The Reggio Approach

What is Reggio Emilia? by Rose Garrett

A growing form of early childhood education, called the Reggio Emilia approach, is turning heads with its unique take on teaching –one which makes parents, teachers, and children equal shareholders in the learning initiative.

Reggio Emilia is an approach to education from a city in Italy in of the same name, which focuses on the educational importance of community and free inquiry as its primary values. Since its development in the 1940's, the Reggio approach has spread into a worldwide network of preschools and kindergartens, with designs for elementary classes in the works.

Although the Reggio approach shares some of the values of the better-known Waldorf and Montessori schools, it's not a philosophy with a set system of beliefs. Rather, it's an approach based around certain fundamental values about how children learn. “These values are interpreted in different schools, different contexts, and different ways,” says Susan Lyon, Executive Director of The Innovative Teacher Project, which aims to develop and promote Reggio inspired education.

Just what are these core values? Here's an introduction:

The child as an active participant in learning. The Reggio approach “sees a child as a very competent protagonist and initiator, who interacts with their environment,” says Lyon. Andra Young, head teacher of a Reggio inspired school in San Francisco's Presidio State Park, says that students are allowed to follow their own interests, but that “it's not willy-nilly.” For example, she says, students in her classroom were showing an interest in building, so she brought wood stumps and building materials into the classroom. While exploring how to hammer nails, the children were given the opportunity to reinforce math skills, problem-solving, and emerging literacy –all in relationship to their hands-on project.

The significance of environment. “The environment of the school is seen as the third educator,”after the teacher and the parent, says Lyon. Most Reggio classrooms include a studio, or “atelier,” which is filled with materials such as clay, paint, and writing implements. Children use these materials to represent concepts that they are learning in a hands-on way.

The teacher, parent, and child as collaborators in the process of learning. “Normally,” says Lyon, “parents are not seen as part of the educational process in an authentic way.” But the Reggio approach views the parent as an essential resource for their child's learning. To foster community, Reggio schools host a variety of events throughout each school year, including conferences and special lectures for parents. “For example, a teacher observed that a lot of parents were complaining that their children weren't sleeping well,” Lyon says. The school responded by bringing someone in to speak to parents about the issue.

Making learning visible. “The teacher observes and documents the daily life of the school to make learning visible,” says Lyon. In Reggio inspired classrooms, teachers use a variety of documentation methods, such as cameras, tape recorders, and journals, to track children's thoughts and ideas as they play together or work with materials. For example, says Young, each child has a portfolio binder, including photographs of their projects, quotes from the child, artwork, and writing samples. “It's kind of like a narrative of what the child learns at school,” says Young, noting that the children take great pride and satisfaction in their portfolios.

Although adapting the values of the Reggio Emilia approach can be challenging for teachers, Young says it's worth it. “Validating the children's work and supporting the child to go deeper into their perception of the world is the most important part of the process.” Parents and teachers will agree: it's never too soon to start giving your child a nose for knowledge and the tools to investigate the world.

Principles of the Reggio Approach

The early childhood educational system of the municipality of Reggio Emilia, Italy, provides the inspiration and principles upon which the Center is built.

The Image of the Child - Children are viewed as competent, curious, full of knowledge, potential, and interested in connecting to the world around them.

Teachers as Partners - Teachers are viewed as facilitators of children’s learning experiences. As partners, they listen, document, challenge, and organize children’s learning in a collaborative relationship with other colleagues.

An Emergent Learning Process - Ideas are shared, work is exchanged and opportunities are created to extend and build upon theories that are uncovered. In this way of working, projects may occur which last days or months.

The Role of Parents - Parents are an essential component of the school. They are an active part of their children’s learning experiences and help to ensure the welfare of all the children in the school.

The Role of the Environment - Through the conscious use of space, color, light, displays of children’s work, and attention to nature and detail, the environment serves as another teacher.

Many Languages - Children act on a variety of materials: clay, wire, drawing media, paper, and so on. They learn the ABC’s of each material which they use to express their ideas, theories and feelings about the world in which they live.

The Three Subjects of Education - Children, parents and teachers have rights; the right to safety, care and welfare, the right to be involved and the right to grow professionally.

Collaboration and Interaction - Children, parent and teacher collaboration and interaction at all levels makes everything possible.

Documentation - The learning process between children and teachers is captured, made visible and then shared in order to support wondering, researching and learning among teachers and children.

Time - Time is influenced by the interests and activities that the children bring to life within the school. This in turn impacts schedules, groupings and routines.