How Children Learn - Educational Philosophies

Updated: Jul 9, 2020

How Children Learn - Educational Philosophies

This week I wanted to look at the abundance of educational philosophies out there available to us that we can learn so much from. I'm really excited about this topic because I believe that there is no one right way for a whole and nourishing education. But I believe that a multitude of ways can be used to create the best type of education to suit a child. Something bespoke to explore the many different avenues and curiosities. So let's go and explore some of these different philosophies and learn about how they came about and how they support children in their learning. So let's open to door and find out more.

Reggio Emmelia


Forest School

Waldorf/ Steiner


Classical Education

Charlotte Mason

Self - Directed education

Democratic Education

Reggio Emmelia

Self - Directed and Project based

The Reggio Emmelia approach was founded by Loris Magaluzzi after the second world war.

There is not a step by step program to discuss the Reggio approach. It is much more representational of a philosophy which encircles the whole nature of children, learning and teaching.

It is something that must be experienced each day, and over time to truly understand it.

" The more time you spend with children, the more you notice how inquisitive they are about the world and how keen their thinking is even about the most subtle things, things which escape materiality, easy recognition, definite forms, and the laws of in variance, things you can touch but can't touch, that brush against the real and imaginary, that have something of the mysterious about them and offer wide margins of interpretation." Magaluzzi

The child in Reggio Emmelia Approach is viewed as highly motivated to learn and grow, energetic and strong.

Adults in Reggio take the nurturing seriously and encourage curiosity and imagination.

They give children what is known as " wait time" Where children are given time to think about answers to a questions or process/projects they may be involved in. Which gives them the time and confidence to make their own connections in their world.

The child needs time to be able to construct this.

In Reggio the adults look at the children's needs, the space and the environment to be able to create a unique space that honours the child with all furniture the correct size for the child to have access to. They use architects to create simple and effective spaces as each building for Reggio may be different.

The process of documentation is very important and it is something the teachers and children work on together. The process is more important that the results.

They encourage the children to ask questions and aim to build strong relationships with the family and community.

Teachers meet often for gatherings to discuss the spaces and how to decorate the environment to make it pleasing and suitable to the children.

Many Reggio spaces may have opened space rooms so children are able to move from room to room in a fluid way to explore. The rooms and spaces tend to be very pleasing to the eye and not cluttered.

The quality of the environment is important and they make it pleasing and accessible to the child.

A manifesto of the Reggio Emilia Approach is the poem written by Loris Malaguzzi, Instead The Hundred is There, a poem voicing the idea of child at the centre of this educational approach – a child equipped with 100 languages.


Montessori is a method of education that is based on self-directed activity, hands-on learning and collaborative play. In Montessori classrooms children make creative choices in their learning, while the classroom and the highly trained teacher offer age-appropriate activities to guide the process. Children work in groups and individually to discover and explore knowledge of the world and to develop their maximum potential.

Every material in a Montessori classroom supports an aspect of child development, creating a match between the child’s natural interests and the available activities. Children can learn through their own experience and at their own pace. They can respond at any moment to the natural curiosities that exist in all humans and build a solid foundation for life-long learning.

The fundamental principles of Montessori are:

The Prepared Environment

Hand's on learning



Freedom of choice


Dr. Maria Montessori (1870-1952) was an Italian physician and anthropologist who devoted her life to understanding how children develop socially, intellectually, physically, and spiritually. By carefully observing children all over the world, she discovered universal patterns of development which are found in all children regardless of their culture or the era in which they live.

Dr. Maria Montessori was one of the first women to be granted a diploma as a physician in Italy. Following her interest in human development, she assisted at a clinic for children with mental illnesses. She later directed the Orthophrenic School in Rome for children with physical, mental and emotional challenges. During this time Dr. Montessori lectured throughout Europe concerning the needs of children and their value to the future of our societies. She stressed the need to change our attitudes about children and their treatment.

