January 15, 2012

Montessori vs. Waldorf vs. Reggio Emilia

T's going back to "school" or his home based daycare.

This is the perfect setting for him in his babyhood, but like all San Francisco mamas I'm starting to research preschools since some require an application a year in advance.

As I know from the nanny disaster, his personality and needs could change and develop a TON between now and when he's two or three (when he enters pre-school).

First, he is going to preschool. Even if I could stay home he would go. Pre-school is very important to life long success - so that's a given.

But, when I started looking at choices I got confused and anxious.


For one, I thought I wanted a Montessori school. There are several in our neighborhood that seem fantastic (based on reading only - I haven't done any visits yet). I've really liked our room setup and it seems to be intuitive, respectful to T's learning, and spot on when it came to a safe room for our baby (from 8 months - 18 months, so far).

I'm concerned about discipline. We are fairly strict followers of the unconditional parenting model (children are naturally kind and well intentioned) and don't really "discipline" but teach and try to help T communicate when he can't (and we're finding it works for us).

I've read quite a bit from parents of Montessori programs that there are time-outs in the program and it is quite "strict." This article actually addresses both those issues, but I still don't quite trust that Montessori is right for my boy.

I've also read a lot of real accounts of Montessori with flash cards and working on academics - which I don't think is appropriate for Pre-school.

I would have loved Montessori. I am very "rule based" loved to "pretend" to clean house and wanted to be a grown up so bad. I'm not sure my husband would have thrived. When I talk to my mom about my brother's experience in Montessori, she said she wouldn't do it over again. She thought he was bored. As an adult he is a technological genius (coming up with amazing inventions and actually creating them), he is an incredible artist, and super duper creative. I'm not sure the the Montessori program helped him foster this and I actually think (and so does my mom) that he might have had some creativity stifled there.

With a musician husband and a child who isn't as interested at mimicking our behavior as his friends (he likes to sweep and clean the sink - that's about it), I'm not sure the program is right for us.

Granted, I'm signed up for the local Montessori tours this spring. Maybe the programs will be right once we get there. But my gut is saying no.


I never ever in a million years thought I'd be right for Waldorf. It seems a little hippy dippy alternate reality for me.

But, I also felt the same way about homebirth, so clearly I have some inner hippy (or maybe these things aren't so hippy after all).

To be totally honest, I stopped exploring Waldorf when I saw how cost prohibitive the elementary and high school were. We pay A LOT for daycare and can continue paying it for T's education. We pay the equivalent of tuition at a lot of the top high schools in San Francisco right now. Waldorf is double this. Unless I can be convinced otherwise, I'm not even looking at it.

Some of the coolest kids we know are Waldorf kids. And they don't seem strange - and have really cool views on technology. I do think we can get a great education for him in a more "traditional" setting and still foster his creativity and let him be successful.

Reggio Emilia.

I am so enamored with Reggio Emilia that when I talk about it I get excited. Sort of high actually.

There are a lot of preschools around town that say they are "based" on Reggio Emilia, but I think they mean that they are play based and creative. From what I've read a true Reggio Emilia program incorporates parents and family into the school (unlike Montessori - from what I've read) and believes in a true community. It is child led and really focuses on the importance of children exploring what they want to learn. There is such an emphasis on mutual respect of parents, teachers, and children as a team that makes me extremely comfortable.

I could go on and on, but essentially, Reggio Emilia seems like Attachment Parenting, Unconditional Parenting, and Nurture Shock, and my gut feelings all in one. Like pure magic. Makes my soul feel good about giving my son over to education.

Anyway, the problem is, the two Reggio Emilia schools I've found are way the hell across town. And serious prep schools. And one is an Italian school. So, would Turner enter school and not understand anything? Would he totally freak out? We'd be required to learn Italian too, and would I fail? I took several years of Spanish in school and can't speak a bit.

There IS a public Reggio Emilia preschool, but I think it might only be for family that could be subsidized. I've called and not gotten an answer yet. Which isn't a great sign for a school.

That's my take.

Again, I'm not positive on any of this, but I'll keep searching.


  1. Hey, thanks for the breakdown. It's very informative. I am surprised by the number of options for preschool, even within the relatively touchy-feely spectrum (here in Singapore, academically-based preschools are probably most popular).

    Reggio Emilia sounds great, and I hope you can find one that works for you (and isn't too far, my sister in law had to drive from the Haight to preschool in Pacific Heights most mornings, and it sounded so painful!).

  2. From what I understand about Montessori, the schools can vary a lot. I went to a Montessori until Junior High, and thought it was wonderful. My parents were very involved with myself and all my siblings. This may vary depending on the school, but my understanding is that parental involvement is very much encouraged by the school. My parents incorporated a lot of the principles in our home and were a big part of the school decisions. I also don't recall getting put in a "time-out" when I was there. I think Montessori is fantastic, so just keep an open mind I guess is all I'm getting at.

  3. Thanks, Meredith! You are totally right - as we went further in our search we realized that all schools are very different.

    We actually ended up with T at a Waldorf inspired preschool (which you can see from above was NOT interesting to me at all).

  4. Curious where you ended up applying for T. We were unhappy at a cooperative preschool, and then began to pursue waldorf and reggio with much confusion. I am leaning toward reggio. So interested in what else you have learned???
    Thanks for this really helpful post. My inner hippy was unleashed in pregnancy as well. Although it horrifies my in-laws, it is totally ME.

  5. Ahhh - several years later we've had quite the preschool experience. He was at a waldorf pre-preschool for about a year and a half. It was wonderful for him until he was 3 and then he needed to run and be free (and talk about characters from books and movies that weren't Waldorf approved - which was a no go). I loved Waldorf for him as he's a guy who's all about narrative, the food was fantastic, the parent group was spectacular and there was NO bullying or meanness from anyone. He just needed a little more crazy in his life. So we moved to a co op. I figured that I would be there, he would get crazy, etc. That was the WORST thing I've ever experienced. Kids were MEAN. It felt a bit like Lord of the Flies. After a week of me being there with him and him cowering a corner I called it quits. We ended up at a play based school. Everyone loves it. It is small, the teachers have at least a two year degree in early childhood ed, and it is close by. The food choices aren't great, and I don't know the other parents well, but TT is SO SO happy. We don't have a ton of Reggio options in the city - but his school incorporates a lot of what we love (following his lead, creative play, building, etc).

    We realized how much more important the teachers are than the long as it is play based in some way and has NO academics involved.

    If you are in the city, email me and I can let you know what I found!