Maria Montessori, a visionary Italian anthropologist and physician, developed the Montessori Method of Education. The Montessori Method of Education is recognized throughout the world for its success in the education of young children. It has been implemented on six continents and has proven effective across cultural and socio-economic boundaries. In North America alone, there are approximately 5,000 private Montessori schools and 200 public Montessori schools.

The educational philosophy of Dr. Maria Montessori inspires the development of the child in a safe, supportive, and culturally diverse environment that gives children the freedom to explore, cooperate, create, and grow.

Girl playing with stacking rings. The essence of Montessori schools, therefore, is a pedagogy based on a truly hands on approach to education which develops all aspects of a student's intellectual, spiritual and emotional psyche. Montessori is centered on establishing independence, self-esteem, and confidence while fostering learning at a child's own pace.

This self-paced education is accomplished by changing the role of adults in the classroom from teachers of a whole class into that of facilitator or guide for the students as individuals. According to the American Montessori Society, guides have four principle goals, which encompass what the Montessori method hopes to achieve.

The guide strives to:

A carefully prepared environment is another trademark of a Montessori program. With so much emphasis on individual and small-group exploration, the room itself is kept bright, warm, and inviting. It will often contain many learning centers that allow a child to focus on what they are most interested in, while being gently encouraged to try new things. These centers are filled with objects that cater to what preschoolers are most responsive to - highly tactile, very hands-on learning materials that teach through manipulation.

Girl tying cloth on board. The sense that they are in charge of this environment also fosters feelings of responsibility and accountability in the children. Studies have shown that a feeling of ownership contributes to better care of belongings. Visitors to Montessori classrooms are often amazed to see children working together to clean up centers after they are done experimenting and learning in them. Older children are encouraged to help the younger children in their explorations, teaching compassion and instilling the lesson that there is no shame in needing help in life.


Rudolf Steiner, founder of Anthroposophy and the first Waldorf School (1919) was a leading philosopher, lecturer, and author early in the last century. Through more than 50 books and 6,000 published lectures, his ideas continue to exert a world-wide influence on the arts, sciences, medicine, agriculture, and philosophy. His insights and views on education are embodied in an international movement with over 950 Waldorf schools worldwide.

Waldorf programs strive to stimulate children's bodies, spirits, and souls with a nurturing, homelike environment that engages all five senses. Rudolf Steiner believed that small children learn best by imitation and by their physical surroundings. Creative play is the most important means of learning in a Waldorf classroom, with a focus on teamwork and togetherness. Therefore, a Waldorf program strives to provide an environment worthy of imitation, where children can play imaginatively and creatively, gradually developing a balanced feeling life which will lead in turn to a solid and creative capacity for thinking and a lively intellect.

Kids playing in a small shelter made of sticks. In preschool, children learn concentration, interest, and a love of learning through cooking, dress-up, singing, art projects, storytime, and other activities. Waldorf classrooms are all natural: no televisions, computers, or even plastic toys. The philosophy teaches that children benefit from the feel, sight, and smell of natural materials. Children learn responsibility and a love for nature through feeding the animals they are helping raise, watering plants and tending to small gardens.

Waldorf programs are more group-oriented and have a stronger sense of rhythm and routine than the Montessori system.

Reggio Emilia

Kids reading on a large flat rock. The self-directed project-oriented Reggio Emelia approach encourages children to take on projects that stimulate their curiosity and see them through to completion. Documentation is an integral part of the process and involves observation, reflection, collaboration, interpretation, analysis, and is made a part of the classroom. It also provides opportunities for children to revisit the experience. All three methods encourages teachers to let a child's interests guide the curricula.