In 1907, Dr. Montessori was given the responsibility of caring for a group of children in the Rome’s San Lorenzo slum district. She began to see the importance of a positive, nurturing environment that changes with the developmental needs of the child. As she observed the children and their response to the environment, she saw them demonstrate capabilities and interests that exceeded her expectations. The set of materials used in the "Montessori" environment were designed over a period of many years by Dr. Maria Montessori and her associates, creating a concrete, physical representation of the concepts and skills that children are naturally motivated to learn in their normal course of development.

"The children themselves found a sentence that expressed this inner need. “Help me to do it by myself!” How eloquent is this paradoxical request! …It is in this that our conception differs both from that of the world in which the adult does everything for the child and from that of a passive environment in which the adult abandons the child to himself” - The Secret of Childhood, p. 213

In her own words:

"My vision of the future is no longer of people taking exams and proceeding on that certification... but of individuals passing from one stage of independence to a higher, by means of their own activity, through their own effort of will, which constitutes the inner evolution of the individual." - Introduction, From Childhood to Adolescence, Clio

Forest School

In Sweden, the Forest School approach that we know today, has existed since the 1950s, when it was introduced by Goesta Frohm who created the idea of 'Skogsmulle'. Frohm felt that younger children were becoming more and more distance from nature.

I first learned about the Forest Schools in Scandinavia when I read the book " There's no such thing as bad weather." By Linda Akeson Mc Gurk

She says in her book: "Scandinavia's nature- centric culture, embodied in the term friluftsliv (which loosely translates to " open air life" ) It's not just the sum of all outdoor activities people take part in, it's a way of life to this day considered key to raising healthy, well rounded and eco conscious children."

Forest Schools in Britain have been popping up everywhere I have noticed since 2016. I'm sure around different parts of the UK there have been more but I only saw them in my local area appear from 2016.

I love the ethos of what they offer to children. Ample time to play in the mud and puddles, climbing trees, cooking around the campfire. Sleeping in hammocks, stories and marshmallows around the fire circle. Building, creating with nature and playing with the best of natures gifts, mud, water, sticks and stones!

At the forest School my son goes to it is on a farm in a woodland on the farmland.

They take a lovely leisurely walk up to the woodland saying hello to all the animals, the horses, goats, cows and pigs. They get to the woodland and gather around the campfire for morning and have stories and a chat. They have lots of inviting materials around painting, or a snuggling in a cubby den area with books. They gather together for snack time. They may do activities such as building and construction, or playing in the mud kitchen, watching the birds and nature or digging for bugs. They are never short of anything to do in the woods and have the best time.

There is a wonderful satisfaction when he arrives from the woodland covered in mud with rosy cheeks having had a wonderful day of playing with friends, making up games, playing, painting, exploring, cooking. He always talks about it with fond memories.

We also go to another forest school once a month now with a home education group and there is plenty of time for the children to free play but there's also an option for them to learn a skill, there's been leather craft, making a butter knife, building habitats for animals in the woods and so on.

Children are so much calmer outside, but they are wild too! They need to be able to fully express themselves through sound and body movements.

Forest Schools and outdoor play spaces which allow children to roam free without people watching their every move are really important for the children's development, social skills, risk awareness and higher thinking.

Forest Schools are built on the idea of spending the whole time outside in the approach to outdoor learning. Free play and spending time in all weathers gives the children plenty of opportunity to strengthen their immune system. They become so resilient as a result and often have no concept of time because they are full flow state.

The forest school approach is built on a child - led approach and the opportunity to build confidence in the outdoor environment.

What a gift to have various trees around and lots of plants to learn about and become accustomed to whilst spending time full engaged in real play, and time to be a child.

It is very hands on and the children will have to opportunity to move the environment around and make it their own as well as use tools and learn to use fire safely.

The forest school my Son attends in Shropshire has a yurt where they have toys and puzzles magnifying glasses, books etc and other resources they can access independently.

Children are seen as individuals who are curious in their exploration and discovery and have the time to learn through their own interests.

They are able to spend time building friendships through playing their own games and making their own rules and they develop positive friendships and support in this environment.

Children become resilient to the weather, have great health and immune systems as a result and are able to risk assess their own abilities to keep themselves safe.

Children initiate their own development and play through their own interests and urges.

