We've always believed that in order to provide the best possible education to our children we need to be constantly learning too. We always strive to learn about different educational philosophies so that we can reflect on what this means for our own teaching. We don't intend to provide a rigorous, fool-proof guide but rather to give a brief overview as an introduction to different educational ideas. Hopefully this will inspire you on your own journey! If you have personal experiences that you would like to share, please get in touch and we'll add your thoughts!
Steiner schools form the largest group of independent non-denominational private schools in the world. The first school opened in Germany in 1919 and the first in the UK opened in 1925. In the UK there are currently 4 state-funded Steiner Academies with the rest being privately funded.
Steiner developed a spiritual based philosophy called 'anthroposophy' which literally means 'human wisdom' or 'knowledge of the human being'. It was reported that Steiner did not want people to just believe in his ideas and adopt them but rather engage with them and interpret his ideas in their own way. Anthroposophy is rooted in the belief that individualism should be celebrated. This belief inspired Steiner to research and lecture on many different areas including medicine, the arts and education. Steiner education is based on the work of Austrian Rudolf Steiner.
Steiner believed that children interact with the world and learn in different ways at different ages. The Steiner curriculum teaches subjects in ways that match the developmental stage of the child. Formal learning, for example reading, writing and maths is delayed until the age of 7 in the belief that children will learn these skills more effectively if they have had plenty of time and opportunity to develop socially, emotionally and physically first.
Drawing, painting, music, movement poetry, modelling and drama enhances learning experiences in all subjects. There is a high value based on play in the Early Years with children encouraged to be imaginative.
In the Early Years the day usually follows a predictable pattern, alternating child-led time with teacher-led activities. Free play can be taken inside or outside. Activities are regular and repetitive for example painting, baking, circle time and singing. Snack is prepared with the children and shared around the table. Oral storytelling and puppetry are regularly used to develop language and early writing skills.
Steiner schools believe that parents and teachers should work together to support a child's education. There is a belief that too much 'screen time' can have negative effects on children and there is a limit to the amount of technology in schools.
Some people believe that the 'danger' of Steiner schools is that they are built on the beliefs of one person and that Rudolph Steiner had beliefs that do not match with what should be taught in this modern age. For example Steiner believed in reincarnation and that illnesses in our current lives could be explained by problems in previous lives. He believed in a hierarchy of races and a soul with good karma could hope to be reincarnated into a race which is higher up the hierarchy. The Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship (the body which oversees Steiner schools) says "While the superficial reading of a handful of Steiner's voluminous, extensive lectures present statements that appear racist in modern terms, none of these occur in his educational writings." Some people believe that Steiner schools teach to a very specific curriculum and this therefore delivers very specific views on the world.
Studies into Steiner education tend to be small in scale and vary in context. A review of literature concluded that "it encourages academic achievement as well as creative, social and other capabilities important to the holistic growth of a person". Studies seem to show that students are more enthusiastic about their learning and have more fun and are less bored than their state school counterparts. In 2007 a German study found that an above average number of Steiner students "become teachers, doctors, engineers, scholars of the humanities, and scientists".
The Reggio Emilia approach
The Reggio Emilia approach is an educational philosophy that is based around the belief that as children grow they develop their own personality and do this through their growing abilities. The Reggio Emilia approach aims to support children to use these abilities, such as painting or drama, to facilitate their learning.
Loris Malaguzzi was the founder of the Reggio Emilia’s educational philosophy. Malaguzzi was a primary school teacher and qualified as an educational psychologist in 1950. Through his work in the Italian city of Reggio Emilia in the 1970s, he supported preschools and infant-toddler centres as they left the influence of the church and, as they developed, a strong relationship was created with the surrounding community.
Over time, Malaguzzi, other educators working in the city and parents and the community gathered their educational ideas and opinions. These came from their personal experiences and from research into educational approaches, especially the work of Montessori. As time went by the Reggio Emilia approach developed and an official foundation was set up to help continue research into education and to support children and communities around the world.
The Reggio Emilia approach aims to focus on each child as an individual who has different experiences, beliefs, relationships etc. The belief that children learn through social interactions drives the approach to create an environment that offers children possibilities rather than having no choice in their learning. Educators strive to give children the choice to learn alone, with an adult or in groups, listening to each other and developing a curious interest in the world.
The belief that children should not be controlled by ‘time’ means that they can develop their own sense of ‘rhythm’ to their learning. Educators often stay with children for 3 years and so learn to understand each child’s learning rhythm, giving them a great understanding of how to support their learning. Educators strive to observe children closely to develop an understanding of how to plan and provide future learning. Their role is seen more as a collaborator and/or facilitator, rather than purely to impart knowledge. Educators strive to support children to extend, reflect and or revisit learning in an effort to guide children along their learning.
