Montessori, Reggio, Waldorf? Let Us Explain...

In the field of Early Childhood Education, there are several different approaches to teaching young children and much research behind them. There is no right or wrong way to educate a child, it all comes down to personal beliefs and the needs of the child, much like everything else in the world of parenting. You've probably heard of the term Montessori (especially since Prince George attends a Montessori Nursery School) and Montessori centres are becoming more common. You may or may not be familiar with Reggio Emilia or Waldorf Education philosophies so I've called in three lovely ladies today to explain each to give you a bit more information and figure out if they would be a good fit for your family.


Montessori - Explained by Kylie from How We Montessori

The Montessori approach to education was developed by Dr Maria Montessori in 1897. Through extensive observation Dr Montessori developed materials and a prepared environment based on how children are naturally inclined to learn. Montessori is hands-on, collaborative and child-led. 

The five main areas of the curriculum include Practical Life, Sensorial, Language, Mathematics and Culture. Children learn at their own pace and are able, within the prepared environment, to choose their own work. 

Practical life includes life skills such as care of self (food preparation, dressing), care of environment (cleaning, gardening, care of pets, environmentalism), grace and courtesy and control of movement. Sensorial activities are based on the training of the senses including sight, touch, smell, taste, sound and stereognostic. Language is based on phonetic awareness. Mathematics is developed with the use of concrete learning materials. Culture includes geography zoology, botany, history and science. Art could be considered a cultural activity however creativity is encouraged across all curriculum areas. 

Montessori children are encouraged to not only do things for themselves (with a focus on independence) but also to think for themselves (independent thinking). Children are encouraged to help each other and are community focused. 

Montessori classrooms are based on three year age groupings. The Children's House has children 3-6 years, Lower Primary has children 6-9 years and Upper Primary has children 9-12 years old. Classrooms include child sized furniture and tools, Montessori materials on open shelving and there is a focus on natural light, natural materials and order. Children are free to move around the classroom and often work on tables, on work mats on the floor, or outside. 

Reggio Emilia - Explained by Suze from Invitation to Play

The Reggio Emilia Approach is both an innovative and inspiring approach to early childhood education. It operates on the understanding that each child is resilient, strong and capable and filled with knowledge and wonder. It knows that every child brings with them deep curiosity to know more about the world and their place in it. It is this curiosity that drives the interest and desire to learn.

The Reggio Emilia Approach is guided by several fundamental principles:

  • Children must have some control over the direction of their learning;
  • Children must be able to learn through experiences of touching, moving, listening, and observing;
  • Children have a relationship with other children and with material items in the world that children must be allowed to explore;
  • The teacher is a mentor and guide and a co-learner and projects are child-led, based on their interests
  • The environment acts as a third teacher and is recognised for its potential to inspire through natural light, order and beauty
  • Children must have endless ways and opportunities to express themselves (for more information on this, Google ‘The Hundred Languages of Children’ as this is probably the most well-known aspect of the Reggio Approach.) 

Learning and play are not separated in the Reggio Approach. This philosophy emphasises hands-on discovery that allows children to use all their senses and their ‘languages’ to learn.
In a home sense, it is possible to provide a Reggio-inspired play environment for your children. Some ways you may like to achieve this include:

  • Setting up your child’s play space in an area full of natural light, with minimal clutter present.
  • Incorporate natural materials where possible. Why always give ‘kiddy’ versions of items when children would much rather explore the real thing?
  • Have plenty of ‘loose parts’/open ended materials available for your child.
  • Set up ‘provocations’ around your child’s interests or questions (Pinterest has lots of great examples!)

Invitation to Play’ has some lovely materials to help get you started in your Reggio-inspired play space. Keep an eye out for their ‘Loose Parts’ range and check out their Tinker Trays and other great play kits.

Waldorf Education - Explained by Kelly from Happy Whimsical Hearts

Waldorf education is based on the insights of Rudolf Steiner who said ‘our highest endeavour must be to develop free human beings who are able of themselves to impart purpose and direction to their lives.’

Waldorf education offers a holistic and developmentally appropriate educational approach, educating the head, heart and hands. This means that the children are nurtured in their creative, academic, emotional and physical development.

Waldorf kindergartens model themselves on the home. They are warm and embrace the children, holding them through the rhythm of the day, week, season and year. The kindergarten children learn primarily through imitation and play.

Through the primary school years the children have one main teacher, who develops strong relationships with the children. The teacher develops lesson plans based on their understanding of their students, their developmental stage and the indications of Rudolph Steiner. Waldorf education uses experiential learning and an integrated arts approach.

More information about Waldorf education is available on Steiner Education Australia.


Thanks so much to Kylie, Suze and Kelly for sharing their knowledge and expertise with us today. I hope this is given my readers some insight in to what makes an activity Montessori, Reggio or Waldorf inspired.

Lauren xx


  1. This is a really interesting overview. I like hearing information about these approaches direct from educators rather than hearsay.

  2. So interesting as my boys get older and I move from toddler to preschooler realm.

  3. These different approaches are all very interesting. I've noticed a rise in popularity for Montessori schools in Australia - interestingly however, schools don't need to be accredited to call themselves Montessori, anyone can call themselves that and the schools end up being of varying quality. I'm sure it would be useful for people to know how to choose a good Montessori school!

  4. I think my approach at home takes elements from all three types. We have most of bub's toys on open shelves in her play area and we do lots of child led and open ended activities. I'm probably going to send her to a mainstream school though because there aren't many other options near us.

  5. Thank you for explaining the difference in these teaching methods. I am really interested in the Montessori philosophy and try to implement it at home.

  6. Thank you for the overview. My daughter starts school next year and I need to start looking into different options for her.

  7. Thanks for this article Lauren, Kylie, Suze and Kelly. I'd only ever heard of Montessori before. Interesting to learn of the other learning concepts


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