Progressive Education

It is no secret that traditional education is suffocating and lacking creativity for our new generation. Progressive forms of education – if practiced correctly – give the child a profound respect and awareness for the environment and for society that traditional schools do not provide in their system of teaching. It’s hard not to talk about the traditional style of education without becoming a little heated so, I will spare the soapbox and move on to what really works…


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The Progressive Movement Model

    The Progressive movement model requires children to be able to experience freedom and democracy in schools. This model centers around the idea that education should focus on the whole child, rather than the content itself, or even the teacher. It is a student-centered ideal. It is the child being an active participant in his learning, and her being able to test ideas through experimentation. The scientific method – in all subjects – is used extensively whether formally or through spontaneous activity, so that students can study events systematically.

    The emphasis is on the process.

    John Dewey was the brains behind the concept. He felt that books should be tools, not the actual authority; that students and teachers should work collaboratively, instead of information being spoonfed; that this system would improve the way of life for all citizens.

    These are some popular philosophies that use – either indirectly or directly – a progressive mindset in the curriculum.

    I. Montessori

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      Developed by: Maria Montessori
      When: Late 1800’s and early 1900’s
      Age range: The Method began with primary (ages 2.5-6). Years later, lower elementary was created, then upper elementary, middle school, and high school

      Main concepts:

        1. multi-age classrooms (2.5/3-6, 6-9, 9-12)
        2. three year cycle (stays with one teacher for three years before moving to the next level)
        3. highly visual and heavy use of didactic/hands-on materials
        4. nurturing and cultivating peace as part of the curriculum
        5.follows sensitive periods (certain periods the child goes through that shows the time he or she is highly sensitive and receptive to learning something specific).
        6. intense teacher training
        7. highly organized and systematic process in presenting and displaying lessons and materials, (aka prepared evironment)
        8. three hour work cycle
        9. child is free to choose where they create their work space in the classroom.

      The American Montessori Society (AMS) explains the Montessori approach as, “The teacher, child, and environment create a learning triangle. The classroom is prepared by the teacher to encourage independence, freedom within limits, and a sense of order. The child, through individual choice, makes use of what the environment offers to develop himself, interacting with the teacher when support and/or guidance is needed.” Montessori schools adhere to a specific method and curriculum, using Montessori materials designed for specific purposes.

      Good for people looking for: a place that your child can acquire leadership skills and become highly independent; an environment that is very structured, quiet, and has mixed-age groups; the parent’s willingness to practice the Montessori philosophy at home; no rewards or punishments; a clean, uncluttered classroom.

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      II. Reggio Emilia Approach

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      Developed by: Loris Malaguzzi
      When: Post WWII
      Age range: Early Childhood

      Main Concepts:

        1. child constructs his own learning through his individual interests
        2. learn through social collaboration and group projects
        3. environment is the third teacher
        4. multi-age classrooms (infant/toddler, 3-6)
        5. three year cycle with the same teacher(s)
        6. highly visual environment for using all the senses
        7. child-led project approach (teacher is the mentor/guide)
        8. documenting and displaying children’s thoughts (photographs, transcripts, artwork, etc).
        9. representation of Reggio Emilia’s The Hundred Languages of Children (The RE belief that children use many different ways to show their understanding and express their thoughts and creativity. eg. dancing, sculpting, painting, pretend play, music, drawing, etc.)

      The Reggio Emilia Approach originated in the small town of Reggio Emilia, Italy out of community’s need and desire for a progressive and cooperative education. Loris Malaguzzi stated on the image of the child, that, Our image of children no longer considers them as isolated and egocentric, does not only see them as engaged in action with objects, does not emphasize only cognitive aspects, does not belittle feelings or what is not logical and does not consider with ambiguity the role of the reflected domain. Instead, our image of the child is rich in potential, strong, powerful, competent and, most of all, connected to adults and children. No two Reggio Emilia-inspired schools are alike as they are meant to reflect the students’ individualities and the communities in which they live.

      Good for people looking for: strong emphasis on expressive arts; an environment based on social, collaborative learning; teachers as guides and as documenters of the child’s thoughts; a more spontaneous, flexible, and colorful environment; a triangle of child-teacher-parent development of problem-solving and hypotheses.


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      III. Waldorf/ Steiner
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      Developed by: Rudolf Steiner
      When: First opened in 1919
      Age range: Three stages – early childhood, elementary, secondary

      Main Concepts:

        1. Play-based approach to learning
        2. Mixed-age classrooms
        3. Up to an eight year cycle with the same teacher
        4. Highly creative and imaginative learning
        5. Focuses on anthroposophy
        6. Teachers must also embrace anthroposophy, or having a personal path of inner spiritual work
        7. Eurythmy emphasizes much of the learning process
        8. Intense teacher training
        9. Does not begin reading skills until first grade
        10. Little to no media use until high school.

        Steiner believed that education should be holistic. In shaping the first Waldorf school, he said that from the start there was to be no classification of children into intellectual streams, no class lists, no examinations, no holding back in a grade or promoting to a grade, no prizes, no honors boards, no reports, no compulsory homework, and no punishments of additional learning material. It was to be a school where teachers and children meet as human beings to share and experience the knowledge of human evolution and development in the world (Morrison, 1993)

        Good for people looking for: the child learning to become an individual rather than fitting into a niche; an environment specializing in creativity and imagination; a no-rush approach to academics; lack of media in the school system; spending a lot of time outdoors; a scheduled environment; academics involving the arts as well as basic subjects including astronomy, mythology, and mineralogy; participating in festivals and celebrations; the child to remain with the same classmates and teacher for several years.


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        Coming Soon:
        Mindfulness in Education
        Social-Emotional Learning (SEL)
        The Progressives: Children of Change

About Miranda

* Pisces. Eclectic. Indigo. Mother. Wife. Teacher. Herbalist. Scientist. Fantasy. Outdoors. Ocean. Crafty. Dreamer. * Found out more in the About section.

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