. Instead, parents receive extensive descriptive information about their children's daily life and progress and share in culminating productions or performances. Portfolios or other products of children's individual and group work may be displayed and sent home at key intervals and transitions.
In Reggio Emilia, documentation is a cooperative practice that helps teachers listen to and see their children, thus guiding curriculum decisions and fostering professional development through collaborative study and reflection (Goldhaber & Gandini, 2001; Katz & Chard, 1996; Oken-Wright, 2001). Teachers keep extensive notes on the children and portfolios of children's individual and group work. Then they construct panels, slide shows, booklets, or videos to record memorable projects and to explore and interpret the learning process. The portfolios are shared with families at the end of the year, and teachers also meet frequently with parents to discuss developmental issues. Teachers may also prepare "diaries," or memory books, from photos, anecdotal notes, children's products, and other meaningful documents, to trace the experience of each child in the school and become a precious goodbye gift to the family. These help children reflect on themselves as individuals and group members, and help them incorporate their memories into their self-identity and autobiographical narrative of their life. Finally, teachers help older children to create elaborate constructions, artworks, and performances to summarize project learning. Documentation helps teachers to follow and study the ways the group of children develops ideas, theories, and understandings (Project Zero, 2001).
Child testing and evaluation are likewise not intrinsic to the way Montessori educators work. Yet as they increasingly interact with the world of public school education, dialog is leading to greater focus on authentic and valid ways of conducting assessment and evaluation. The American Montessori Society issued a position paper on "Learning and Assessment" recommending that assessment procedures in American classrooms move toward formats (such as portfolios, presentations, multi-media projects) that more authentically gauge children's ability to interrelate ideas, think critically, and use information meaningfully (www.amshq.org). Montessori education has been more friendly than Reggio Emilia education to empirical research on learning outcomes. In fact, many researchers have demonstrated effectiveness of Montessori methods and provided insight into children's gains with respect to reading and literacy, mathematics, and motivation (e.g. Chattin-Nichols, 1992a; Loeffler, 1992; Miller & Bizzell, 1983; Takacs, 1993; see summary at www.Montessorinamta.org/generalinfo/rschsum.html). The American Montessori Society sponsors a Teachers' Research Network to promote teacher reflection on classroom practice (http://www .amshq.org). Their activities include training teachers in working with research mentors, interpreting research, framing questions, using qualitative and quantitative methods, and conducting joint comparative studies between types of schools. The organization also sponsors an annual dissertation award to promote research on Montessori education.
Montessori and Reggio Emilia are two strands of "progressive, child-centered" education that are growing in influence in North America and have many points in common. Both represent an explicit idealism and turn away from war and violence, toward peace and reconstruction. Both are built on coherent visions of how to improve human society by helping children realize their full potential as intelligent, creative, whole persons. In both, children are viewed as active authors of their own development, leading the way toward growth and learning. Teachers depend for their work with children on carefully prepared, aesthetically pleasing environments that serve as a pedagogical tool and provide strong messages about the curriculum and about respect for children. Partnering with parents is highly valued in both approaches, and children are evaluated by means other than traditional tests and grades. However, there are also many areas of difference, some at the level of principle and others at the level of strategy. Underlying the two approaches are variant views of the nature of young children's needs, interests, and modes of learning that lead to contrasts in the ways that teachers interact with children in the classroom, frame and structure learning experiences for children, and follow the children through observation/documentation and assessment.
This article is adapted from Carolyn P. Edwards (2002), Three approaches from Europe: Waldorf, Montessori, and Reggio Emilia, in Early Childhood Research and Practice [Online], 4(1). Available: http://ecrp. uiuc.edu. The original work for the chart and comparison was developed in conjunction with Carol Hiler for a presentation at the Kentucky Early Childhood Association, and with Dr. Paul Epstein for a presentation at the National Association for the Education of Young Children. The work for this publication was partially supported by the University of Nebraska Institute for Agricultural and Natural Resources, Journal Series 13851.
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DR. CAROLYN EDWARDS is a professor in the departments of Psychology and Family and Consumer Sciences at University of Nebraska, Lincoln.…