The Reggio Emilia approach is an educational philosophy focused on preschool and primary education, adopted by scores of preschools across the world. It was started by Loris Malaguzzi, who was a teacher himself, and the parents of the villages around the town of Reggio Emilia in Italy after World War II.
At the heart of this philosophy is a powerful image of the child. Reggio educators do not see children as empty vessels that require filling with facts. Rather, they see children as full of potential, competent and capable of building their own theories.
The approach credits children with inborn abilities and potential as well as strength and creativity.
The fundamentals of the Reggio approach
The Reggio Emilia approach rests on 3 main pillars - parents, teachers and the environment.
Parents are a vital component to the Reggio Emilia philosophy. The approach views parents as partners, collaborators and advocates for their children. Teachers respect parents as each child's first teacher and involve parents in every aspect of the curriculum.
A Reggio school not only has an open-to-parents approach, but parents are actually encouraged to participate in school activities. They can come to the school and tell a story, involve themselves in circle time, social time or even physical education time… actually just about everything that a teacher does.
In fact, most parents who choose to send their children to a Reggio Emilia programme incorporate many of the principles within their own parenting and even home life.
The role of teachers in the Reggio approach is unique and rather unconventional. It is considered more like a co-learner and collaborator with the child and not just an instructor. Teachers are encouraged to facilitate the child's learning by planning activities and lessons based on the child's interests, asking questions to further understanding, and actively engaging in the activities alongside the child, instead of just sitting back and observing the child learning.
This leads to Reggio schools having a low teacher student ratio… sometimes as low as 10:1. Most Reggio schools do not encourage teachers' chairs and desks to be any different from those of the students. Teachers become a part of all student activities, working along with the children.
While working on projects with the child, the teacher also expands the child's learning by collecting data such as photographs, notes, videos, and conversations that are reviewed at a later time.
The Reggio teacher allows the children to:
*Ask their own questions, and generate their own hypotheses and to test them.
*To explore and generate many possibilities both affirming and contradictory. She welcomes contradictions as a venue for exploring, discussing and debating. To quote an example, when a child painted a black apple in class, instead of saying it was wrong, the teacher asked the student why. With his irrefutable logic, the boy said because he had eaten it at night! An interesting discussion followed this interaction!
*She offers children, through the process of revisiting the opportunity to reorganize concepts, ideas, thoughts and theories to construct new meaning.
*She is a keen observer, documenter, and partner in the learning process.
A major teaching strategy is purposely to allow mistakes to happen, or to begin a project with no clear sense of where it might end.
The environment as a third teacher
The surrounding physical environment is crucial to the Reggio Emilia's early childhood programme, and is often referred to as the child's "third teacher."
Reggio preschools are generally very spacious and awash with natural light. Classrooms open to a central gathering space and access to the outdoor is assured through doors in each classroom. There is abundant use of mirrors, photographs, and children's work along with documentation of their discussions.
Other supportive elements of the environment include clearly designated spaces for activities - there is a library corner, a pretend & play area, a space for group activities and so on. No classroom is set up with children on one side and the teacher on the other!
Throughout the school, there is an effort to create opportunities for children to interact. Thus, the single dress-up area is in the central gathering space. Passageways or windows and bathrooms and play areas are designed to encourage community.
The importance of documentation
Documentation is a key element in the Reggio Approach and allows the teacher to track what children are doing, learning and grasping. It is a reflection of interactions between teachers and children and among children. In a Reggio school, it is done on a daily basis.
Documenting children's daily experiences and ongoing projects gives meaning and identity to all that the children do. It is through the documentation that the teachers are able to gain insight into the thoughts of the children, create a history of the work and generate further interest.
Reggio teachers are skilled observers of children. If a teacher observes closely she can see the intelligence on a child's face. On a daily basis, they collect data via notes, recordings of conversations between children and through photographs and sometimes even video-taping of events and activities.
Real life experiences
Field trips are highly encouraged in a Reggio school. Children get an opportunity to have a first-hand look at their topic of interest. These experiences help the children and teachers to formulate questions and pose hypotheses and develop theories.
For example, a visit to a bakery would result, among other things, in a conversation like this: "This is the oven that the baker uses. It is warm so that the cake that the baker has placed in it for you gets cooked properly."
From birth the child has the need and the right to communicate and interact with others. And the Reggio Emilia approach encourages children to do just that!