Montessori, Reggio, Waldorf and RIE Explained

Montessori, Reggio, Waldorf and RIE Explained

There is no right or wrong. But what’s the difference between all of these respected approaches? Is Montessori better than Reggio Emilia? Does RIE trump Waldorf?

Here, we’ve outlined four different teaching styles with little examples you can try out at home and decide which way you want to go. 

by Ilona Tar

Teaching and home parenting styles: which one’s for you?

RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers)

RIE (pronounced ‘rye’) is a philosophy coined by Magda Gerber and paediatrician Emmi Pikler (yes, this is where the Pikler Triangle got its name!). It focuses mainly on children from birth to three years old, and this teaching/parenting style can be summed up as an acute awareness of our babies! Carers enhance their awareness by observing babies, understanding and attending to their needs, allowing them to play on their own (play is a child’s ‘work’), without interruption and take age-appropriate risks. RIE dismisses the notion of babies being merely cute blobs. Instead, it understands them as whole people deserving of our respect. 

RIE prepares a child to be: self-confident, brave, sensitive and independent.

Try it at home

Ask your child to collaborate with you on all care-giving activities such as bathing, nappy change and feeding. Offer a choice and ask, “Which onesie would you like?” “Can you wipe your mouth, or would you like me to do it for you?” Don’t rush through anything. Have a predictable daily routine and trust that children know their own bodies, will do things in their own time, and evaluate and navigate risks (within reason). No tummy-time, no propped into seating position and no ‘walkers’. Trust that children will roll on to their tummies, and pull themselves to standing, when they are mentally and physically ready. Accept that all babies meet these milestones in their own time. RIE is not for anybody in a hurry. 

RIE in your play-space
A RIE baby’s space is uncluttered. Think ‘nordic inspirations’. Their play mat is unpatterned so as not to visually compete and be confused with their small handful of play-objects. 

MOOV baby supports RIE: A mini-pikler triangle, Pikler play cube and weaning chair [and more] become a familiar presence in an infant's play space and invite them to play, to pull up on, to climb, but only when they themselves are ready. Pop these items in your baby’s playspace from the beginning, and trust that your child will explore at their own pace. They will feel your trust. 

Keen to explore this approach further?

Visit the Janet Lansbury website and read her book, Elevating Child Care, for a more in depth understanding of this popular teaching style. There’s also Magda Gerber’s Your Self-Confident Baby.



Montessori focuses on nurturing the child’s in-built desire to learn and to be ‘useful’, and  therefore does not involve any punishments or rewards. Instead, it places trust in the child’s ability to learn from the natural consequences of their actions. Montessori classrooms are multi-age, and strongly foster self-motivation, the ‘reward’ being an inner satisfaction of completing tasks at a child’s own pace. In other words, if a child completes a puzzle, they will gain an inner satisfaction which is a reward in itself. There’s no need to tell them they did a ‘good job’ (puzzles are an example of ‘self-correcting’ objects, as an FYI). 

Montessori prepares a child to be: Responsible for their own actions, self-motivated and to become a valuable, capable and useful member of society. 

Try it at home

Montessori keeps it real. Using primary colours and staying neat and orderly, a Montessori environment often contains a collection of miniatures from the domestic adult world. Think a miniature IKEA kitchen, and an open bookshelf with a selection of open-ended, self-corrective ‘manipulatives’ (in Montessori speak: toys). 

Each shelf has a place for each item or for each group of items so the child always knows where to return them to. Keep a separate basket for all balls, or blocks, or paints as an example, this makes it much easier for a child to ‘pack away’ (is Marie Kondo Montessori? We think so). A child’s play often involves a hands-on approach to helping in the home and the consequences of play is to clean up after ourselves.

MOOV baby’s favourite pieces that support a Montessori approach are:
The Learning Tower (one of our most popular items)
This brings a child up to the height of any home work-surface, for example the kitchen counter, where your child can participate in everyday chores and learn by imitation.

Our learning towers are built to minimise the risk of a sideways or backwards fall with our removable gates. This allows adults and children to become fully immersed in the moment, after all, most learning happens when the experience is ‘authentic’.

We appreciate, just as Maria Montessori did, that pasta-making can lead to a flurry of flour which could otherwise destabilise our little sous-chefs!

The Hooked on You Children’s Clothes Rack: these allow for your Montessori child to hang and sort their own clothes, giving them full wardrobe autonomy.

Rocking Boat/Steps: This item flips from rocking boat to steps, ergonomically and anatomically designed to support the physical development of children from infancy, as well as nurture and rock their big creative imaginations.

Keen to explore this approach further?
Read Maria Montessori’s The Montessori Child to uncover more about this parent style and approach. The Montessori Toddler by Simone Davies and Hiyoko Imai is another bestseller that’s full of hundreds of practical ideas.


Reggio Emilia

Reggio Emilia educare is known for its inquiry-led approach, which many Australian preschool programs have borrowed. Commonly you may have seen childcare centres boasting an “Atelier” approach, a Reggio concept. Whilst Montessori focuses (in the early years) on fostering independent learning, Reggio focuses on collaborative team-based learning where one child, or a group of children influence the learning of a larger group. 

