What is the Reggio Emilia approach to early learning?

By Megan Haynes

While Reggio Emilia is not as widely known as Montessori or Waldorf, it is starting to attract a devoted following in the United States. Several of you have asked for more historical information on Reggio and where this philosophy originated. Here’s five important things to know about Reggio Emilia, its history in Italy, and the future of this approach to early learning.

1. The Reggio approach is geared towards early childhood education. 

Similar to Montessori, Reggio is a child-centered, progressive approach to early learning. The guiding principle is that children are viewed as strong, capable, and resilient; rich with wonder and knowledge. While I have learned about elementary and high schools using Reggio-inspired ideas, the large majority of schools are geared towards toddlers and preschool children. 

2. Reggio grew out of the aftermath of World War II.

After World War II, the town of Reggio Emilia, Italy was destroyed. A young teacher by the name of Loris Malaguzzi saw the need to rebuild society, starting with children. He developed a constructivist approach which valued the ability of children to learn spontaneously through hands-on learning. 

3. Reggio is an International Movement.

The first Reggio school opened in the 1940s in Italy. Now Reggio Emilia-inspired schools have spread to 34 countries where it inspires over 75,000 children and families. In Fort Collins, the two Reggio-inspired schools are the Early Childhood Center at CSU and Roots & Wings. Also, there is a “Wonder of Learning” exhibit that travels all over the world explaining the Reggio approach. This summer the exhibit will be in Ann Arbor, MI and you can click here for a full list of future dates.

4. It is not a formal, doctrine approach.

Contrary to Waldorf and Montessori schools, there is no formal teacher training, credentialing, or authorization to become a Reggio-inspired school. The only “Reggio Emilia” schools are the ones based in the Reggio Emilia region in Italy. The schools in the United States use the same ideas and philosophies as Italy and refer to themselves as Reggio Emilia-inspired. 

5. Reggio Children is the organization that supports the Reggio approach.

Reggio Children is based in Reggio Emilia, Italy. This organization provides training materials, courses, and curriculum to support Reggio-inspired schools all over the world. 

For more information on how Reggio Emilia compares to Montessori and Waldorf, check out this article I wrote which explains the different styles and includes a list of specific preschools in Fort Collins.

Photo credits: Reggio Emilia, Italy, Wonder of Learning

Montessori, Reggio, or Waldorf: which style is best for your child?

By Megan Haynes

Making a decision on the right preschool for your child can feel overwhelming. Especially in a place like Fort Collins where we are lucky to have so many wonderfully vibrant and inspiring schools. There are many factors to consider including the curriculum, education of the teachers, location, size, hours available, outdoor playground, etc. 

To start, here’s a quick comparison of the Montessori, Reggio, and Waldorf styles along with a list of specific preschools in Fort Collins. 


Photo credit: How we Montessori

Photo credit: How we Montessori

Montessori Philosophy

  • “Follow the child” -- A Montessori classroom is carefully put together to allow the child to work independently and enjoy self-discovery.

  • There is a focus on academics, but the main idea is that children learn at their own pace.

  • Create individualize learning plans for your unique child’s needs and interests.

  • Believe independence and self-directed learning are important concepts and goals to work towards

Parental involvement

  • Occasional

  • Extracurricular

Classroom Environment

Who’s it for? 

Many parents choose Montessori who want their children to acquire leadership skills and independence in a multi-age setting.

Montessori Schools in Fort Collins:   

Reggio Emilia

Photo credit:  Nature provocation

Photo credit: Nature provocation

Reggio Emilia Philosophy

  • Project-based curriculum with units based on students’ interests

  • Children encouraged to explore and play through inquiries and provocations

  • Expressive arts - children use many different methods to express their thoughts, creativity, and understanding: pretend-play, drawing, music, dance, movement, sculpture, painting, and drama.

  • Reggio Emilia schools document what kids do by way of video, photos, and written observations.

Parental involvement

  • Occasional

  • Parents might offer expertise on topic of study

Classroom Environment:

  • Classrooms are designed with natural light, order, and beauty

  • The environment is the third teacher and is recognized for its potential to inspire children.

  • Authentic tools and materials

Who’s it for? 

For parents who want their child to be a good citizen may choose a Reggio-inspired school. Through the many projects, children learn about cooperation, problem-solving, and how to resolve conflicts with others.

Reggio Emilia Schools in Fort Collins


Photo credit: Moon Child

Photo credit: Moon Child

Waldorf Philosophy

  • Play-based with a dependable routine. Certain days of the week for baking or gardening.

  • Emphasis on liberal arts of creative learning, reading, singing, acting, etc.

  • Children spend a lot of time outdoors

  • Children are not allowed to wear media characters and no electronics or technology

Parental involvement

  • Frequent

  • Extracurricular

Classroom Environment:

  • Home-like environment with natural materials (silk curtains, wool rugs, wooden tables, chairs, etc.

  • Waldorf specific arts and crafts: pressing flowers, carving pumpkins, making "birds nests” lanterns, pinecones dipped in melted beeswax, making crowns from felt and yarn, baking bread, needle work, etc.

Who’s it for? 

Parents may choose Waldorf because they want their child to develop individualism in a cooperative, creative, routine-based setting. 

Waldorf Schools in Fort Collins

The other school I will mention is the Arts & Imagination Preschool. This fine-arts based preschool blends many things from Waldorf, Reggio, and Montessori. 

Please reach out if you have any questions or feedback. Also, here's a list of all of the preschool options in Fort Collins. I'd love to hear from you!  megan@rootsandwingsfc.com