Reggio Emilia vs Montessori: Similarities & Differences

reggio emilia vs montessori

Choosing the right school for your child is an important one. 

Even, and maybe especially, when discussing early childhood education. Experts agree that the early years of education are foundational to a child’s cognitive and social development as well as their school readiness and lifelong success. 

So, it might be comforting to know that there are a plethora of choices when looking into where to send your child for their first school experience. It can also be overwhelming. Three of the most common and popular alternatives to traditional preschools are Montessori, Reggio Emilia, and Waldorf Schools. We’ve previously compared Montessori with Waldorf education and in this article, we explore Montessori and Reggio Emilia. 

While perhaps not quite as well known as Montessori, Reggio Emilia is an international movement and Reggio-inspired schools are found worldwide. These two educational philosophies share some similarities in addition to both being founded in Italy. 

Both the Montessori Method and the Reggio Emilia approach provide a nurturing environment and encourage child-led learning, albeit in different ways. Both methodologies believe that children learn differently and encourage them to make their own connections. And in both classrooms, children use their senses to explore and learn throughout their environment. 

While Reggio Emilia and Montessori share many similarities, there are key differences between them. We explore the fundamental differences and look at which of these approaches could be best for your child.


Montessori Learning Overview

Montessori schools are based on the Montessori Method, an educational philosophy devised by its founder and first female, Italian physician, Maria Montessori in Rome during the early 1900s. The Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) was founded in 1929 with the distinct purpose of making Montessori available to children worldwide. 

When you walk into Montessori classrooms, you can tell immediately that something is different. Low shelves are filled neatly with carefully placed Montessori materials, children work independently or in small groups on rugs or small tables, and there is the quiet hum of focused students. Kids are encouraged to follow their own, natural curiosities, to think critically, work collaboratively, and be accountable to themselves and the community. 

The Montessori Method is a child-led educational system within a multiage classroom, where the teacher’s role is more of a guide and children learn at their own pace. Trained Montessori teachers give lessons to an individual or small group before a material can be used, continuously modeling respect for the classroom environment and the individual. These Montessori materials, as well as real-life and multisensory elements, are incorporated into the learning environment in order to foster independence, citizenship, and personal responsibility. 

With a keen focus on practical life skills, Montessori approaches put a strong emphasis on hands-on exploration as children follow their own interests and curiosities. Most Montessori schools offer preschool, kindergarten, and elementary school education from age 3 to grade 6. Some continue through middle school and even into high school. 

There are 5 key areas of study within a Montessori classroom: Practical Life, Sensorial, Math, Language, and Cultural. Many of the Montessori materials are self-corrective, increasing independence. The Montessori curriculum is vast and encompasses critical thinking, hands-on learning, real-life experiences, and research that inspire young children to become lifelong learners. 

There are around 20,000 Montessori schools worldwide, 3,000 of which are in the U.S. Of those, only 570 are public or magnet schools. Since the majority are private schools, with tuition ranging from $12,000 to $15,000 per year, it can make attending a Montessori school a difficult proposition for many.  


  • Montessori often builds a deep sense of self-confidence, independence, and personal responsibility in children through its child-led classrooms. 
  • The Montessori Materials offer hands-on learning opportunities and exploration at every stage, in every subject, and during every lesson. 
  • In every classroom, there is a deep focus on learning in the areas of language, math, culture, and practical life. Children are often inspired and encouraged to go above and beyond, following their own curiosity, and deepening their understanding of the world around them. 
  • Research shows that children who attend a Montessori school have higher achievement in mathematics and literacy. 


  • The cost of most Montessori schools is similar to a private school, making them difficult for many families to afford. 
  • Due to the need for Montessori-trained teachers, there may not be a Montessori school in your area.
  • Some critics believe that because of Montessori’s individualized approach, students may have a difficult time adjusting to traditional education, both in terms of social skills and classroom expectations.


Reggio Emilia Learning Overview 

Founder Loris Malaguzzi believed that children needed a more holistic approach to education after World War II. As he began this approach to early childhood education, he named it after the town where it originated in Italy, Reggio Emilia. He believed that each child is unique and explores their own interests in a variety of ways. 

Reggio Emilia schools are beautiful, open, child-centric spaces intended to inspire creativity and a love of the learning process. The goal is to create a classroom environment where the teacher is a co-learner alongside the child and collaborates instead of the traditional, hierarchical relationship. This collaboration extends to the parents, other students, and the community at large. 

