The Reggio Emilia Approach to Early Childhood Education

Philosophy: At the end of World War II a town in Northern Italy called Reggio Emilia decided to bring hope to their families. Out of the ruins they constructed quality preschools for their children. In present times, Reggio Emilia has been broadly recognized for having some of the best preschools in the world (Newsweek, 1991). The Reggio Emilia approach to education is committed to the creation of a learning environment that will enhance and facilitate children’s construction of their own powers of thinking through the combination of all the expressive, communicative and cognitive languages. The Reggio experience can be viewed as a resource and inspiration to help educators, parents, and children as they work together to further develop their own educational programs.

Key aspects of the Reggio Emilia approach are based upon the following principles:

Emergent Curriculum: An emergent curriculum is one that builds upon children’s and teacher’s ideas. Topics for study are captured from the children’s conversations, through community or family events, as well as the emerging interests of the children. Teachers work together with the children to formulate hypotheses about the possible directions of a project and the materials needed. Parents and community members are encouraged to be a part of this process. 

Project Work: Projects, also emergent, are in-depth studies of concepts, ideas, and interests that arise within the group. Considered as a continued exploration, projects may last one week or could continue throughout the school year. Throughout a project, teachers and children make decisions about the direction of study, the ways in which the group will research the topic, the representational medium that will demonstrate and showcase the topic and the selection of materials needed to represent the work. 

Representational Development: Consistent with Howard Gardner’s notion of schooling for multiple intelligences, the Reggio Emilia approach calls for the integration of the “Hundred Languages of Children” and uses the graphic arts as tools for cognitive, linguistic, and social development. Presentation of concepts and hypotheses in multiple forms of representation, for example: print, clay, sculpture, construction, light and shadow play, drama, music, and puppetry are considered essential to children’s understanding of experience. 

Collaboration: Collaborative group work, both large and small, is seen as valuable and necessary to advance cognitive and social development. Children, together with teachers, are encouraged to dialogue, critique, compare, negotiate, hypothesize, and problem solve through group work. Within the Reggio Emilia approach multiple perspectives promote both a sense of belonging to a group and the uniqueness of self. There is high emphasis on the collaboration among home, school, and community to support the learning of the child.

Teachers as Researchers: The teacher’s role within the Reggio Emilia approach is complex. Working as co-teachers, the role of the teacher is first and foremost to be that of a learner alongside the children. Within such a teacher-research role, educators carefully listen, observe, and document children’s work, provoke, co-construct, and stimulate thinking about children’s collaboration with peers. The children’s work together builds community. Teachers are committed to reflection about their own teaching and learning. 

Documentation: Visibility of children’s work in progress is viewed as an important tool in the learning process of children, teachers, and parents. Their engagement in experiences gives greater understanding to their thinking. The elements of observation and interpretation of ongoing experiences create a context of a deep learning process that supports both the teacher and child as researcher and investigator. 

Environment: Within Reggio schools, great attention is given to the look and feel of the space of the classroom. Environment is considered the “third teacher” (parents being the first and classroom teachers being the second). Teachers and parents carefully organize the school environment and this organization takes inspiration from the children’s “way of living” in the environment. Visibility of all the experiences that take place in the school is seen as a system of interactions and relationships that support a strong communication with all those who enter the school. 

Some Features of the Reggio Emilia Approach

The Role of the Teacher:

  • To be simultaneously a teacher and a learner
  • To co-explore and co-construct the learning experience with the children
  • To listen to children’s ideas and re-visit them for further exploration
  • To provoke ideas, to problem solve, and to negotiate agreement
  • To organize the classroom to facilitate the children’s ongoing experiences
  • To make visible the children’s learning processes and the ways in which they build knowledge
  • To make connections within learning experiences
  • To collaborate with teachers and parents
  • To foster the connection between home, school and community

Experiences and Projects:

  • Can emerge from children’s ideas, thoughts, curiosities, and interest
  • Can be provoked by teachers
  • Can be provoked by parents
  • Time is valued as an essential element to discuss, negotiate possibilities, and respect different points of view