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Q: Reggio Emilio and Maria Montessori's Approach to Environment ( Answered,   1 Comment )
Subject: Reggio Emilio and Maria Montessori's Approach to Environment
Category: Reference, Education and News > Teaching and Research
Asked by: pawantiwana-ga
List Price: $50.00
Posted: 04 May 2004 07:04 PDT
Expires: 03 Jun 2004 07:04 PDT
Question ID: 340862
I need information on Reggio Emilia and Maria Montessori's approach on
Environment. Need to know how the environment is challenging, how the
environment is stimulating and how the environment is aesthetically
pleasing. I also need to know how it meets children's individual and
group interest and does the environment provide choice  how it
promotes choice. Also, how does the environment offer opportunities
for both group and individual play. When addressing the above points,
please consider the following age groups: 0-2, 3-6, 6-12 and multi age
Kindly provide a reply within 24 hours.
Subject: Re: Reggio Emilio and Maria Montessori's Approach to Environment
Answered By: emjay-ga on 04 May 2004 11:58 PDT
Dear pawantiwana,

Thank you for your question! The Reggio Emilia and Montessori methods
are fascinating alternatives to the traditional classroom approach,
and environment plays a huge part in their philosophy.

The Montessori classroom is designed to stimulate creativity without
overwhelming the senses. Robyn A. Friedman, in "Which Preschool Is
Right for Your Child?", paints the following picture of the typical
Montessori classroom:

"The room is warm and inviting, filled with plants, books, art and
puzzles. There is likely to be some kind of music playing softly in
the background."

The FAQ describes the Montessori emphasis on sensory stimuli:

"Many exercises, especially at the early childhood level, are designed
to draw children's attention to the sensory properties of objects
within their environment: size, shape, color, texture, weight, smell,
sound, etc. Gradually, they learn to pay attention, seeing more
clearly small details in the things around them. They have begun to
observe and appreciate their environment. This is a key in helping
children discover how to learn."

The University of Michigan Work/Life Resource Center, in an article on
child care philosophies, refers specifically to the tactile appeal of
Montessori classroom materials:

"There is much emphasis on natural materials that enhance sensory
stimulation (wood blocks, yarn, peg boards, etc) and focusing on daily
living activities (cooking, folding, cleaning, etc). The classroom is
usually organized so that these materials and workstations are orderly
and easily accessible to children."
< >

The Montessori method focuses on learning through experience and
hands-on activity from a very early age. What's striking about the
Montessori classroom is its similarity to a home environment - in
fact, Maria Montessori referred to her classroom as the "Children's
House." In addition to learning the basics like math, language, and
history, children learn life skills like cooking, gardening, pet care,
cleaning, and manners. Interestingly, when Maria Montessori first
began teaching, she used play objects, but soon found that when
children were actually permitted to cook, for example, they had no
interest in merely pretending to do so.

The Montessori classroom is divided into subject areas - practical
life, sensorial learning, math, language, geography and cultural.
Children learn at their own self-directed pace, working alone or in
collaborative groups on the activity they choose, moving from one
subject area to another as desired. Children are permitted to work on
an activity for as long as they like. Teachers serve more as
"directors," providing guidance for independent learning and teaching
individual lessons as required. Classes are usually organized in
three-year age groups - 3-6, 6-9, etc. Older children mentor younger
ones, increasing confidence and leadership skills while sharing
knowledge with their peers.

In "Montessori Concepts and Terminology," the North American
Montessori Teachers' Association (NAMTA) describes what you might see
in a Montessori classroom:

"In the prepared environment, there is a variety of activity as well
as a great deal of movement. In a preschool classroom, for example, a
three-year-old may be washing clothes by hand while a four-year-old
nearby is composing words and phrases with letters known as the
movable alphabet, and a five-year-old is performing multiplication
using a specially designed set of beads. In an elementary classroom, a
small group of six- to nine-year-old children may be using a timeline
to learn about extinct animals while another child chooses to work
alone, analyzing a poem using special grammar symbols. Sometimes an
entire class may be involved in a group activity, such as
storytelling, singing, or movement." < >

Since the children largely choose their own activities and progress at
their own pace, there is less competition, boredom and stress than is
often found in traditional classrooms.  In each activity/subject area,
activities are offered in varying levels of difficulty, providing new
challenges when old ones are mastered.

