Waldorf vs. Reggio Emilia preschools

Comparing Waldorf and Reggio-inspired preschools and daycares

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Below, we compare Waldorf to Reggio Emilia preschools. This should give you a good sense of their similarities and differences. To learn more about preschool and daycare programs in general, check out our introductory guide.

Waldorf preschools

Waldorf preschools have a flexible approach. Kids can often choose their own activities, and pursue their interests and passions. There is a daily schedule, though.

There's little, if any focus, on core academics in Waldorf preschools. In fact, Waldorf kids don't normally start math and reading (at least through direct instruction) until grade 1.

Waldorf preschools, like Waldorf schools in general, aim to educate the whole child. Teachers educate children’s cognitive, active, and emotional sides.

Waldorf focuses a lot on art, imagination, and creativity. In preschool, young children are given plenty of time for free play, artistic work (e.g., drawing, painting, and modelling), circle time (songs, games, and stories), and outdoor recess.

Reggio Emilia preschools

Children, on the Reggio Emilia approach, have a unique nature. They’re competent, curious, and full of knowledge. Reggio-inspired preschools aim to build on these strengths, to help kids fulfill their vast potential.

Reggio preschools, like all Reggio schools, provide a supportive and enriching learning environment. They have multi-age classrooms, where children often work together.

The classroom, referred to as “the third teacher,” is set up to promote communication, interaction, and problem solving. With help from the teacher, children are given the freedom to explore their interests and pursue projects based on them. They sometimes do this on their own and sometimes in small groups.

Reggio programs also place a great emphasis on expression. Children are encouraged to express themselves in lots of different ways using a wide range of media (such as painting, sculpting, and drama). They’re also urged to share their thoughts and ideas with teachers and other children. This is based on the idea of “the hundred languages.”

Reggio teachers support students in a number of ways. For starters, they observe children to see what interests them. They then connect them with meaningful work. They also post children’s work in the classroom, and document their work in many ways to track their progress.

Waldorf vs. Reggio Emilia preschools

Main similarities

  • Child-centred: Both programs allow the child to mostly select their own tasks and activities.
  • Multi-age classrooms: Both programs have mixed-age classrooms, where kids have the same teacher for several years. In Reggio, it’s usually two or three years. In Waldorf, it can be up to six years.
  • Art and creativity: Both programs focus a lot on art and creativity. In Waldorf, this is done mostly through imaginative play, drama, music, and story telling. In Reggio, this is done mostly through arts and crafts, which allows kids to express themselves in many different ways.

Main differences

  • Emphasis on play: Both preschools have some play-based learning. This is more of a focus in Waldorf, though.
  • Focus on academics: Waldorf programs normally delay academics until grade 1. Reggio programs encourage children to take on serious projects in preschool.
  • Principles: Unlike Waldorf, Reggio Emilia education isn't based on a unified set of principles. Instead, it’s based on certain values about how children best learn.

​To learn more about the similarities and differences between various types of preschools, read our comparison guides. In separate articles, we compare Montessori to WaldorfMontessori to Reggio Emiliaacademic to play-basedMontessori to play-based, and Montessori to academic preschools. If you want to compare specific schools one-to-one, visit our compare hub.

To learn about the similarities and differences between these types of schools in general (as opposed to preschools), read our comparison guides. In separate articles, we compare Montessori to Waldorf, Waldorf to Reggio Emilia, and Montessori to Reggio Emilia schools.

Preschool questions (read our in-depth answers)

Answers to the question “What is the difference between Waldorf and Reggio Emilia preschools?” from school officials

“Waldorf and Reggio Emilia both use a curriculum that is developmentally appropriate and believe in child-initiated play. In the Reggio Emilia approach, lessons are based on the interests of the students and are project-based. Child questions that arise through play (such as “How does a flower grow?”) are turned into lessons by the teacher, resulting in a project for the students. The Waldorf approach supports child-initiated play to cultivate healthy growth and learning in a range of areas, from gross and fine motor skills to the development of imagination and creativity.” Lylli Anthon, faculty chair of Halton Waldorf school, a Waldorf school in BurlingtonOntario

“Waldorf, like Montessori, aspires to educate the whole child, though concepts can be taught in a variety of ways. Reggio is a project-based program, where the lessons are based on the interests of children.” Marcel Pereira, director of Century Private School, a Montessori school in Richmond HillOntario

Series: Preschools

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