Hailed as an exemplary experience of early childhood education (Newsweek, 1991), the Reggio Emilia approach to education is committed to the creation of conditions for learning that will enhance and facilitate children’s construction of “his or her own powers of thinking through the synthesis of all the expressive, communicative and cognitive languages” (Edwards and Forman, 1993). The infant-toddler centers and pre-schools of Reggio Emilia, Italy, are run by the municipality and designed for children from 3 months through six years of age. 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:
A Pedagogy of Listening: An emergent thinking is one that builds upon children’s and teacher’s ideas. Topics for study can emerge from a deep action of listening to children’s experiences, as well as through different kinds of experiences with the family and the community. The organization of the work is an essential component of learning processes. Teachers work together with the children to formulate hypotheses about the possible directions of a project and the materials needed. Parents can also be part of this process.
Experiences, Explorations and Projects: Projects are in-depth studies of concepts, ideas, and interests that arise within the group. Considered as a way of researching, projects may last one week or could continue throughout the school year. Throughout different experiences, 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” graphic representation as a tool. Presentation of concepts and hypotheses in multiple forms of representation, for example: print, clay, sculpture, construction with many materials, drama, music, and puppetry are considered essential to children’s understanding of experience.
Collaboration: Collaborative group work – large medium and small – is seen as valuable and necessary to support cognitive and social learning. Children, along with the 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.
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-researcher role, educators carefully listen, observe and document children’s work, provoke, co-construct, and stimulate thinking and children’s collaboration with peers. The children’s work together builds community. Teachers are committed to reflection about their own teaching and learning in collaboration with the parents.
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.” 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 seen as a system of interactions and relationships support a strong communication with all those who enter the school.
Some Features of the Reggio Emilia Approach
Experiences and Projects:
- can emerge from children’s ideas, thoughts, curiosities, and interests
- 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