Montessori, Reggio Emilia and Waldorf Education 

Here in Cincinnati, we are lucky to have a diverse range of educational opportunities available to our kids – among those, Montessori, Reggio Emilia and Waldorf approaches to learning. To understand more about what these philosophies offer, Cincinnati Parent spoke with local educators for their insight into what families can expect from Montessori, Reggio Emilia and Waldorf Education:  


Dr. Maria Montessori, the founder of the Montessori method, developed a learning environment that was child-based, hands-on and collaborative. Montessori was the first educator to use child-sized furniture in the classroom and place children in multi-level age groups. “That’s because children learn at different levels,” explains Patty Normile, Principal at Mercy Montessori Center. “She recognized that in no other place in the world do you just work with your age group.” 

Normile says, “The hallmarks of a Montessori program include a number of different components, the first being that Maria Montessori looked at children from a different lens. Montessori was the first woman in Italy to go through medical school, so her knowledge of a child’s growth and development from a scientific point of view was different. She really wanted to honor the natural development of a student.” 

Children in Montessori classrooms learn in units, studying one topic across all subjects. “Let’s say we are doing a unit on South America, the math projects we do will highlight the cultural things you would see in South America,” says Normile. “The problems we use would highlight the things geographically that they have. The books we pick would be stories from that country.”    

Time is more fluid in a Montessori classroom as well. “We aren’t as time concentrated as a traditional school. We aren’t ringing a bell for everybody to finish,” says Normile. “We really want the kids, once we’ve presented something to them, to make it their own and present it back to us. That may not happen in 30 minutes. It may take somebody 35 or 40 or 50 minutes. There’s more flexibility in honoring how the child is learning.”   

Reggio Emilia 

An important aspect of the Reggio Emilia philosophy is what is called “the image of the child.” In a Reggio Emilia classroom, children are recognized for their uniqueness. “We believe that children have a lot of different aspects to them. They’re curious, they’re capable, they’re natural investigators. We want to make sure we are including all of that into the projects and activities we bring into the classroom,” says Meghan Schymanski, Administrative Director at The Compass School. “We have a deep respect for each child as an individual.”   

Another important aspect of the Reggio Emilia philosophy is seeing the environment as a third teacher, explains Laura Carr, Administrative Coordinator of The Compass School. “A lot of families notice right away that the environment in our school is very different than a typical classroom. The ambiance and the beauty of the classroom is very respectful of the children. We want the environment to engage children in the work that they do and support their learning.”  

The way a child’s time is organized in a Reggio Emilia classroom is different as well. “We provide large blocks of time for our children to engage and study in-depth,” says Carr. “They’re not interrupted by time restrictions.”  

Schymanski adds, “We’re not just focusing on if they are academically prepared. We want them to be thinkers, problem solvers, collaborators, and negotiators. We want them to be well-rounded.”  


“One of the things that is unique about Waldorf Schools is that we provide age appropriate learning,” says Karen Crick, Enrollment Director at Cincinnati Waldorf School. “We don’t pressure young children with a lot of homework and testing. We don’t give grades to the lower grade students. We really let children be children,”  

In Waldorf Schools, nature and the arts are an important part of the curriculum. “Kids play outside every day in all types of weather,” says Crick. “And every student studies music, movement, painting, drawing, woodworking, they all learn to knit. They all play music instruments. We use the arts to enhance the academic program and keep learning alive for our students.”  

Like Montessori, Waldorf schools teach by a topic that is dispersed into all academic lessons. “For four weeks the students will be studying Norse mythology,” says Crick. “Within Norse mythology there is language arts and social studies and even math and science.” In addition to traditional subjects, students learn a variety of other skills. “They are all in the orchestra, they’re all in the choir, and they all do woodworking class,” says Crick. “It’s a very well-rounded education. Our goal is to graduate out these renaissance individuals that are very capable academically, socially, physically, emotionally and artistically.” 

To determine the best type of educational environment for your child, explore various approaches and talk with educators from different schools for a sense of what their guiding principles are. Observe how your child tends to learn best, how they interact with others and what excites and motivates them. With a little advance research and preparation, you’ll be better equipped to find a school that helps your child reach their fullest potential.  

To learn more about Montessori, Reggio Emilia and Waldorf philosophies, visit these sites: American Montessori SocietyInternational Montessori Council; North American Reggio Emilia Alliance; Reggio Children; Association of Waldorf Schools in North America and Waldorf Answers.

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