The Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education has been building a slow, but important following over the last few decades, which is no surprise as this method does a great job of honoring children, thus pleasing parents and innovative educators alike. Reggio embraces the ideal that children are individuals who must be allowed to have some control over the direction of their learning. Although the Reggio approach shares some features and values of Waldorf, Montessori and democratic education methods, it's not quite the same because Reggio doesn't have a set philosophy or belief system in place. This system is seen as ever-changing, rather than static or formal. The Reggio approach is becoming increasingly popular among preschools and kindergartens but rumors of increasing Reggio elementary classes are also in the works. Keep reading to learn more about the growing Reggio movement.
History of Reggio Emilia
The Reggio Emilia approach to learning was developed by Loris Malaguzzi in a northern Italy city of the same name (Reggio Emilia). This first Reggio Emilia school was co-created by parents in the community and was founded on the principles of community, responsibility, and respect through a supportive and enriching environment. Currently, schools integrating a Reggio approach still follow these same basic principles. At the core, the Reggio Emilia method offers young people more power than most other educational methods. Reggio advocates believe that children are powerful people, just like adults, born with the desire and ability to construct their own knowledge base as they grow. Respect is key as Reggio educators believe children have the right to interact, communicate, make decisions, follow their own path and experience interest-led learning.
Reggio Emilia is extremely focused on the connecting relationships between children, teachers, parents, school and home. This education method attempts to create an environment in which everyone interacts and works together. An exchange of ideas between parents, teachers and children is essential to this method and parents tend to be active in Reggio schools, attending meetings, volunteering and more. This high level of connecting everyone involved is based on Loris’s vision of an, “Education based on relationships.”
How Reggio Emilia Students Learn
Reggio students are allowed to follow their own interests, rather than a pre-set curriculum, however this is not, according to Reggio advocates, “willy-nilly” learning. There’s a high amount of adult involvement in order to support and help direct students. Overall, though Reggio implies that children must have control of their learning. Some key learning methods for Reggio students include the following:
- Children learn through hands on experiences using all of their senses.
- Students participate in project based learning.
- Children are encouraged to foster relationships with other children for both play and learning.
- Students are presented with multiple forms of concepts. For example, a concept such as the ocean may be represented in print, art, construction, drama, music, puppetry and shadow play to add to students’ understanding of multiple experiences.
- Reggio instructors help youth document and display their projects which the Reggio method sees as necessary for children in order to allow them to express, revisit, and construct and reconstruct their feelings, ideas and understandings.
- Adults encourage Reggio learning by providing the proper supports. For example, in a class where kids are interested in woodworking, a teacher may introduce wood, hammers, nails and so fourth while using the experience to help reinforce “conventional” topics like math skills, problem-solving, and literacy.
The Reggio Emilia Environment
Students must feel safe and free and be given ample opportunities to express themselves, thus Reggio proponents note that a specific and useful environment is key. In fact, a key Reggio phrase is, “The environment as the third teacher.” Often, the aesthetic beauty within a Reggio school is seen as respecting the child and their learning environment and an atmosphere of playfulness is common. The Reggio approach focuses on environments that, much like Waldorf, resemble everyday living areas. There’s usually a central area where kids may gather to actively interact, a kitchen and various places to rest and relax. Almost all Reggio classrooms include a significant art studio, or “atelier,” which is packed with hands on art materials such as clay, paints and writing implements along with creative materials like pebbles, dried orange peel, driftwood, tangles of wire and tin cans. Not only can children use these materials to represent concepts that they are learning, but this supports an important integration of graphic arts as tools for cognitive, linguistic, and social development – which is consistent with Dr. Howard Gardner’s notion of schooling for multiple intelligences.
The Reggio Emilia Teacher Role
Teachers play an important, yet complex role within the Reggio approach. Teachers often work in partnership with at least one other teacher, collaborating, sharing information and mentoring each other and their peers. Teachers must be willing to learn alongside students and act as a touchstone for various child interests. Some key roles of Reggio teachers include the following:
- Teachers document and record what children are doing, helping them trace and revisit their personal learning path. This approach is called, “Making learning visible,” and may include a variety of documentation methods, such as cameras, tape recorders, journals and portfolios.
- Teachers must carefully listen and observe children’s work and the growth of the classroom community.
- Teachers’ professional development is very integrated into this method, including time spent planning, preparing materials, attending community management meetings and more.
Locating a Reggio Emilia School
Reggio Emilia schools are private, not public, therefore tuition based. Sadly, it’s extremely hard to locate a Reggio school. According to Private School Review, you won’t find labeled “Reggio” schools but you can find Reggio Emilia inspired schools, plus they state that there are only about 50 Reggio Emilia inspired schools in the United States. Google searches for, “Locate Reggio Emilia schools” yield few useful results. In fact, the only useful looking search system out there, belonging to North American Reggio Emilia Alliance, doesn’t even work. It’s frustrating. However, the Reggio Emilia Australia Information Exchange offers some useful information about this issue plus advice if you’re looking for a Reggio school, “REAIE encourages parents to look first at local possibilities. You may find that there is a school near to you that does not profess to deliver a Reggio Emilia inspired program but in fact reflects many of the principles advocated by Reggio Emilia educators. You may also find that a centre/school near you provides a high quality education to children and you may be able to encourage the teachers there to begin to explore or make connections to the Reggio Emilia understanding of education. On the down side, there are schools that use ‘Reggio Emilia’ as a brand or marketing tool without actually expressing the philosophy in their teaching and learning.” Good advice! You may also have luck with a more direct Google search, such as, “[your city here] Reggio Emilia Schools.” You also might want to try some parenting forums, such as this mama did.
Lead image via North American Reggio Emilia Alliance