Reggio Emilia Approach
The Reggio Emilia philosophy supports emergent curriculum, which develops over time based on the interests of the students and the staff. Relationships and communication among children and staff are encouraged to build each child's learning and communication skills. Creative expression and representation of learning are developed through the "hundred languages," meaning children can use language, drama, painting, drawing and other modes of symbolic expression to illustrate their learning. Children's rights to learn, and learn about their individual interest, are strongly supported.
Keywords Atelier; Bruner; Constructivist; Curriculum; Developmentally Appropriate; Dewey; Emergent Curriculum; Environment; Hundred Languages; Malaguzzi; Piaget; Philosophy; Portfolio Assessment; Preschool; Studio; Vygotsky
What is Reggio Emilia?
Reggio Emilia is an educational philosophy that espouses creativity and expressiveness in learning. It developed out of Italian preschools begun shortly after World War II. In 1963, teachers and parents, with the help of Loris Malaguzzi, a local teacher, founded the first formal Reggio Emilia school near the town of the same name in Italy. Initially, the program served 3- to 6-year-olds, but by 1970 it had expanded to serve children as young as 3 months old. Over the years, Malaguzzi, in collaboration with teacher, parents, and the Reggio Emilia community, developed and disseminated the program's philosophy and principles.
The program is grounded in the "the image of a child who has great potential for development and is the subject of rights, a child who learns and grows in relation with others, through the hundred languages of doing, being, reflecting, and knowing" (North American Reggio Emilia Alliance, 2007[b], p. 2). The program's educational philosophy is rooted in "a firm belief in collective responsibility for children" (Drummond, 2004, ¶ 4), and envisions children as "rich, strong and powerful, rather than weak, ignorant and incompetent" (Drummond, 2004, ¶ 7). It shares similarities with constructivist ideas of learning, which suggest that children create and construct their own learning based upon their own experiences, as well as what they learn from those around them about those experiences. There are no set curricula, manual, or policies, in Reggio Emilia schools. Instead, the curriculum emerges from the desires and interests of the children and the staff. Some educators whose principals are similar to the Reggio philosophy include Dewey, Piaget, Vygotsky, and Bruner (NAREA, 2007[b]).
Some of the essential elements of the Reggio Emilia program are environment, child-child and child-teacher relationships, real-life learning, documentation and observation, creativity and expressiveness, the atelier, family participation, staff reflection, and qualitative assessments.
An Emphasis on Environment
The school's physical environment encourages children to interact with their environments both inside and outside school. Each classroom is, ideally, integrated with the rest of the school, and the school is integrated with the wider community. Opportunities for interaction are encouraged throughout the building; materials and supplies are attractively displayed, and accessible to children; projects and found objects are displayed and may form the basis for learning as well.
The Brainy Child website (2007) notes that the environment is often called the 'third teacher' in Reggio schools. Classrooms are designed to encourage an atmosphere of "playfulness and joy," and aesthetic beauty is strongly emphasized. In addition:
• "Teachers organize environments rich in possibilities and provocations that invite the children to undertake extended exploration and problem solving, often in small groups, where cooperation and disputation mingle pleasurably.
• Documentation of children's work, plants, and collections that children have made from former outings are displayed both at the children's and adult eye level.
• Common space available to all children in the school includes dramatic play areas and work tables for children from different classrooms to come together" ("The Brainy Child," 2007).
The Reggio approach is a philosophy in which social and cognitive learning and development are inextricably linked. Malaguzzi emphasized that "developing 'relationships that are personal and individual with every child' is 'a preliminary operation'" is central to the Reggio approach, as these relationships "set the foundation for the group work that takes place" (Rankin, 2001, p. 82). This primacy of relationships is based upon the idea that a child learns and grows not just within him or herself, but also within the context of the group with which he or she is learning. Child-to-child relationships are therefore critical to the learning process, as are a child-to-teacher relationships.
The interactions between children are critical, said Malaguzzi, not only to encourage the children to develop language and means of expression and to understand their place within the social context, but also so that teachers can understand what children are taking from the experience. "Interaction must be an important and strong word," he said,
"...you must write it in the entrance to the school. Interaction. That is, try to work together to produce interactions that are constructive, not only for socializing, but also for constructing language, for constructing the forms and meaning of language. This helps to give order to communication which needs order, and which requires children to find the right word. Much communication seems to be interrupted not because of distraction by one or the other, but because communication does not take place'' (Rankin, 2001, p.84).
Malaguzzi also outlined a distinctive approach to child-teacher relationships. He noted that each child is unique and therefore learns in a unique way. He suggested that teachers may not initially perceive the individuality of each child, and must therefore become more familiar with each child. Doing so, they will better understand how each child learns, and what, specifically, each gains from a learning experience. "Every child receives his advantage in different ways,'' said Malaguzzi (Rankin 2001, p.83). In these respects, the Reggio Emilia program focuses on each individual within the greater context of the group as they learn and express learning in different ways.
Since there is no set curriculum in Reggio Emilia programs, projects and studies instead emerge from the stated interests and interactions of the children, the staff, and the community. Projects begun in this manner may be open-ended and ongoing, and are likely to include various means of exploration and expression that reflect the interests and skills of the students involved.
Documentation and observation are considered critical to the program as they give concrete indicators of learning (Drummond 2004, ¶ 7). Staff members are assigned to record the daily activities of other staff and students, and use these records to plan learning...
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