Three major progressive educational approaches from Europe are Waldorf, Montessori and Reggio. All have linkages to the progressive educational philosophies of John Dewey and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and some by the developmental models of Jean Piaget and others. Progressive education, as proposed by Dewey, focused on the learner, putting him or her, rather than the content at the center of the endeavor. He viewed the proper place of teachers as facilitators, writing in 1897 “the teacher becomes a partner in the learning process, guiding students to independently discover meaning within the subject area.” The three major European approaches share this general view.
Waldorf schools were the brainchild of the Austrian polymath Rudolph Steiner (1861 – 1925), founder of anthroposophy, a philosophy that emphasizes the three-part nature of human beings – mind, body and spirit. Steiner believed in “a unity of spirit, soul, and body, and that good education restores the balance between thinking, willing, and feeling” (Steiner, 1995). The Waldorf approach sees human development as having three broad stages of approximately seven years each: 1) empathy (0 – 7 years of age), 2) feeling and imagination (7 – 14 years of age) and 3) thinking and judgment (14 – 21 years of age). In Waldorf schools, the teacher remains with one group of students for the first eight years. Art is integrated throughout the curriculum as part of a holistic program aimed at producing graduates able to create a just and peaceful society.
Montessori Schools began with the Casa del Bambini (Children’s House) of Maria Montessori (1870 – 1952), Italy’s first female doctor. Montessori viewed children as active participants in learning, preparing to learn through active engagement with the world. Students begin writing before, and as a way of, learning to read. Like Waldorf, Montessori is a developmental model in broad stages of six years, but students are put in three-year groupings. Montessori view the years from 0 – 3, for example, as the phase of unconscious absorption, whereas the years from 3 – 6 are the phase of conscious absorption. While students spend periods of time in self-directed activities, Montessori schools are more structured in their approach than “free schools” such as Summerhill. Roughly one-fifth of schools using the Montessori approach are affiliated with official Montessori accrediting bodies.
Named for the Italian city of Reggio Emilia and founded by Louis Malaguzzi (1920 – 1994), the Reggio system of early-childhood education sees the child as social from the outset. Questioning “rigid” stages of development such as those of the psychologist Jean Piaget, the Reggio system holds a powerful view of the child, while the teacher uses reflection, negotiation and long-term multisensory projects in various media to bring out the child’s creativity, and even literacy. Children are encouraged to express themselves in multiple “languages,” including expressive and cognitive ones available to them.