Reggio Emilia vs. Montessori: Which is Right for Your Child?

Are you considering the different preschool or elementary school options for your child? Choosing a school is a momentous choice for parents like you, and it is important that all options be measured before deciding on the best fit for your child. Right now, you may have narrowed it down to two options: the Reggio Emilia vs. Montessori approach.

The Reggio Emilia and Montessori early-childhood educational methods are very similar in their nurturing, child-centric, and alternative approaches. However, they follow different methodologies in a few key areas. Let’s break down these approaches to help you choose the best option for your little one.

History & Key Principles

Europe was in shambles at the beginning of the 20th century, and this is the stage on which both Reggio Emilia and Montessori methods emerged. As The Atlantic reports, in 1945, a teacher named Loris Malaguzzi collaborated with local parents in the Northern Italian city of Reggio Emilia to develop a new kind of childcare. They wished to create a system that would result in responsible, respectful citizens, and to enrich the lives of the children born into war. After decades of operating in Italy, word of the Reggio Emilia technique traveled to the United States in 1987. Since then, the approach has steadily risen in popularity. In 2002, the North American Reggio Emilia Alliance (NAREA) was formed, an institution that mobilizes educators and parents, and promotes Reggio Emilia schools.

The Montessori method was also founded in Italy, by Dr. Maria Montessori, a physician and educator. She opened a school in Rome in 1907, supported by the principle that children can naturally absorb knowledge from their surroundings and self-direct their education through exploration. The popularity of Montessori in the United States grew in modern popularity in 1960, when the American Montessori Society (AMS) was born. The AMS fosters Montessori schools and teacher programs, and now, the USA is a world leader in representing Montessori-style education.

Both Reggio Emilia and Montessori styles of education seek to educate the whole child, and to help create citizens who will exist in harmony with others.


There is a general curriculum in Montessori schools, which includes math, language, practical skills, geography, cultural studies, science, and music. Movement and sensory activities guide students’ learning within these topics. In contrast, there is no given curriculum with Reggio Emilia, and rather the function of the classroom is to allow for evolving lessons based on, and guided by, student interest and response.

Self-Directed Child Experience

In both the Montessori and Reggio Emilia approach, children use their senses to explore and direct their educational experience. With Montessori, children are given the freedom to select pre-prepared activities, to work independently, and to employ movement. Montessori children pace themselves. They choose which projects to interact with, when to have a snack, play with others, or be quiet. In a Reggio Emilia model, a collaborative approach to learning is taken and any student may steer classroom learning. Using their many languages, children direct personal curiosity and inspire lessons through questioning, answering, and questioning further, using the environment as teacher, and following teacher guidance.

Classroom Design

Montessori classrooms contain specific materials and spaces set up by instructors to accommodate choice for children, and individual and group stations. Children use the floor or tables rather than desks. Furniture is sized appropriately for children, and bookcases are at eye level with materials within reach. Movement is important to Montessori learning; as children make choices, they move about the room. Order and cleanliness are important to this type of classroom environment.

In a Reggio Emilia school, classroom and school designs are also key to the methodology. Teachers set up spaces for different sized groups of children. Because hands-on exploration dictates learning, teachers pay close attention to details such as texture and color to inspire student interest.  Documentation is also an important part of Reggio Emilia; displayed about the classroom you will find ample children’s artwork, writing, and objects collected from class outings.

Another key aspect in a Montessori classroom is age integration. Three, four, and five year olds will all be in one classroom together. Often, teachers will have the same students for three years. Reggio Emilia classrooms are grouped more traditionally based on age, and teachers take on groups for one academic year.

Learning Tools

In a Montessori classroom, children use learning tools that are self-corrective, meaning that when they make an incorrect attempt to solve a game or puzzle, they are able to try again and correct the mistake. These classrooms utilize age-specific materials, which are particularly suitable to Montessori-style learning. In contrast, because Reggio Emilia students learn directly from their environment, the classroom is devised to be an extension of children’s worlds, and its complexity is meant to reflect the culture in which the children live.

In both Reggio Emilia and Montessori schools, assessments are not taken by testing and grading students. Rather, documentation and portfolio-building are used to record students’ rates of success and participation. The school community as a whole (including parents and teachers) is upheld in both methods. Additionally, teachers in both types of schools are very committed to their practice.

Reggio Emilia vs. Montessori: this is not an easy choice to make. But with a good deal of research and understanding of what best motivates your child, you’ll be best prepared to say yes to one of models of childhood education.

If you are interested in learning more about the Reggio Emilia approach, please do not hesitate to reach out. Riverside Magnet School at Goodwin College is a reputable Reggio magnet school for Pre-K to grade 5 age groups right in the Greater Hartford area. Schedule a parent information session here!