Montessori and Reggio Emilia are progressive approaches to early childhood education that appear to be growing in New Zealand and have many points in common. In each approach, children are viewed as active authors of their own development, strongly influenced by natural, dynamic, self-righting forces within themselves, opening the way towards growth and learning. Teachers depend 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 these approaches and children are evaluated by means other than traditional tests and grades. This essay will discuss the features of Reggio Emilia and Montessori curriculum approaches in Early Childhood Education in terms to fit with principles, strands and philosophy of Te Whariki and my personal teaching philosophy and practice. The Reggio Emilia curriculum approach was originated in North Central Italy in 1945, after the Second World War.
One of the aims of the Reggio Emilia approach in New Zealand is to ensure that their educational philosophy is developed in a way that sits within the cultural context of Aotearoa New Zealand. The pedagogy of Reggio Emilia and Te Whariki is based on values and relationships which considers the emotional, spiritual and intellectual learning (Edwards, Gandini & Forman, 1998). Te Whariki is the national curriculum for the early childhood education sector in New Zealand.
Te Whariki is a powerful and empowering curriculum document which has potential to enhance the quality of experiences for all children in early childhood education through their learning and development (Launder,b 2003). The main features of Te Whariki are the four principles (Empowerment, Holistic Development, Family and Community and Relationships), the five strands are (Wellbeing, Belonging, Contribution, Communication and Exploration) and their goals as well as Maori immersion aspect (Ministry of Education, 1996).
Unlike Te Whariki, Reggio Emilia curriculum approach does not represent as a national curriculum framework. It is a uniform curriculum, which represents a localised, learner centred approach (Launder,2003). In Reggio Emilia curriculum approach, the role of the teacher is assumed as a researcher. To carry out the research teachers should listen, observe and reflect in collaboration with other colleagues (Hendrick, 1997). Te Whariki mentions that evaluation and assessments based on the goals of each strand are very important in early childhood education (MoE, 1996).
The education of Reggio Emilia approach understands that evaluation is important to reflect children’s interests as same as documentations (Gandini & Goldhaber,2001). According to Reggio Emilia approach, documentation is the most powerful tool for observing the children, how they learn and how they develop their own ideas (Gandini & Goldhaber,2001). According to Mac Naughton & Williams (2004) the approach taken by both Te Whariki and Reggio Emilia approach reflect the social learning theory of Vygotsky who described that children learn through interaction, modelling and support from others in order to obtain new skills and information.
This interaction helps children to explore the experiences, learn and exchange their ideas, talking with peers and other experts (Penrose,1998). Furthermore, developmental theory plays a significant influence on our knowledge about the child. It looks into the holistic development of the child physical, intellectual, emotional, social and language development (MoE, 1996). A stimulating environment rich in experiences enables child to explore and experiment.
This view compares with Te Whariki in the Exploration strand (MoE, 1996), where the child learns through active exploration of his environment. Reggio Emilia approach emphasizes the significance of the environment which is often considered as the “third teacher” (Nutall, 2003). The layout, design, structures, objects and activities are carefully laid out, paying a great deal of importance on the lighting in the room to provide a maximum stimulating environment. The effect of this Reggio Emilia environment is that it informs and engages both the learner and observer (New, 1998).
Besides that the learning within the Reggio Emilia approach is often carried out in groups as projects where the teacher is seen as a facilitator, a guide, a resource person, documentarian and a team member (New Zealand Tertiary College, 2009). The way in which the educator is able to achieve this is by involving children in project work either individually or in small groups. Reggio Emilia educators believe that this leads to children having some control over the things they are going to learn and study, thus becoming “powerful, active, competent leading role of their own growth” (Edwards et al. 1998. p. 180). This is also consistent in the Te Whariki strand, Exploration, Goal 3, where children develop “a perception of themselves as explorers”- competent, confident learners who ask question and make discoveries” (MoE,1996). In addition another relevant teaching technique for extending children’s learning and development in any area is co-construction. Co-construction increases the level of knowledge being developed. This occurs when active learning happens in conjunction with working with others (e. g. aving opportunities for work to be discussed, questioned, and explored). Having to explain ideas to someone else clarifies these ideas. In addition, conflicts and questions facilitate more connections and extensions. There is an opportunity to bring in different expertise. Thus, to facilitate co-construction, teachers need to “aggressively listen” and foster collaboration between all the members of the community whenever possible. Real learning takes place when they check, evaluate, and then possibly add to each other’s work.
As in Te Whariki Exploration, Goal 1 (MoE,1996) states that children “learn through active exploration of the environment whereas in the Reggio Emilia the set up of the environment is planned in such a way that it allows the learning to take place, given the consideration to space, furniture and lighting (Penrose,1998). As mentioned earlier in this essay, Te Whaariki has been the official curriculum for all early childhood centres in New Zealand, and Montessori is no exception. The Montessori Method is based on the belief that children learn best through firsthand experience rather than through direct teaching.
A Montessori classroom provides children the freedom to make their own choices, but within an orderly environment. Little formal instruction is provided, and children spend most of the day doing individual activities and tasks. Practical life experiences, such as washing dishes, gardening and buttoning or zipping, child-size furniture and self-correcting “materials” are core elements of the Montessori Method, which promotes children’s efforts at being independent. Instructors intervene when a child is becoming frustrated or not able to achieve a goal.
