Reggio Emilia is a cosmopolitan city of 130,000 people in the Emilia Romagna region of Northern Italy. Over the past 50 years, their school system has spawned an innovative method of preschool education that has become known as the Reggio Emilia approach. (Technically, the way only sparkling wine from the Champagne region is officially champagne, so only schools in the Italian city can be Reggio Emilia schools. The rest use the Reggio approach.)
This approach has been widely recognized, its innovative programs acknowledged by educators, psychologists, and researchers from all over the world as an exceptional example of the highest quality early education. The US began recognizing and adopting the merits of this approach to early childhood education, as described in a 1991 Newsweek article.
The cornerstone of the Reggio philosophy is an image of the child as competent, strong, inventive and full of potential—a person with rights instead of needs. Reggio Emilia has created a culture of dialogue and research and has promoted the pleasure of inquiry among children and adults.
Values of the Reggio Emilia Approach*
The approach, based on research and analysis of actual practice, has led Reggio Emilia educators to formulate new theoretical interpretations, hypotheses and ideas about teaching and learning. The following are core elements in the Reggio approach, fostering respect for children and adults:
The child as protagonist, collaborator, communicator. Reggio Emilia schools believe that children are strong, powerful, and competent. Children are not passive receptors of teacher-generated knowledge but are able to construct knowledge based on their experiences and interactions with others. An emphasis is placed on seeing the children as unique individuals with rights rather than simply needs. Children are protagonists with the right to collaborate and communicate with others. Children are developing intellectually through the use of symbolic representations, including words, movement, drawing, painting, building, sculpture, shadow play, collage, dramatic play, and music. These multiple forms of representation have come to be known as the "hundred languages of children," after Malaguzzi's poem, "the child has a hundred languages, and a hundred hundred hundred more."
The teacher as partner, nurturer, guide, and researcher. As stressed by the founder of the Reggio approach, Loris Malaguzzi, teachers must have a positive image of children and their vast capabilities. Teachers do not view themselves as leaders who are in front of the children, or as following behind the children. Rather, they are with the children, exploring, discovering, and learning together. Teachers are also researchers who must constantly readjust their image of children and learning. As researchers into children's skills and abilities, teachers create learning environments that encourage both reflection and examination.
Ongoing professional development. The work and relationships of teachers to children and parents is essential. Reggio schools invest in their teachers. Ongoing professional development is valued through initiatives by and for teachers. Professional development is integrated into their work week, and supplemented with periodic special programs.
Collegiality. Teachers work in pairs and maintain strong collegial relationships. They engage in ongoing discussions about their work—and the work of the children. These exchanges provide the ongoing learning and theoretical enrichment critical to the Reggio experience.
Environment as the “third teacher.” The Reggio approach considers the school environment a "third teacher." Schools attend to the look and feel of the classroom, aiming to create a pleasant atmosphere conducive to learning. The environment is seen as a significant element of the education. It is a living, changing system. This focus represents the value placed on organization, thoughtfulness, provocation, communication, and interaction.
The Learning Laboratory. A primary innovation of the Reggio approach is the “atelier,” a school laboratory and studio. It is a place for experimentation in visual languages, separate or combined with verbal ones. A lab may be equipped with clay, paint, pens, paper, beads, shells, and other natural materials for use by the children in projects with the purpose of expressing the “hundred languages of children.”
Parent as Partner. The exchange of ideas between parents and teachers is essential. The school’s management promotes interaction and communication among educators, children, parents, and the community.
Documentation. In Reggio, the role of the teacher as an observer is extended to documenter and researcher. Attention is paid to the presentation—the visible trace—of children and teachers' thinking as they engage in their studies. Documentation with notes, pictures, charts, or other means provides a record of the learning and demonstrates connections between events. It also allows the educators to review past experiences and plan future ones. It also teaches children that their work is valued. Parents are able to be more aware of their children's experiences. Study, research and experimentation provide a creative and constructive learning environment for children.
*Adapted from The Innovative Teacher Project, and Research into Practice: Reggio Emilia. For more information, Examining the Reggio Emilia Approach to Early Childhood Education in the Early Childhood Education Journal.