Placing children at the centre of the learning process means that lots of effort is put into the environment. This means that the environment reflects the learning taking place and also encourages choices, problem solving, discovery and sense of curiosity. Educators are encouraged to think about all of the details of the environment from the colour of the walls, through the location of furniture through, to the display of children’s work. Resources are usually open ended, often using natural materials, so that children and educators are stimulated to use them in different, open ended ways. As the Reggio Emilia approach is based on children learning via their interaction with others, the learning space is often incredibly personalised and individual, offering a chance for children to communicate what they have learned through the skills they have developed. Although this often creates very beautiful environments, educators strive to communicate the learning processes, rather than make something that is pleasing to the eye.
There are many interesting videos available about the Reggio Emilia approach. In this one you can 'visit' 2 schools in Italy who follow the approach and get a very visual understanding of the environment.
Cooperation between children and educators are at the heart of the approach, for both educators and children alike. Learning processes are often documented via photographs, comments and representations of thinking and learning using different media. The aim of recording in this way is to make everyone aware of the experiences taking place in the environment, to allow reflection by children and educators, to exchange ideas between educators and children, to value what children are doing and to create a physical record of the ‘history’ of the children and educators.
The Reggio Emilio curriculum is not established in advance. Educators make appropriate plans based on their observations and on reflective discussions with each other. They share these choices with the children and in this way the curriculum is shaped by the activity of the children. Projects are used as an underlying basis for children’s and educators’ experiences because there is a belief that by sharing experiences and reflecting on these discussions learning will be deepened. The projects reflect the experiences and interests of the children, they may be undertaken by groups or the whole class and may last days or weeks.
As each child is highly respected as an individual, everyone in the Reggio program has rights, including children, educators and parents. Children with disabilities or learning difficulties have special rights, not special needs and are routinely included in the learning for all children.
The Reggio Emilia approach has been called ‘an outstanding model’ of childhood education and the ‘gold standard’ for Early Years education. There is little readily available research into the effectiveness of the approach and this may be due to the focus on Early Years rather than primary/elementary ages. Some people believe that with such a strong focus on allowing educators to guide learning in an individualised way, there is the possibility that classrooms become unfocussed and chaotic. The Reggio approach does not have a formal model, with defined methods, structures and certification for educators. Some people believe this leaves educators with the difficulty of not truly knowing how to implement the approach.
The Montessori Method
The Montessori Method of education was developed by Dr Maria Montessori over the course of many years of her educational research study and first hand experiences while working with children. Montessori began to develop her methodology in 1897 and in 1907 she opened her first classroom in Rome. Over the years Montessori developed and refined her ideas into a comprehensive teaching model from birth through to 12. (Since then the Montessori Method has been extended, developing from her lectures and research up to age 24).
Montessori education is based around an understanding of human development. Montessori believed that children follow a path of psychological development and developed her model to prepare children to learn in the best way. Montessori defined several human traits that drive development, including activity, exploration, repetition and purposeful activity. In Montessori education these traits are prepared for to maximise learning, for example through planning and the learning environment.
Montessori education is child-centred meaning the individual personalities of each child is valued. The learning environment is set up and delivered in such as way as to provide what each child needs at their stage of development. The environment should be arranged to allow free movement and activity, should be visually pleasing, ordered and uncluttered, should limit materials to only those that support the child’s environment and should have nature within and outside of the classroom.
Montessori settings are of mixed ages with each classroom containing a spread of 3 years – for example from birth to 3 or from 3 to 6. Furniture is made from natural materials being size-appropriate to allow children to be as independent as possible. Activities are usually offered by the teacher and the children are allowed to freely choose what their learning will entail. Montessori believed that when given the chance children will usually choose to use real life objects and so these are offered wherever possible. Activities will usually aim to develop practical skills and to develop the senses, mathematical understanding, language, music and art. Montessori saw that children are usually much more interested in the process of an activity and not the outcome and so Montessori environments allow for lots of repetition of activities. Montessori believed that children have an innate, mathematical mind and so her method presents children with a very concrete form before moving to the abstract. Montessori felt that children need to be in touch with their world to develop their understanding of it. Children are encouraged to spend time outside to develop gross motor skills and to garden, grow plants and explore. Social skills are very explicitly taught so that children are respectful towards others and their environment, so they can wait patiently and to offer help to others.
Montessori educators are thought of more as a ‘guide’, rather than someone to impart all knowledge. They aim not to be the focus of the classroom but instead to offer guidance and support the development of all children as and where necessary.
In most countries the term ‘Montessori’ is not a Trademark and as such can have a generic use. Therefore the term can be used by a setting without any guarantee as to how closely they apply Montessori’s methods.
Research generally seem to show that Montessori pupils are better prepared for reading and maths and are able to write more sophisticatedly. Socially they show a great sense of fairness and are less likely to engage in rough play during break times. Some research seems to show that Montessori education can help low-income children to perform as well as wealthier children. Criticism of the method includes the belief that it stifles imaginative play, that is doesn’t do enough to promote group work/play (and the necessary skills involved) and the expensive cost of official Montessori resources.