According to the FAQ, "The tasks are so satisfying
that, for these few hours a day, children want to master the
challenges offered by them. Then they become happier and kinder-true
socialization. Also, since concentration is protected above all, as
all "work" is respected, children learn early on not to interrupt
someone who is concentrating."

And according to another FAQ, this one at

"Freedom is a second critical issue as children begin to explore. Our
goal is less to teach them facts and concepts, but rather to help them
to fall in love with the process of focusing their complete attention
on something and mastering its challenge with enthusiasm. Work
assigned by adults rarely results in such enthusiasm and interest as
does work that children freely choose for themselves."

The Montessori method uses specific environmental approaches to
different age groups. Here's a brief breakdown from

Birth to Age Six 
"Before the age of six, a child learns from direct contact with the
environment, by means of all the senses, and through movement; the
child literally absorbs what is in the environment. The toys and
materials in the home and school for this period of development should
be of the very best quality to call forth self-respect, respect and
care from the child toward the environment, and the development of an
appreciation of beauty.

Age Six to Twelve 
From age six to twelve, "the age of the Imagination," the children
produce so much -- charts, models, books, timelines, maps, books,
plays, etc. -- that the environment must be continually pared down to
the essentials so that the children continue to create.
Sensorial-manipulative materials, such as multiplication bead frames,
can also be used for older children, but should be left behind as soon
as the child is ready to work in the abstract.

Age Twelve + 
"From age twelve to eighteen, the child's education becomes more
traditional: books, computers, and the tools of the place where he may
be apprenticing or doing social work. This is transition to adult life
during which time the child learns to function in the real world. The
environment now includes the farm, the public library, the work place,
the large community."

On a  related note, many Montessorians discourage the use of computers
by children aged six years and under, believing they impede optimal

I'll conclude the Montessori environment overview with a thorough
description of the ideal Montessori environment, from The Montessori
Way ( ):

"The room should be large enough to give the children room to move
about freely, but not too large. If the class is lost in a great room
or hall there is not the right atmosphere of security and calm, nor
can the children remember it properly. It is necessary that they
should have a clear idea of the whole in their minds, know every
object in the room and where it is to be found, so that it can be
replaced correctly. It is a great advantage if the children can go out
into the garden, but if so it must be a fairly small garden.

"There is no necessity that the room and furniture should be luxurious
or expensive. Many Montessori schools have tried giving an environment
of great beauty, but it has not been found to be of any particular
advantage. The essential points are that the furniture and fixtures
should be the right size and should be painted in light colours with
some washable paint. This indispensable, but it is not expensive. We
must arrange that cupboards and shelves come no higher than our
[children's] shoulder, door and window fastenings within reach,
washbasins, looking glass, coat-hooks, etc., also available. The
chairs should be made the right size with legs shorter proportionately
than the ordinary chair because of the child's short legs. There must
also be stools and mats for sitting or lying on the floor, as all
these changes of position are necessary exercise for the growing body.
The tables should of different sizes and shapes but they do not all
need to be adjusted to the height of the sitting child because they
are not used so much to sit and write at, like a school desk, but to
set out the objects. All the tables and chairs should be strong but
light enough for the children to shift them freely. No rubber is used
to deaden noise; we want things to clatter when moved, so that clumsy
movements can be noticed and corrected. All the furniture and woodwork
must be carefully painted so that they are light coloured and shinning
[sic]. Then every spot and mark will show and can be easily cleaned of
[sic]. The floor, too, is polished so that every speck of dust or
piece of litter can be detected at once. In our own house we may think
of choosing a dark colour that will not show the dirt; but the
children do not want to save trouble. They want to be active. All this
activity has an interior aim, its real purpose is to develop the
child's own powers. Yet there must be a superficial motive, a purpose
in the real exterior world, that, so to speak, 'sets the child off',
it initiates a cycle of activity.

"It is not that children are interested in health or germs or in
cleanliness for its own sake. But there is no doubt that to have
perfect order in their surroundings and to preserve it by their own
activity does give them real satisfaction. What the mysterious process
in the mind may be we do not know; it may be the beginning of a love
of beauty, or aesthetic sense. Whatever it is we have no doubt that
the children who have this desire satisfied become calmer and are
better able to overcome the difficulties of development."

The Reggio Emilia method of teaching, named for a city-run program in
Reggio Emilia, Italy, is similar in many ways to the Montessori
method, especially in its emphasis on child-directed learning.
Children are encouraged to pursue activities in which they show the
greatest interest. In Reggio Emilia, as in Montessori, the appearance
and function of the classroom is of great importance; environment is
considered the "third teacher." Spaces and furnishings are arranged to
accommodate intimate groups of one to three children from different
age levels. The classroom is adorned with plants, children's work, and
mementos from outings. Supplies are aesthetically arranged.  Dramatic
play areas are also featured.

The following is a description from Reggio Emilia approach: the role
of space (

"The environments are also extraordinarily beautiful with an attention
to detail everywhere: in the color of the walls, the shape of the
furniture, and the arrangement of simple objects. In addition, the
space is personal. It is filled with the children's own work and the
reflection of the time spent together."

Further to this, the Reggio Emilia "environment" is considered in a
larger sense; children are taught to function in the context of
family, social and community environments.

On the same website, under the heading "The role of the environment,"
we find this description:

"The organization of the physical environment is crucial to Reggio
Emilia's early childhood program. Major aims in the planning of new
spaces and the remodeling of old ones include the integration of each
classroom with the rest of the school, and the school with the
surrounding community. Classrooms open to a center piazza, kitchens
are open to view, and access to the surrounding community is assured
through wall-size windows, courtyards, and doors to the outside in
each classroom. Entries capture the attention of both children and
adults through the use of mirrors (on the walls, floors, and
ceilings), photographs, and children's work accompanied by
transcriptions of their discussions. These same features characterize
classroom interiors, where displays of project work are interspersed
with arrays of found objects and classroom materials. In each case,
the environment informs and engages the viewer.

"Other supportive elements of the environment include ample space for
supplies, frequently arranged to draw attention to their aesthetic
features. In each classroom there are studio spaces in the form of a
large, centrally located atelier and a smaller mini-atelier, and
clearly designated spaces for large- and small-group activities.
Throughout the school, there is an effort to create opportunities for
children to interact. Thus, the single dress-up area is in the center
piazza; classrooms are connected with phones, passageways or windows;
and lunchrooms and bathrooms are designed to encourage playful

I hope that this has answered your question fully, and given you a
solid overview of the importance of environment in the Montessori and
Emilia methods. Here are additional resources which you may wish to

Montessori materials and learning environments
< >

"The Preparation of the Montessori Environment" at Montessori Mom
 < >

Classroom organization - the physical environment

Emergent Curriculum and The Reggio Emilia Approach
< >

The Reggio Emilia approach to learning - links
< >

I used the following search combinations to find your answer:

Montessori children's house environment
Montessori learning environment
Montessori classroom environment
Montessori environment choice
Montessori environment age groups
Emilia classroom environment
Emilia learning environment

Please let me know if I can be of further assistance. All the best!

Subject: Re: Reggio Emilio and Maria Montessori's Approach to Environment
From: emjay-ga on 04 May 2004 12:09 PDT
The description I quoted as being from The Montessori Way is actually
from The Montessori Mom at < > - sorry about

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