Reggio Emilia classroom surroundings are also set up in a way that supports its philosophy. Since the Reggio Emilia philosophy revolves around the child’s senses, classrooms are set up to support this. Large, open spaces for group work, natural elements, and plenty of supplies, in a variety of textures and colors, to ignite creativity. 

Using their own, careful observations, parent input, and the child’s interests, teachers come up with specific projects for each child. Students are encouraged to present what they’ve learned in a multitude of forms, including dance, art, print, music, and so on. 

In fact, a key principle in Reggio Emilia is a hundred languages, the idea that there are one hundred ways of sharing their thinking with the world. Children often work together, fostering an environment of dialogue, collaboration, and mutual respect that fosters growth. 

The thing that really sets Reggio schools apart is their implementation of projects or “adventures.” With their teacher’s guidance, children choose an area of learning and create open-ended, often long-term projects that can take a few weeks or the entire school year. Teachers keep documentation and a portfolio to track progress.  

Although Reggio Emilia schools have spread to 34 countries and inspire over 75,000 families worldwide, fewer than 150 are located in the US. While Reggio Emilia schools are public in Italy and open to all children, they are typically private or magnet schools in the United States and often come with a hefty tuition. 


  • Reggio Emilia encourages healthy student interaction, group collaboration, and coming together to solve problems and work toward a common goal. Being able to work well with other kids instills qualities and social skills that will serve them well in adulthood. 
  • Children have a positive relationships and engage well with their community and environment. 
  • Due to the way Reggio Emilia builds into its preschool children, they often express themselves with confidence and have an intense joy for learning. 
  • The teachers’ intense documentation of each child’s progress helps keep track of their growth throughout their time there. 


  • Not all children will thrive in such an unstructured environment. 
  • Because Reggio Emilia is mostly project-based learning, it’s difficult to measure a child’s learning and track progress in the traditional form of standardized testing and benchmarks. 
  • Due to its lack of presence in the United States and its high cost, it can be difficult to find and pay for a Reggio Emilia school.


The Main Differences Between Reggio Emilia and Montessori

There are some clear similarities between Montessori learning and the Reggio Emilia approach to education, from the feel of the classrooms to the emphasis on the individual. However, these approaches to teaching are quite different. Some of the primary differences include:

  • In order to be a Montessori teacher, specific Montessori training is required. There is no certification necessary to be a Reggio Emilia teacher. 
  • Although both systems are child-led, Montessori follows a set curriculum in the aforementioned areas of study, while Reggio Emilia’s curriculum is created between students and teachers based on the child’s interests. 
  • Similarly, Montessori classrooms tend to be a bit more structured, and while it’s very much child-led, do include some direct instruction from teachers, whereas Reggio Emilia classrooms are flexible, open-ended, and students are self-directing. 
  • Montessori teachers act more as directors and guides, and Reggio teachers act as partners. 
  • Montessori classrooms consist of children of different age groups, going in 3-year cycles: ages 3-6, 6-9, and 9-12. Reggio classrooms adhere to a more traditional grade structure.  


Which Students Typically Do Better Between These Two Types of Philosophies?

Children who are self-directed, and who work well alone or in small groups will likely be successful in a Montessori environment. Parents often choose Montessori because of the leadership skills and independence it inspires. They like the multiage environment and the learning opportunities that it creates as well as the structure and the Montessori materials. Because children work at their own pace, it’s ideal for a myriad of learning styles, special needs, and giftedness. 

Parents are drawn to Reggio Emilia’s education because of how each child is treated as an individual. Children who don’t require much structure, enjoy expressing themselves in a variety of artistic ways, and will benefit from working in groups will blossom in a Reggio environment. 

Because both systems allow children to move freely throughout the classroom, children who require a lot of physical activity will likely find a comfortable home in either environment. In turn, parents who appreciate a classroom without desks, a focus on the individual, and allowing their child to be an active participant in their education will likely be a fan of both methodologies. 


How to Choose The Right Type of School for Your Child

While I wish I could offer you a simple answer, the truth is you know your child best. So when you’re ready to look at schools, be sure to follow your instincts as you research your options. We hope this guide has helped you on your journey.

The best way to find out which school is best for your child is to schedule a tour. The American Montessori Society offers a handy search option to find Montessori schools in your area. Find a Reggio Emilia school by searching here

Understanding the basics of each philosophy will go a long way in helping you decide and is an excellent start. Seeing a classroom in action, meeting the director, and watching the teachers interact with the children is the only way to truly know if it’s the place for your child.


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