The A-Z of Popular Schooling Approaches

Have you put any thought into what type of school you’re going to send you children to? Let’s take a look at at the three main school structures that are on offer today:


Montessori approach follows that of Maria Montessori’s teaching, which she developed in the early 1900’s. It has a strong emphasis on independence and uniqueness and believes in servicing the whole child - on emotional, physical and cognitive levels. The approach maintains that children are whole beings that have an innate desire to learn, so it centres around child led learning, where a teacher’s job is to opening a child to reach their full potential. Followers of the Montessori approach believe that a prepared environment is key to ensuring children are appropriately stimulated, and toys are normally manipulatives, where children can self correct without the aid of a teacher.  Montessori classrooms are open plan, which sees mixed age groups enjoying each other’s company with one teacher. This allows for older children to mentor and guide the young ones, boosting self confidence of the older children and encouraging more real world relationships that span across ages.  Ages are normally grouped in three years, from 0-3, 3-6, 6-9, and 9-12. Teachers focus instruction on sensitive or critical periods, which is believed to be a window in which children best obtain new skills. A cornerstone of the Montessori approach is a focus on peace, where respect for all life is stressed, and obtaining a healthy balanced inner life is encouraged.


Like Montessori, Waldorf believes in the whole child, which includes the physical, emotional, cognitive and spiritual aspects of being. The Waldorf approach has a strong emphasis on creativity and the arts, so the classroom and learning includes much story telling, fantasy, art and drama. Even traditionally analytical curriculums like math and science can be studied through graphic art projects. Children are also encouraged to learn life skills, such as sewing, wood carving and gardening, which is believed to boost their confidence and provide them with skills they can build on in later life and learning. The prominence the arts play in the Waldorf approach means that classrooms must be aesthetically pleasing, and teachers generally strive to achieve a home-like environment. Like Montessori, classrooms span different age groups, usually preschool to 7, 7-14 and 14 up, and teacher normally focuses on a child’s temperament type over and above their age within the different groups. One of the most notable aspects of the Waldorf approach is their rejection of media, and many schools pressure parents to not include any media in home learning either. They also reject all forms of examination and marking.



Most of you will be familiar with the traditional approach to schooling, having most likely gone through the system yourself. Typically, traditional schooling in South Africa employs a closed classroom system, where age groups are separated, and teachers do not move up through the years as in the Montessori and Waldorf approach. Traditional schools focus on building all aspects of the child; including physical, cognitive, social and emotional aspects. This is achieved through both formal and informal instruction. Traditionally, there is a time for free play, in which the children can engage with each other, make use of the educational toys available and use the playground equipment, and a time for formal tuition, where a teacher will instruct the children using various age appropriate educational tools. Most traditional preschools follow similar structure, process and assessment components.

Reggio Emilia:

Reggio is not so much an approach as it is a belief system, which is founded on community centered teaching and learning. Supporters of this method believe that children learn best through a multisensory approach, so classrooms need to include materials that can be touched, heard, moved, and spoken and listened to; and in this way, the classroom is thought to be the third teacher, much like Montessori. Children must have different ways to express themselves through different mediums in the classroom and have the ability to control their learning by engaging with activities and materials, rather than being ‘taught at’.

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