When it comes to choosing a preschool curriculum, the styles and options for teaching methods are endless. Reggio Emilia and Bank Street are two popular child-centered approaches to preschool education, but each has its own unique elements that can be employed to suit children’s individual needs. Many wonder what the difference is between Reggio Emilia vs Bank Street so we’ll take a look at each here.

The Reggio Emilia approach

This educational philosophy was developed in the 1940s by psychologist Loris Malaguzzi and parents in and around Reggio Emilia, Italy. A pioneering and inspiring approach to early childhood education, it involves self-guided, experiential learning and relationship-driven environments in which children’s thoughts and questions are valued.

Reggio Emilia is based on the principles of respect, responsibility, and community through exploration and discovery. Its core tenets include the belief that children possess “a hundred languages” through which they can express their thoughts, feelings, and ideas. It’s based on the following set of principles:

  • Children are strong, capable, and resilient; gifted with wonder and knowledge.
  • Children possess an innate curiosity and boundless potential–this deep curiosity compels them to understand the world and their place in it.
  • Children should have control over the direction of their learning.
  • Children learn through the experiences of touch, movement, observation, and listening.
  • Children must be allowed to explore their relationships with peers and material items in the world.
  • There are numerous ways and opportunities for children to express themselves.

The Hundred Languages of Children


The Reggio Emilia approach highlights hands-on discovery and allows the child to use all of his or her senses to learn. Drawing, painting, sculpting, dance, movement, music, and play are all considered ways to learn and develop skills that can be used later in life. Children show their understanding and express their ideas and creativity in many different ways. Each one of these “Hundred Languages” is respected and cultivated in Reggio Emilia classrooms.

The environment as teacher

The Reggio Emilia approach also recognizes that a child’s environment has the potential to inspire. As a project-based curriculum, lessons are based on the interest of the students. For example, if children find a flower outside and ask questions about how it grows, instead of answering the questions, the teacher encourages the group to find out together.

Through hands-on experiences such as planting, nurturing, and harvesting a garden, they learn about how plants grow, collaboration and working toward a common goal. These types of activities also teach important pre-math and pre-reading concepts.

Open spaces, natural light, order, and beauty are vital to the classroom environment.  This space encourages communication, collaboration, and exploration. Children are provided with authentic materials and tools (not toy versions) and are encouraged to work together as equal participants in activities and play.

Documenting children’s thoughts and activities

Reggio-Emilia-vs-Bank-Street-writingTeachers are considered mentors and guides. A teacher’s role is to observe, listen to children’s inquiries and observations, and give them opportunities to delve further into their interests. Teachers take plenty of photos and videos, save artwork, and write down children’s questions, comments, and observations. This allows both children and teachers to review visual representations of what they’ve done and learned during the year.

Bank Street

An American educator, Lucy Sprague Mitchell founded Bank Street in New York City in 1916. She saw children as unique and complex human beings with an ardent desire to learn. Influenced by the ideas of educational theorist John Dewey, Bank Street classrooms are tailored to the children’s age and stage of development; and are designed to nurture their desire for knowledge and create a lifetime love of learning.

A focus on the whole child

Like Reggio Emilia, Bank Street is a child-centered philosophy that offers a diverse curriculum and espouses the idea that children are active learners, explorers, experimenters, and artists. The classroom is an environment in which each child is known and respected as an individual. The importance of authentic everyday materials in the classroom and the view that teachers are facilitators of learning are also similar to the Reggio Emilia Approach.

Bank Street recognizes that children’s emotional lives are intertwined with their learning, interests, and motivation. The experience-based curriculum encourages children to be active explorers and creative thinkers and to venture out and inquire about the world around them for optimal cognitive, social, and emotional development.

The importance of community in Reggio Emilia and Bank Street

Reggio Emilia-inspired schools use an adaptation of the original approach that’s tailored to the specific needs of their communities. Both educational philosophies stress the value of collaboration and working toward common goals while helping children build the emotional, social, and cognitive skills necessary for success. In particular, Bank Street nurtures an appreciation of and empathy for people of different cultures.

Bottom line: Both Reggio Emilia and Bank Street espouse the philosophy that children learn through experience, exploration, and experimentation; and that the teachers are there to encourage and facilitate learning to help children thrive and reach their full potential. The specific ways in which they achieve these goals may differ, but both approaches nurture a lifelong love of learning that benefits children, families, and their communities.

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