Learning approaches in early childhood education

Early childhood education (ECE) is a phrase that is not new to all of us. However, finding appropriate learning approaches for children to help them fully develop is not easy. Today, let’s explore the 3 most popular learning approaches in early childhood education applied among pre-schools across the world. But before diving into what they are, let take a brief look at the history of ECE development.

The first learning approach in early childhood education

ECE was only formed in the early 1500s by Martin Luther. In his theory, he emphasized 3 important things:
1. The primary role of education is to teach children to read.
• A child’s family plays the most important role in their education.
• Communities plays a critical role in ensuring that all children are educated, and thus in providing parents with necessary supports.

Every child has a unique pace and style of learning. The different existing approaches in early childhood education attempt to maximise their learning outcomes using different methods.
Choosing an appropriate learning approach to help your children fully develop their skills

Throughout history, ECE has been shaped by many of the perspectives of prominent historical figures. Over the centuries, many philosophers, psychologists, and other prominent figures have studied the field of education. There are 3 typical learning approaches that we are going to talk about today:

  • Montessori’s approach, or the Theory of Maria Montessori (1870-1952),
  • Waldorf’s approach – developed in Europe by Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925),
  • Reggio Emilia approach, developed by pedagogist Loris Malaguzzi (1920-1994).

The Montessori approach

Dr. Maria Montessori developed the key concepts to the Montessori approach in the early 1900s which consider children’s sensitivity to language, movement, order, and sensory input at specific developmental stages.

“Prepared Environment” is an important concept in the Montessori approach. It encourages child-centered learning in an environment where educators prepare materials and activities based on a child’s interest and development. It is known as of the most popular learning approaches in early childhood education.


  • Child-directed work
  • The obsorbent mind
  • Sensitive periods for learning
  • A repared environment
  • Independence and discovery


  • Allow children to make their own choices
  • Let children expose as many experiences, concepts, and lessons as possible
  • Maximum the opportunity to help children learn at the time when they can receive it most effectively
  • Provide open, safe spaces for children to discover and explore throughout their day
  • Figure out and develop activities and learning experiences that follow each child’s specific needs and readiness

The Waldorf approach

Austrian scientist Rudolf Steiner developed this learning approach in the early 20th century after World War I. Waldorf education aims to see the potential in each child as a fully rounded individual.

Lessons are experiential, not just studied, encouraging a student’s creativity, independence, and deep understanding of every topic they explore.


  • Love and warmth
  • Care for the environment and nourishment for the senses
  • Creative, artistic experience
  • Meaningful adult activity as an example for the child’s imitation
  • Free, imaginative play
  • Protection for the forces of childhood
  • Gratitude, reverence, and wonder
  • Joy, humor, and happiness
  • Adult caregivers on a path of inner development


  • Use love & warm gestures with children. Encourage them to behave toward one another with these qualities
  • Offers the children opportunities for artistic experiences through music, gesture, language,…
  • Create an environment that supports the possibility for healthy play
  • Use gestures and actions provide a model for the child’s imitation instead of verbal instruction
  • Create an atmosphere of gratitude around the children
  • Surrounded by happy, honest, and unaffected love people
  • Provide a ” healthy” spiritual environment with positive thoughts, attitudes, and imaginations

The Reggio Emilia approach

“This teaching strategy is one of the more popular contemporary early childhood teaching approaches shaped by Loris Malaguzzi, an Italian psychologist and Educator, that we reflect on and integrate into our practice,” says Stephanie Simopoulos, Centre Director at Petit ELJ Kew.

According to this approach, children have many ways of communicating (100 languages) and classrooms that support this approach are known for their natural and found materials.


  • Children can construct their learning
  • Children learn their place in the world through interactions
  • The teacher acts as both a mentor and guide
  • Document your child’s thoughts
  • Kids have many languages               
  • Parents are partners in education
  • The classroom as an inspirational environment


  • Children are active collaborators in their education
  • Foster the connections in the classroom by working in small groups
  • Observe children, listen to their questions and stories and find their interests. You can use this knowledge to provide them with opportunities to explore their interests further
  • Encourage children to use many materials for discovery, communication
  • Invite parents to play an active role in their child’s learning experiences
  • Classrooms, common spaces, and the outside community are carefully integrated to encourage real-life interactions

Each approach has distinct principles. But despite their differences, they all help teach young children efficiently. Preschools across the world use these approaches successfully.

The common thing in these approaches is children need to be provided with environments to play, explore and learn by themself. They are not lacking creativity, they just need a bit of guideline and safe environments to fully develop.

As a parent, an educator, or an administrator, you can learn and apply the above strategies. These will help to promote not only language & literacy but also perception, cognition, and other skills for your children, students.

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