Montessori vs. Reggio Emilia schools

Comparing Montessori and Reggio Emilia schools in Canada

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What’s the difference between Montessori and Reggio Emilia schools? And which is better for your child: Montessori or Reggio?

Below, we compare Montessori to Reggio Emilia education in Canada. This should help you to understand the difference between these two approaches. It should also help you decide if either type of school is a good fit for your child.

Montessori schools

Montessori education is student-centred. It involves a wide range of progressive principles that put children front and centre.


In Montessori schools, students don’t sit at desks facing the front of the classroom, listening to long lectures. Instead, they’re free to move around class, choose their own tasks and activities, and interacting with their peers.

Individualized curriculum

Montessori schools don’t have a one-size-fits-all curriculum. Instead, students work on tasks that are developmentally appropriate. With some guidance from the teachers, they can choose work that interests them and that they’re more likely to complete.

Hands-on learning

Children work with a lot of concrete classroom materials, including so-called “manipulatives,” sandpaper letters, movable alphabets, rods, cylinders, and geometric tablets. There’s a special emphasis on hands-on work in preschool and elementary school. It’s thought lead to improved engagement, focus, and better learning outcomes.

Uninterrupted work time

Kids are given lots of uninterrupted work time. Starting in primary or elementary school, they’re given at least one three-hour uninterrupted period a day. This allows them to work on their chosen tasks free of distractions, either by themselves or in groups.

Focus on the whole child

Schools focus on more than core academics. They aim to educate the whole child. Kids learn to become independent, well-rounded, and responsible. They learn to take care of the classroom, be polite and helpful, and the importance of the community. They also learn practical skills, such as cooking, cleaning, and gardening.

Limited technology

The use of modern-day technology is minimized. Computers, interactive whiteboards, tablets, and the like are rarely, if ever, used in preschool or elementary school. In secondary school, they’re sometimes used for specific tasks, such as research projects.   

Click here to view a list of Montessori schools


Reggio Emilia schools

Reggio Emilia is a unique approach to education. It’s philosophy, like Montessori, involves a number of progressive classroom practices.

Self-directed learning

Reggio Emilia schools and preschools use a mostly self-guided curriculum. Teachers and students co-construct the curriculum. Teachers listen to and observe kids in class to see what sparks their interest. They use this knowledge to prepare the learning environment, plan their teaching, and help kids choose age-appropriate tasks and activities.

Emergent learning

Teachers rarely pre-plan work for kids. Nor do they try to impart knowledge to them through whole-class lectures. Instead, they observe kids at work and play, and ask them questions and listen to their ideas. They thereby learn what kids are drawn to and plot out their curriculum accordingly.

Project-based learning

Projects are a big focus in Reggio schools. While they’re sometimes proposed by teachers, they’re mostly initiated by students. Projects open up new areas of exploration for students, allowing them to fully explore their ideas and work them out in detail.

Importance of relationships

Each child’s relationship to their family, peers, teachers, the school environment, and the community is carefully considered. The Reggio classroom is set up to promote lots of interaction. Kids work and interact with each other and their teachers throughout the day. They also sometimes work in class with parents and other members of the community.

Modes of learning

Children use many modes or languages to learn (these are called the “hundred languages”). This includes drawing, painting, music, dance, poetry, stories, and much more. They also use a wide range of materials to express themselves, such as paint, clay, and natural and recycled materials. Reggio kids are encouraged to express themselves in many different kinds of ways.

Parent involvement

Parents are a key part of education. They’re viewed as partners with and advocates for their children. Teachers respect parents as a child’s first teacher. They involve parents in many different parts of school, including learning initiatives, project and curriculum planning, and field trips. Many parents also use some Reggio principles at home.

Click here to view a list of Reggio Emilia schools


Montessori vs. Reggio Emilia

Main similarities between Montessori and Reggio Emilia schools

  • Flexible learning: Both Montessori and Reggio schools give students lots of freedom. With some guidance from the teacher, kids can choose their own work and activities. They’re also free to move around the classroom, work independently or in groups, and work at their own pace.

  • Individualized curriculum: Neither Montessori nor Reggio schools have a standardized curriculum. Rather, with some help from the teacher, students from these schools can pursue tasks and activities that interest and motivate them.

  • Student interaction: Both Montessori and Reggio schools encourage a lot of interaction between students. Montessori and Reggio classrooms are set up to promote student collaboration and group work. Both also have some child-to-child teaching.

  • Role of the teacher: Neither Montessori nor Reggio teachers give regular whole-class lectures. Nor do they attempt to impart knowledge to students through direct instruction or memorization. Rather, their main role is to connect students with meaningful work.

Main differences between Montessori and Reggio Emilia schools

  • Education level: Reggio Emilia education is primarily intended for preschool and early elementary school. The Montessori approach, meanwhile, can be used in preschool, but also in elementary and middle school. Some also believe it can be used at the high school level.

  • The arts: Reggio Emilia schools place more emphasis on art than Montessori schools. They promote and encourage the use of many different artistic media and forms of expression. Montessori schools, meanwhile, tend to focus less on the arts: they rarely have time designated for the arts or assign art projects.

  • Academics: Both schools focus on academics in preschool and elementary school. Montessori schools, though, tend to focus more on academics. In particular, they emphasize work over play (more so than Reggio schools).

  • Projects: Long-term, open-ended projects are a big focus in Reggio schools. While Montessori kids do pursue projects, this is less frequent than in Reggio schools. Moreover, Montessori projects tend to be less open-ended.

  • Technology: Montessori schools tend to use very little modern-day technology in the classroom. Reggio schools, on the other hand, use quite a bit. Reggio teachers, especially, use plenty of technology, such as cameras and video recorders, to observe and document what takes place in the classroom.

To learn about the differences between Montessori, Waldorf, and Reggio Emilia schools, read our guide. You can also read our guides comparing Montessori to Waldorf and Waldorf to Reggio Emilia schools.

To learn about the differences between various preschool approaches, read our comparison guides. In separate articles, we compare Montessori to Waldorf, Montessori to Reggio Emilia, Waldorf to Reggio Emilia, academic to play-based, Montessori to play-based, and Montessori to academic preschools. If you want to compare specific schools one-to-one, visit our compare hub.

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