Programs typically feature multi-age classrooms where children, who are at various stages of development, learn from and with each other. Learners in Montessori are exposed to many complex concepts at an early age through the use of the specially-designed Montessori materials. These hands-on learning materials enable the learner to literally see and explore abstract concepts. Montessori education was introduced by an Italian doctor Maria Montessori who originally worked for children with developmental needs but later shifted her interest into children’s mind (Montessori Association of New Zealand Inc, n. . ). By observing children, she discovered that children under preschool age gain knowledge extraordinary, and she called it ‘the absorbent mind’ (Meek, 2005). The absorbent mind is at its peak receptivity during the pre-school years. She valued academic education to children in early year because she believed that young children are capable of acquiring language, perfect movement and other information and skills (Montessori Association of New Zealand Inc, n. d. ). It is also noted, by the Montessori Foundation (2006), that
Maria Montessori believed there were ‘sensitive periods’ during early childhood, which she explained are stages that children gain specific knowledge through interactions with objects in their environment. For instance, infants learn about order in the first sensitive period (Lillard, 1972). The object provide links to the contribution strand through the division of resources and they develop child’s vocabulary and concepts about their uses as well as objects provide concrete experiences for children linking to the exploration strand as they develop spatial understanding about the size and shape (MoE,1996).
Like some other early childhood theorists such as Piaget, Maria Montessori considered sensory activities are very critical for children’s learning and development (May, 1997). She also discussed the necessity of structured learning materials and environment, therefore, she designed special learning materials and equipment which would be appropriate for each stage of sensitive periods and stimulate children’s learning (May, 1997). Those types of learning materials are still used in the present Montessori education.
The learning in relation to the exploration strand where children will experience an environment where their play is valued as meaningful learning ;children gain confidence in and control of their bodies; children learn strategies for active exploration, thinking and reasoning; and children develop working theories for making sense of the natural, social, physical and material worlds by: Following the creator’s beliefs, the Montessori classroom is very prepared and the activities are more structured than other early childhood services.
According to May (1997), Montessori education focuses on individual child rather than children as a group. Furthermore, activities are regarded as work but not play. There are many exercises of everyday practical life, such as pouring water, tying shoe laces and learning subject knowledge, however, free play including creative and fantasy play is not highly valued (May, 1997). At Montessori, children are encouraged to learn reality rather than using imagination. The way Montessori teachers support children is based on observations (May, 1997).
They observe each child’s interests and developmental progress. Montessori teachers believe that children gain knowledge and skills by making mistakes and repetition of practice, and they value self-correcting (May, 1997). According to May (1997), many activities in Montessori are provided by teachers, but not created by children. The important role of Montessori teachers is to prepare learning materials and environment which is appropriate for individual’s stage of sensitive period.
For example, didactic materials for literacy may be provided to children aged between 4 and 5, and a set of beads and thread is provided to children around 2 to 3 years old. Many of the learning materials are used in the specific way. Teachers are advised to not interfere when children are working, but they suggest the right way of using a certain material when necessary (Meek, 2005). For instance, if a child is making a tower using counters in a mathematics area, he or she may be corrected that counters should be used only for counting.
Montessori teachers support children to understand rules and manners in order to enhance children’s self-discipline (May, 1997). Although New Zealand Montessori uses Te Whaariki as early childhood framework and provide service by interweaving its own philosophy into Te Whaariki curriculum (Montessori Association of New Zealand Inc, n. d. ), some of the concept of Montessori education differs from Te Whaariki expectation. One of the notable differences between Montessori approach and Te Whaariki curriculum is the expectations towards children’s activities.
Te Whaariki, which is supported by theories of Erikson and Piaget, considers children naturally play, whereas Montessori regards children’s activities as work. This may result from the difference in types of activities in which children engage. Te Whaariki (MoE, 1996) encourages make-believe play, but it is something less common in Montessori classroom. Likewise Piaget, Maria Montessori believed there are developmental stages that every child goes through, and identified sensory experience is an essential key for early development.
However, Montessori education mainly provides sensory activities through practical life exercises with didactic materials, while it could be play dough or variety of blocks in other places. In addition, Te Whaariki value of open-ended experience disagrees with the philosophy of Montessori. The degree of subject knowledge education also differs. Montessori approaches the education of subject areas of knowledge deeper than general expectations.
Te Whaariki recognises the importance of mathematical and linguistic experiences in early years (MoE, 1996), but the focus is more on human knowledge and holistic development. When comparing the theories of Te Whaariki and Maria Montessori’s theory itself, it is also prominent that Te Whaariki side recognises cultural and social influences in children’s learning and growth more than Maria Montessori did, because her attention was on individuals at most of the time.
There are, however, some common approaches between Te Whaariki and Montessori education. One of the similar aspects is the methods of assessment. Ministry of Education (1996) notes in Te Whaariki that assessment of children’s learning should starts with observations. Similarly, Maria Montessori discussed the effectiveness of observations when identifying children’s interests and learning process (May, 1997). Also, Te Whaariki and Montessori both value child-centre activities, and regards teachers as supporters who extend children’s learning.
It is also common in both approaches, to encourage children to develop their self-esteem and become confident and competent learners. Both the Reggio Emilia curriculum approach and Montessori curriculum approach fits well with my own teaching philosophy in a way that children should be motivated to learn for themselves especially when given the opportunity to explore according to their interests, using their senses and by manipulating concrete materials likewise in the Reggio Emilia approach children are seen as powerful contributors to their own education.
Likewise environment is another important factor that fits with Reggio and Montessori curriculum approach and my own teaching philosophy in a manner that I will organize environments rich in possibilities and provocations that will invite the children to undertake extended exploration and problem solving, often in small groups, where cooperation and disputation mingle pleasurably. Most importantly working with parents and building stronger relationships with them is very vital.
One of the thing that quiet doesn’t fit with my own teaching philosophy is that children should be freely allowed to do any activities that they want to do whole day rather than getting the children to put away the stuff that they have finished using as I believe we are not giving children enough time for exploration. It can be concluded that Reggio Emilia approach and Te Whariki practices take place through responsive relationships with people, places and things in the local and wider community of early childhood sector (Mc Naughton
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