There are numerous approaches to early childhood education. Two perspectives, developed by Friedrich Froebel and Maria Montessori, have similarities as well as many differences. Both approaches are based on the idea that early childhood learning is holistic and intertwined with the developmental progression of the child. They are both constructivist, holding that children learn through constructing meaning with their world. Where these perspectives diverge is in how each child constructs knowledge, the role of the teacher and how imagination plays into development.

Froebel Classroom Materials

Froebel is best known for his “gifts” and “occupations” to guide and structure play. Gifts were wooden boxes, cubes, cylinders, triangles and rectangles, as well as knitted balls and various geometric shapes. Children used the gifts for pattern making and block play, building their imaginations. The occupations involved weaving, clay molding and paper folding to increase fine motor skills and focus attention.

Montessori Materials

Montessori utilizes "didactic apparatus," specific materials that have specific purposes. The materials include practical life materials such as brooms, dish sets, wooden dressing frames and cleaning materials. Sensory materials include sandpaper numbers and letters, graduated wooden cylinders with knobs in varying heights and diameter, and auditory-related materials such as bells. Children, following a sequencing use of didactic apparatus, learn self-mastery and confidence.

Froebel Teacher’s Role

Both approaches see the teacher’s role as one of facilitation. Under the Froebel form of learning, the teacher observes and gently guides the child, but does not interfere with the creative process the child is engaged in. Teachers see their role as cultivating a child’s development and relate much of a child’s learning to three forms of knowledge: forms of life (gardening and animal care), forms of mathematics through play with the “gifts,” and forms of beauty through art, music and movement. Teachers guide whole-group instruction more than their counterparts in Montessori.

Montessori Teacher's Role

Montessori teachers are called “directresses.” Teachers introduce children to the materials, and they arrange an open floor plan and the materials for individual use. For example, there are many small globes for individual use rather than one large globe for whole-class instruction. Whole-group instruction is rare. Children self-correct themselves when they make mistakes, or they seek peer help. The fundamental idea is that the child becomes responsible, self-mastering and independent. Learning is seen as purposeful yet constructed through each child’s pace and independence.