Philosophical Differences

How 3 alternative education methods in the Capital Region measure up

Back Web Only Aug 21, 2014 By Lisa Renner

It wasn’t long after I got pregnant with my first son that I began thinking about education.

Even though I knew it would be years before my little guy would go off to school, I wanted to start learning about my options. Some fellow parents and I formed the Education Explorers to research different philosophies.

Here are the basics of what we found:


What: The Montessori has its roots in Maria Montessori’s Casa dei Bambini, a school she created for Rome’s less fortunate children in 1907.

Today, children at Montessori schools work independently with minimal intervention from their teachers. The method consists of multi-age groupings so that younger students can learn from their older peers, and older students reinforce learning by instructing others.

Montessori classrooms use special materials, which use all the senses, to learn different skills and concepts.  

Where: There are a number of Montessori schools in the region. Here’s a comprehensive list.

Pros: The method teaches children self-discipline and responsibility and helps them learn problem-solving skills. “They’re treated as a small human, they’re treated as a person,” says Steven Ybarra, whose 4-year-old son attends Sacramento Montessori School.

Cons: Any school can call themselves Montessori, so it is important to check the accreditation or training of teachers in a specific school (head teachers at the Sacramento Montessori School are certified). The method can seem rigid, because class materials are only supposed to be used in specific ways.  


What: Started in 1919 by philosopher Rudolf Steiner for the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory workers’ children.  This approach targets developmental stages: Early education focuses on hands-on learning and engaging with one’s environment; during elementary school the emphasis shifts to artistic expression and more analytical thinking; the third stage focuses on fostering a sense of self and critical understanding.

Waldorf classrooms are distinctive for their use of natural materials and the absence of computers and televisions (the educational philosophy attributes media use to shortened attention spans).

Where: Here’s a list of schools broken down by city. Rudolf Steiner College, a major national Waldorf teacher training center, is in Fair Oaks.

Pros: Mary Wilhelm, development director and the mother of a third grader at Sacramento Waldorf School, likes how the school addresses the child’s emotional, physical and creative needs.

“It’s the integration of all of those into the curriculum that brings it to life.”

There is no form of education that emphasizes the arts more. Painting, knitting and crafting are taught as a matter of course and integrated throughout the curriculum.

Cons: The media ban could be too severe for you. Some may also be turned off by the spiritual roots of Waldorf. Though no religion or spiritual doctrine is taught in Waldorf schools, the teachers learn anthroposophy, a philosophy Steiner founded that explores mankind’s connection with the spiritual world.

Reggio Emilia

What: This educational approach was named after the city in northern Italy where founder Loris Malaguzzi started a new preschool in 1945. The method is geared for teaching young children ages three to six. The philosophy sees children as capable of constructing their own knowledge and suggests they be free to explore topics of their choosing.

Teachers closely observe children and then set up activities based on the children’s interests.

Where: The only true Reggio Emilia schools are in Italy, but that doesn’t mean the philosophy doesn’t have supporters stateside. Sacramento’s Land Park Infant Center and Preschool is inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach.  Others include La Bella Learning Centers in Fair Oaks and the Peregrine School in Davis.

Pros: This is a child-centered approach without strict structures that must be followed. Children are treated with respect as powerful beings.

“The environment is warm and inviting, and the children’s minds are stimulated with different activities,” wrote one parent in a Yelp review of the Land Park Infant Center and Preschool.

Cons: There is no teacher credentialing program. Because the approach allows children to choose what they study, some parents might worry that their children won’t learn valuable academic skills.


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