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Italy is not a huge country, nor one that dominates research in scientific areas like biotechnology or computer science; but in the particular field of early childhood, it can be described as a kind of gifted, creative giant. Italians have always revered beauty, architecture, painting, cuisine, and creative design. In a similar fusion of art and science, they have produced two of the 20th century's most innovative and influential leaders in early education, along with their methods of pedagogy and philosophies of education. The two figures were Maria Montessori (1 870-1952) and Loris Malaguzzi (1920-1994).
Both Montessori education and the Reggio Emilia approach provide strong alternatives to traditional education and inspiration for progressive educational reform in the United States and around the world. Because they seem to share many common elements of philosophy and practice, people wonder, "But how are these approaches different, exactly? Don't they have a lot of similarities?" This article provides an overview and comparison of the two approaches, to introduce and highlight key points of similarity and difference. What were their historical origins, foundational philosophical premises, and concepts about child development and learning? How do they compare with respect to organization for decision-making about environment, curriculum, instructional methods, observation, assessment, and teacher preparation? Of course, we must remember that large variations always exist in how both approaches play out in specific cases and applications. Here we can only describe their general tendencies and visions of "best practice."