How often do you hear the word “Montessori” mentioned when talking about childrearing, education, and someone’s experience? The answer may be often, but what does it actually mean? And in addition to the Montessori method, what other types of non-traditional education approaches exist? These holistic education systems have seen a huge rise in popularity, and because of this, we have seen many families make requests for nannies and/ or educators who have this specific type of experience.
Here we are going to discuss three of the most population alternative forms of education: the Montessori method, Waldorf education, and the Reggio Emilia approach.
The Montessori method of education was founded in the late 1890s by its namesake, Italian physician, and educator, Maria Montessori. The foundation of this method is based on the theory that confined children need more stimulation from their environment. Montessori founded a school in Rome named Casa dei Bambini (or Children’s House) and much of her work was based on her observations of watching her pupils learn while interacting with the materials provided to them.
- Respect for the Child: The key to this method is giving children the space to make their own decisions and to do and learn things for themselves
- The Absorbent Mind: Simple by living, children are constantly absorbing information from the world around them
- Sensitive Periods: Short periods of time when children’s minds are ready to learn a certain skill – it is paramount that Montessori educators know how to identify these periods so they can take advantage of these moments and help their students learn to the best of their abilities
- The Prepared Environment: Children learn best in an environment that has been prepared for them to be able to do things for themselves. A learning environment should always promote freedom for children to explore materials of their own choosing.
- Auto-education: The belief that children are capable of educating themselves.
Educators should organize learning environments in a way that makes materials and experiences readily to their children so they can engage in independent play. Montessori classrooms are minimalistic, so as to not overstimulate the child’s brain. Classrooms are separated into different learning areas, where everything has its place and the resources available to children should appeal to all five senses. Many of the activities will model real work scenarios, rather than pretend-play. The Montessori teacher must create the environment and be able to properly guide children to educate themselves without acting as an obstacle. The students are at the center of the learning in Montessori schools, not the teachers. A Montessori teacher is also responsible for modeling good behavior.
Children should have safe play spaces where they have the autonomy to engage with what is available. Everything should be accessible for the child to use and should be well organized and have its place. This may look like a room that is specifically filled with items that may not necessarily only be for children but that is ok for a child to engage with. This play space should be minimalistic, as should the child’s bedroom, with defined spaces for rest, care, and dressing. Rooms should also be arranged so they are accessible to children. This may be presented in the form of smaller furniture or a closet and dresser where your child is able to easily access and pick out their own clothes for the day. The Montessori parent should take the time to observe their child and allow them to engage independently with their own space. It is also great to encourage them to clean up after themselves and put away their own laundry.
Waldorf (Steiner) Education
Founded by philosopher Rudolf Steiner, the Waldorf method is a much more holistic approach to education, based on cultivating student’s imagination and creativity in a way that best serves their developmental needs. The first Waldorf school was opened in 1919 in Stuttgart, Germany, in partnership with Emil Molt, owner of the Waldorf-Astoria Cigarette Company, in order to educate the children of his employees.
Steiner believed in three distinct developmental stages: 1) Early Childhood 2) Elementary Education and 3) Secondary Education. Each stage lasted around seven years and the purpose of this approach is to awaken the physical, emotional, behavioral, social, cognitive, and spiritual aspects of each child, which promotes creative and inquisitive thought.
“Where is the book in which the teacher can read about what teaching is? The children themselves are this book. We should not learn to teach out of any book other than the one lying open before us and consisting of the children themselves.”
— Rudolf Steiner, Human Values in Education
Waldorf pre-schools and kindergartens (the early childhood stage) encourage daily routines that include free play, circle time, practical tasks (gardening, cooking, cleaning), and art. Classrooms often mimic the home and are filled with practical and natural items. Schools will often stray away from technology. Elementary school is when children are introduced to more academic-based learning but through art, music, and movement. The teachers should be fostering a relationship with their students by nurturing their minds. Students have one teacher, who is responsible for every subject and lesson. This changes as children age into the third stage. From secondary education (or what many of us would consider high school) onwards, there are teachers who specialize in each academic subject, which is where the education has now started to focus more on. During this stage, children should be learning through their own thinking and judgment.
Parents should be modeling proper behavior and good manners (i.e. how to behave at the dinner table). As much of a Waldorf philosophy is about the individual’s relationship to their natural environment, whole, and homemade foods are encouraged. Lots of outdoor play and making sure children are appropriately dressed for the weather. Part of the Waldorf education is delaying academic learning, though it is still encouraged to read to children. Another part would be delaying organized activities such as music lessons and sports, as these may be seen as limiting.
Reggio Emilia Approach
The Reggio Emili Approach was developed by pedagogist, Loris Malaguzzi, post WWII, near Reggio Emilia, Italy. The very core of this approach is the belief that children form their own personability during their early years of life and that they have numerous languages in which they can express themselves. The Reggio approach is to help children learn how to use these languages (i.e., painting, performance).
- 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 they must be allowed to explore themselves
- Children must have endless ways and opportunities to express themselves
School spaces are open in design, as there was a general belief that the physical environment children learn in acts as a third teacher (in addition to other children/students and adults). There was also a general belief that children create meaning through their complex relationship with their environment. Each area must have room for supplies and a central location, that is open, where students can come together in small or large groups. Teachers are considered co-learners, who are there to help facilitate learning through planned activities based on the children’s interests. They should be engaging children through questions to further this learning. Teachers will often document children’s development to make sure they are learning and collaborate with colleagues and parents.
Supporting the Reggio pedagogy at home means a lot of observing. Children choose their own toys to focus their interests on, rather than having someone engage them or having the toy presented to them. Respecting a child’s boundaries and space. Offering children many ways in which they can express themselves and communicate. This may be through building, painting, drawing, sculpting, dancing, singing, and more. Create an autonomous exploration zone you’re your child that they are safe to explore and make sure there is floor space.
As we know, many parents choose to incorporate one (if not more) of these philosophies into how their children are raised in the home. Because of this, many ask for childcare providers who may have previously held experience working in one of these alternative forms of education. This is a common request and one we are very used to working with, as many of our nannies back backgrounds in education and quite often, progressive education.
If you believe this is the type of care you would like provided for your own children, we are happy to assist you in finding the right match.
On the other end of that, if you are a nanny who has experience working in alternative education, we encourage you to reach out to us today!
Call us at: (973) 466 2669