February 23, 2022

8 Talking Points to Explain Early Childhood Education Teaching Methods

By Jessica Allison, Director of Education & Training

When it comes to choosing childcare centers for their children, parents have a river of questions. Center Directors are pros at answering most of them, but there’s one area that can be tricky: what are the differences between Montessori, Reggio Emilia, and more traditional teaching methods, and how do I know what’s best for my child?

I had to answer this question a lot when I was a Center Director, and for a while, I struggled to give a clear answer. Questions like this can be hard to answer because condensing whole teaching methodologies into comprehensive yet bit-sized responses is challenging. Many parents may not know much about these teaching methods, so where do we start?

Most significant differences between a few different teaching methods:

  • Traditional classrooms are teacher driven. These classrooms have teacher-led lessons where the educator guides children through a lesson plan. Teachers observe, correct, and help direct students where to go in the classroom.
  • Montessori classrooms are student driven. Teachers are observers; students are encouraged to explore lessons individually. Students are free to move about the classroom and explore lessons at their own pace rather than at a pace set by a teacher.
  • Reggio Emilia takes the play-based, child-led qualities of Montessori and emphasizes building a socially and environmentally connected learning environment. Community is a crucial part of this teaching method. At its core, the Reggio Emilia philosophy believes that children are competent, responsible, decision-making people that deserve to be treated with respect. 
  • Emergent Curriculum operates on the belief that when young learners are more engaged in lessons, they’re more likely to form a deep understanding of the material. A sort of middle ground between traditional and Montessori methods, Emergent Curriculum teachers provide a large variety of activities that cover different topics. Teachers build space for teachable moments and are flexible enough to adjust lessons to each child’s ability.
  • In Traditional classrooms, students go to the teacher for guidance.
  • In Montessori and Reggio Emilia classrooms, students are encouraged to help each other.
  • In traditional classrooms, play is often used randomly and may not be used to hone specific skills. In traditional classrooms, play materials such as toys are more likely to be arranged/stored in random order.
  • In Montessori, play materials have specific places for the material sense of order. Additionally, play materials are often multi-sensory to help children build specific skills.

There are lots of childcare options that offer a variety of teaching methods. No one method is better than the others but knowing how to speak about them is important as parents investigate the best fit for their family.

This is of course, just a starting point. Families may find it useful to learn more about Montessori and Reggio Emilia.