Waldorf/ Steiner

Waldorf education, also known as Steiner education, is based on the educational philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Anthroposophy. Its pedagogy strives to develop pupils' intellectual, artistic, and practical skills in an integrated and holistic manner through the arts.

The first Waldorf School opened in 1919 in Stuttgart, Germany. A century later, it has become the largest independent school movement in the world.

Waldorf Education works through Rhythms, following the Rhythms of the Seasons and children learn through imitation. They celebrate festivals and have beautiful gatherings and make beautiful nature tables a focus.

A lot love in the classrooms which are made to feel like home with their beautiful colours, wooden furniture and lamps.

Focussed on Head, Heart and Hands and teaching the whole child from whole to part.

The children's kindergarten is simple and beautiful and creating a loving home from home and children have a predictable rhythm of stories spoken orally and puppetry, free imaginative play with natural materials, taking part in real work like baking, gardening, woodwork etc

Transitions through the day and met through songs and rhymes and plenty of movement and encouragement of also playing outside. The teacher will often times be doing their own craft such as knitting and the children can play in their own little world and watch real crafts and hand skills and they also learn finger knitting and woodwork. They will have time to imaginative play, use clay and beeswax and paints and have the opportunity to look after the garden and cook and bake.

What is very prominent in Waldorf education is the delayed academics until 7 years old. I say delayed but delayed for British standards. But it falls in line with the child's development being nearer to 7.

Steiner believed that the body has 7 year cycles and that the body under 7 needs it's energy to be in use for the growth of the child. So the early years are focused on lot's of imaginative play, crafts and movement.

All of the subjects in the grades are taught artistically through painting, form drawing, physical movement, etc to touch the soul of the child. This really fits in with how children learn through visual, audio, singing, rhyme, stories, kinesthetic, written and artistically to touch all the senses and connect them to the beautiful process. By age 7 the children are ready for this time of academic learning.

Reading and writing are taught through stories, movement, song, rhyme and art and much slower way that give the children plenty of time to digest the information.

Typically children start in Waldorf later than most mainstream schools however find that the children have a much wider vocabulary and understanding of language as they have had more stories be a part of their life before academics are introduced. They understand language and rhyme more so than a child who is brought to learn reading when they have not.

Technology is discouraged especially in the early years as is it believed to interfere with children's play, as they are spending time passively consuming where the child could be moving, or playing etc

The teachers are encouraged to spend time focusing on their personal growth work so that they are always becoming their best selves and are able to be in tune with the children and their needs. Evolving and growing to the needs of the children.

Their is an emphasis on movement, outdoor play is greatly encouraged and Waldorf schools usually have wonderful natural play areas for children to explore in.

During classes children will not sit in chairs all day and they will play movement games.

I really love the Waldorf educational philosophy because it takes into account the child's development in every way and really honours this process.


Unschooling is a form of home education, which is the education of children at home rather than in a school. Home education is often considered synonymous with homeschooling.

Unschooling contrasts with other forms of home education in that the student's education is not directed by a teacher and curriculum.

Unschooling is an informal learning that advocates learner-chosen activities as a primary means for learning. Unschooling encourages exploration of activities initiated by the children themselves, believing that the more personal learning is, the more meaningful, well-understood and therefore useful it is to the child.

Classical Education

The "classical education movement" is a form of education that emphasizes history, literature and language studies within a modern school framework. The term "classical education" has been used in Western culture for several centuries, with each era modifying the definition and adding its own selection of topics.

A classical education is more than simply a pattern of learning, though. Classical education is language-focused; learning is accomplished through words, written and spoken, rather than through images (pictures, videos, and television).

Home education/home schooling

These phrases seem to be used interchangeably in the home ed community. I personally see home schooling as a phrase that means school at home. This is not the case for us as a family personally. We do not re create school at home so I prefer the phrase Home Education, although some of our education is spent at home, we also spend a lot of time outside in Nature, out in the community and at groups meeting other families socially.

Some families use the terms home schooling and do re create school to some degree. Everyone uses the phrase and it means something different to them as each families experience is different, some use curriculum and some don't.