Montessori: Perhaps the most popular of these philosophies, the Montessori approach was first implemented in 1907. Montessori schools educate children from infancy to high school, with most American programs focusing on the preschool and elementary years. Students are separated not by grade, but by mixed age groups (e.g. 0-3 or 15-18). Children learn from other children, as well as through exploration. Each student progresses at her own unique pace, and she selects which activities she wishes to complete (from a vast bank of options). Her performance is not graded. Many individuals believe that Montessori schools foster traits like independence and self-discipline.
Reggio Emilia: Founded after World War II, Reggio Emilia is the most recent of these three philosophies. It is also the least common in the U.S. Reggio Emilia early education programs (typically preschool and younger) allow children to choose what they study; for instance, if a class expresses an interest in butterflies, a teacher may structure a series of lessons accordingly. Students work collaboratively on projects, and projects emphasize the natural world and the senses. Parent involvement is highly encouraged, and instructors document (via journaling, photography, video, etc.) and share each child's progress. Reggio Emilia schools can help to develop cooperative and problem-solving skills, among others.
Waldorf: The Waldorf approach began in 1919. Like Montessori, Waldorf schools span from birth to high school, and like Reggio Emilia, they incorporate the outside world as much as possible. Classrooms frequently resemble homes, with play objects made of natural materials. In many programs, students remain with the same teacher for more than one year. Multiple intelligences are prized, as are creative expressions like gardening and sewing. These pastimes place academic knowledge in realistic contexts. Under the Waldorf philosophy, schools do not invite technology into their classrooms until the high school level. Waldorf programs can positively influence children's creative and free-thinking abilities.
No single approach is inherently superior to another. Instead, one philosophy may be ideal for one student's interests and needs, and another for a second child. If you wish to introduce alternative education methods into your home, you need not limit yourself to just one! Experiment with aspects of Reggio Emilia, such as allowing your student to identify a question she would like to answer, and Waldorf combined; for example, select a creative method to demonstrate the knowledge you and your child discover.
Ultimately, these approaches can augment your student's traditional schooling or possibly supplant it entirely. However much you choose to embrace them, you can rest assured that you are deepening your and your child's connection to the process and joy of learning.
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