The Reggio Emilia Approach to Early Childhood Education

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 expressive, communicative and cognitive language" (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 three months to 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 program. 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 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 an emergent curriculum. Teachers work together with the children to formulate hypotheses about the possible directions of a project and the materials needed. Parents can also be a part of this process.
  • Project Work: Projects, also emergent, are in-depth studies of concepts, ideas, and interest 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 illustrate the topic and the selection of materials needed to represent the work.
  • Representational Development: Consistent with Howard Gardener's notion of schooling for multiple intelligences, the Reggio Emilia approach calls for the integration of "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 is valuable and necessary to support cognitive and social development. Children along with the teachers are encouraged to dialogue, analyze, 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 primarily 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.
  • 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 the thinking. The elements of observation and interpretation of ongoing experiences create a context for a deep learning process that supports both the teacher and childe 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 for the children's "way of living" in the environment. Visibility of all the experiences that take place in the school are seen as a system of interactions and relationships that support 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 solving, 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 in the learning experiences
  • To collaborate with teachers and parents
  • To foster the connection between home, school and community

Experience 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