The Reggio Emilia Approach
The Reggio Approach derives its name from its place of origin, Reggio Emilia, a city located in Emilia Romagna in Northern Italy. Shortly after World War II, Loris Malaguzzi, a young teacher and the founder of this unique system, joined forces with the parents of this region to provide childcare for young children. Inspired by the need for women to return to the workforce, this education system has developed over the last 50 years into a unique program that has caught the attention of early childhood educators worldwide.
Looking at this complex system of education is fascinating and challenging. It invites us, as teachers, to see the possibilities of what can be, if we are willing to take risks and let go of our traditional roles.
The Reggio Approach is a complex system that respects and puts into practice many of the fundamental aspects of the work of Dewey, Piaget, Vygotsky and many others. It is a system that lends itself to: the role of collaboration among children, teachers and parents; the co-construction of knowledge; the interdependence of individual and social learning; and the role of culture in understanding this interdependence.
At the heart of this system is the powerful image of the child. Teachers in Reggio Emilia inspired schools see children as full of potential, competent and capable of building their own theories.
Children have the right to be recognized as subjects of individual, legal, civil, and social rights; as both source and constructors of their own experience, and thus active participants in the organization of their identities, abilities, and autonomy, through relationships and interaction with their peers, with adults, with ideas, with objects, and with real and imaginary events of intercommunicating worlds. All this while establishing the fundamental premises for creating “better citizens of the world” and improving the quality of human interaction, also credits children, and each individual child, with an extraordinary wealth of inborn abilities and potential, strength and creativity.
Starting from this point of reference, we recognize the right of children to realize and expand their potential, placing great value on their ability to socialize, receiving their affection and trust, and satisfying their needs and desires to learn. And this is so much truer when children are reassured by an effective alliance between the adults in their lives, adults who are always ready to help, who place higher value on the search for constructive strategies of thoughts and action than on the direct transmission of knowledge and skills. These constructive strategies contribute the formation of creative intelligence, free thought, and the individuality that is sensitive and aware, through an ongoing process of differentiation and integration with other people and other experiences. The fact that rights of children are recognized as the rights of all children is the sign of a more accomplished humanity.
Fundamentals of the Reggio Approach
The Role of the Teacher
The teacher is a keen observer, documenter, and partner in the learning process who allows the
Ask their own questions and generate and test their own hypotheses
Explore and generate many possibilities, both affirming and contradictory. Contradictions are welcomed as a venue for exploring, discussing and debating
Use symbolic languages to represent thoughts and hypothesis
Communicate their ideas to others
Through the process of revisiting the opportunity to reorganize concepts, ideas, thoughts and theories, construct new meaning
The Environment as the Third Teacher
The school is viewed as a living organism, a place of shared relationships among the children, the teachers, and the parents. The school produces for the adults, but above all, for the children, a feeling of belonging in a world that is alive, welcoming and authentic.
The layout of the physical space in the schools encourages encounters, communication, and relationships. The arrangement of structures, objects and activities encourages choices, problem solving, and discoveries in the process of learning.
Long-Term Projects as Vehicles of Learning
Projects begin with teachers observing and questioning children about the topic of interest. Based on children's responses, teachers introduce materials, questions, and opportunities that provoke children to further explore the topic. While some of these teacher provocations are anticipated, projects often move in unanticipated directions as a result of problems children identify. Thus, curriculum planning and implementation revolve around open-ended and often long-term projects that are based on the reciprocal nature of teacher-directed and child-initiated activity. All of the topics of interest are given by the children. Within the project approach, children are given opportunities to make connections between prior and new knowledge while engaging in authentic tasks.
Importance of Documentation
Documentation is a key element in the Reggio Approach. Documentation serves many purposes, but most of all it is used as a research tool for studying children’s learning processes. Documentation is about what children are doing, learning and grasping, and the product of documentation is a reflection of interactions between teachers and children and among children. Documentation, because it is done on a daily basis, is a medium through which teachers discuss curriculum, keep it fluid and emergent, and develop a rational for its course. It provides a growing theory for daily practice.
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, determine further investigation for working on topics, create a history of the work, and generate further interest.
Teachers in a Reggio Emilia inspired school 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 videotaping of events and activities whether related to project work or just during classroom time. She watches what children are doing and saying and how materials are being used. The documentation is then used to analyze children’s understanding and thoughts – it is revisited by the teachers and children together. This revisiting process provides children with the opportunity to discover their own questions and problems and to determine, together, what the next steps could be. In the process of revisiting, children’s theories and understanding grows. Also, in the revisiting process, they collect more data and information which enhances the work. Documentation of work in progress is made visible on large panels throughout the classroom, thereby keeping the memory of the work vivid and alive.
Map of Reggio Emilia, Italy
February 23, 1920 - January 30, 1994
Loris Malaguzzi, founder of the Reggio Emilia Approach, began teaching in schools started by parents just after the end of WWII. Through the years, he transformed that courageous initiative into the internationally acclaimed program for young children that we know today.
For more information about the Reggio Emilia approach to education and Reggio Children's President, Carla Rinaldi, please visit: