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How to Move from Being 'Inspired By' to 'Being Inspiring'

Contemporary approaches to learning are often quoted by early childhood educators as being inspirational; the real 'magic' is often in their simplicity.

Written by: Joanne Harris - Educational Advisor  

Reggio Emilia and Montessori's approaches to learning are often quoted by early childhood teachers and educators as their source of inspiration and aspiration.  

A large part of the ‘magic’ of these curricula is the simplicity of combining several elements to create quality learning spaces and places, combined with practices that support the empowerment of children as active and capable learners. The essence of these philosophies is that they are child-centred, and community-oriented and there is a large emphasis on learning by engaging with the whole environment. Careful observation and collaboration between children and teachers are also integral.

When it comes to planned spaces there must be room for both intentional and planned activities and experiences in equal balance, even with a project-based learning style that is driven largely by children’s interests. The benefit of having detailed plans is that educators can witness the genuine and unguarded responses of children to the experience as they see it to use as an indicator of how they have interpreted their perceived needs and supported children to determine their learning.     














Putting Inspiration into Practice

Both philosophies are deeply rooted in creating environments in which children are encouraged to develop their independence through hands-on play which provides stimulation and challenge through deep exploration with many opportunities to examine and re-examine their thinking and learning. Children utilise hands-on Montessori materials through repetition that assist them in developing their proficiency and practical life skills whilst mastering their independent learning with the teacher acting as a guide.

Real-life resources are essential for learning practical skills that can be applied to everyday learning. For children to explore cultures of the world, a world globe paired with a fiction book pack can deepen their experience and make stronger connections to the text.                

Investigating bugs using Reggio Emilia-inspired activities could include setting up a timber sand play tray filled with bark pieces and a mini beast set. Adding Insect X rays and picture cards to a light panel alongside the tray invites children to continue their exploration and adds a layer of interest to the learning in which they could create and test their hypotheses.  Scientific implements such as magnifiers, bug viewers and items to record findings like chalkboards and clipboards support children to see themselves as scientists and explorers. To create a more permanent piece of learning documentation, attach a roll of easel paper nearby for instant opportunities to draw, scribe, or write down the flow of ideas!       

Making Environments Engaging

Encouraging meaningful learning with children can be stimulated by building provocations for children, giving them an open-ended starting point of what they could go on to create. Sticking printed images of famous landmarks from around the world on a  framing a building site that has assorted building materials such as Connetix Pastel Magnetic Tiles, Project Blocks, or hand-cut Magic Wood Tree Blocks allow children to appreciate their form and structure as they create their own masterpieces. Mixing resources gives children permission to explore their environment with a sense of curiosity and to try new things with confidence. 


Focus on Relationships & Learning

Just as children and educators deepen their connections through relationships and shared experiences in which they develop trust and a warm rapport, creating play spaces in a carefully constructed learning environment heightens their sense of belonging to communities outside of their family life.

One Reggio Emilia Teacher reflecting upon the teaching style of Reggio Emilia philosophy with children describes the joy of the ongoing nature of the learning by stating: ‘We start an experience, we talk about it, and we can always revisit, build on it. It is like you are building on the experiences now, instead of just having an experience, and then it is over and you never talk about it again..”

When educators embrace a flexible approach to experiences, they also provide and encourage the flexible use and access to resources and equipment. This responds to children’s agency and interest in both indoor and outdoor spaces. An arts/creative area with an easel is not considered an indoor activity, nor is the materials that are used to create art.

Children may use natural resources in weaving or threading activities such as crown making or leaf pressing. Light, shadow and colour can all be discovered during outdoor play using nature’s elements inside a cotton tent with a felt play mat with accessories including Papoose animals, foods, and people.


Viewing the importance of indoor and outdoor play being more equal in value in their ability to meet all children’s developmental needs is integral to a quality contemporary program. Learning becomes more seamless with endless opportunities for learning to take place and meet the needs of more learners without limits or conditions. This organic, biophilic approach is sensitive to the lore of nature and culture, affording children the chance to see how we are all connected.

Fostering a sense of Belonging and Community 

Montessori is a scientifically based education approach that emphasises independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a child's natural psychological, physical, and social development. Maria Montessori believed that if education followed the natural development of the child, then society would gradually move to a higher level of cooperation, peace, and harmony.

Reggio Emilia educators have several important roles including co-constructor as they provide guidance for children to choose their focus. As documenters, they listen to and record what children say and do.  As researchers and advocates, they share their knowledge and expertise with the children and speak up for children as needed.

Activities and resources that encourage children to explore, experiment, and collaborate their thinking are integral to their learning. When educators are willing to provide this foundation for learning, there are fewer limits applied, and more freedom to think and make connections are possible.


The same is true for a learning environment - being that children are spending many hours per week in services, there has been a positive trend to maximise the feeling of multi-purposes to spaces and the level of engagement children can engage in there.

For more information about creating quality contemporary learning spaces in your service, please visit




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