In an inquiry-led and project-based curriculum,  if children become fascinated by trains, Reggio will follow with an exploration of trains. This might include (depending on children’s age) an exploration of train noises, train tickets, or setting up seats and re-enacting a train ride. With this teaching style, the environment (home or classroom) is considered an integral part of Reggio learning. The focus is on natural fibres, objects and materials.

Reggio prepares a child to be: capable of thoroughly and philosophically following through with their interests. Self-motivation and self-guiding from the start through to the completion of a project.  

Try it at home

Nature and the environment are big influencers of Reggio, and the environment is considered one of the main ‘teachers’. Keep your playspace as natural, uncluttered and orderly as possible. Inspire with seasonal expiration of different materials and themes, based on the interest that your child is showing. If a child shows an interest in plants, you could follow the life cycle of a carrot from an off-cut grown in some soggy cotton wool, to chopping it up for dinner. Finally, you could make a cookbook complete with carrot drawings and even open a pretend restaurant! 

MOOV baby supports Reggio Emiila: All of our natural timber materials fit beautiful in with a Reggio Emilla approach. 

Rocking Boat/Steps: As with Montessori, our Rocker/Boat inspires play and creative curiosity. 

Cubes/ramps/triangles: The flexibility to create multiple configurations, the ease at which children can move on them and manipulate the way in which these items are used supports a Reggio ‘curious mind’ approach to learning. 

The Storyteller playstand: Set up shop, sail your own ship, drive your own train! The StoryTeller supports Reggio-style creative thinking and real-life scenario role play in as many creative ways as the child’s imagination allows. 

Keen to explore this approach further?

In the Spirit of the Studio: Learning from the Atelier of Reggio Emilia is aimed at educators, it’s a critically acclaimed book that many parents interested in this teaching style will find useful.  


Waldorf Steiner

Probably the least understood, and the most alternative of teaching and parenting styles, a Waldorf Steiner approach provides a predictable structure and a dependable routine following childrens’ natural rhythms. Certain days of the week have set activities like baking or gardening, and schools have mixed-age classrooms to mimic the home environment, with the same teacher for multiple years. Waldorf’s early learning years focus entirely on ‘the physical expression’. The child learns through ‘doing’ and non-self-conscious imitation in a nurturing environment. 

A Steiner kindergarten is decorated like a home, kept warm and children are encouraged to help out with physical activities such as chopping vegetables to make their own soup, painting or polishing wood, gardening, and simple crafts like finger knitting and sewing.

Waldorf prepares a child to be: intimately aware of who they are, and able to apply their strengths (and weaknesses) to succeed in life. A Waldorf child transcends their ethereal body to enter their physical being at their own pace, and is supported in doing so. 

Try it at home

Observe the natural rhythm of your child and plan your ‘breathe-in’ and ‘breathe-out’ activities around that. In other words, when they want to roar, run and jump (breathe-out time), a session outdoors or activities around their climbing frame and ramps, might be just what they need at that time of day, each day. Plan for it so it doesn’t catch you off guard and end in a melt-down. Your breathe-in times, quieter times indoors, might involve gentle activities like story telling, watercolour and bread making. 

Allow children to explore their creativity and resist telling them how to do things, instead trust in their own process of learning. Waldorf puts much emphasis on rituals as grounding markers that tie a child to positive family memories with a deep connection to nature. 

MOOV baby support Waldorf Steiner:
Whilst a Montessori setting may use the Montessori Children’s Clothes Rack to hang coats on, a Steiner setting might use this to create cubbies or, with a cloth draped over it, a backdrop for a puppet show.  

Pikler Triangle supports Steiner infants to explore the world at their own pace, coupled with ramps and climbing ramps, these allow the toddler and child to create more magical worlds to feed their imaginations. 

Rocking Boat/Steps: the Steiner child will set sail on many adventures

The Storyteller playstand: Designed originally for the Steiner school and home setting, the StoryTeller allows the child to have an imaginary space of their own. The cosy canopy at a child-friendly height allows their imaginations to wander to far off lands knowing that home is never too far away. A few cushions on the floor of your StoryTeller, and you have what the name suggests: the perfect spot for snuggly storytelling time. 

Keen to explore this approach further?
The Steiner Education Australia website lists many useful resources. The Steiner approach often starts with facilitated playgroups to familiarise carers with their approach. Rhythms of Learning : What Waldorf Education Offers Children, Parents and Teachers by Rudolf Steiner is one of the most enduring Steiner resources.

So now what?

Whatever you do. If it suits you and your child then it’s the perfect choice. 

Our advice is to read around the subject. Borrow some books from your local library to save money, then see which style sounds more like you. You may also like to look into Facebook support groups, or visiting follow some accounts on Instagram that provide practical advice and tips.


The author Ilona Tar is an author & illustrator, a passionate parent, and constant inspiration for MOOV baby. Thanks goes to Ilona for her wisdom and guidance. 




As long as we’re being mindful as a parent and following the child’s interest.

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