The Reggio Emilia method is a lesser-known approach to early childhood education in the United States. It applies to infant-toddler and preschool age groups, although there are some Reggio Emilia schools that go up to middle school.
Here are some of the basic features of the Reggio Emilia style and how it compares with other popular styles of early childhood education, such as the Montessori and Waldorf methods.
The Reggio Emilia approach is named for the city in northern Italy where it emerged after World War II. A young teacher named Loris Malaguzzi teamed up with parents of preschoolers to provide municipal childcare. In the wake of the destruction the war had brought, they sought to establish an educational system that would create responsible citizens and teach critical thinking.
The system has caught the attention of early childhood educators all over the world. Many educators visit the city of Reggio Emilia, study its schools, and take the principles back to open their own Reggio Emilia–inspired schools.
Some of the fundamental tenets of the Reggio Emilia system are:
Reggio Emilia sees children as strong, resilient, and capable of playing an active role in their own education. This method recognizes that children have a great curiosity and interest in forming relationships with their environment. They are also considered active citizens with their own rights. Children with special needs are referred to as children with special rights and have first priority when seeking admission to a preschool or infant-toddler center.
Parents are actively involved in a Reggio Emilia classroom, along with teachers and children. Teachers do not direct the children; instead, they act as partners, observers, and facilitators of the learning process. The curriculum is not fixed. It evolves based on the interests, ideas, and hypotheses developed by the children.
The classroom environment is carefully planned to be clutter-free, open, and filled with natural light. All areas of the room — and the materials within them — are carefully prepared to enhance their teaching potential. Both children and teachers participate in taking care of the classroom.
According to this method, each child is an individual who seeks knowledge through her interactions with other children, teachers, parents, and the environment. The school is seen as a system in which all of these interconnected relationships are supported, and there is a focus on group and collaboration work.
The thoughts, reactions, and questions of each child are valued equally. A distinguishing feature of the system is that children can stay with the same teacher for up to three years so that they have enough time to create meaningful relationships that facilitate deeper learning processes.
Children express their learning and creativity in a multitude of ways — through song, dance, drawing, sculpture, poetry, pretend play, and more — and all of these Hundred Languages must be valued and encouraged.
Many Reggio Emilia schools have a teacher with a specialized background in visual arts. This instructor, called an Atelierista, maintains a visual arts studio called the atelier. The studio allows kids to use a rich variety of materials to enhance and express their learning. In time, each classroom may also include mini-ateliers.
Materials are carefully chosen for their beauty and ability to enhance the learning process. Reggio Emilia classrooms feature natural materials with an open-ended potential for play and learning. Glass beads, wooden blocks, silks, scarves, and found items from nature may all serve as classroom materials.
Since children learn best by doing, the method holds, much of the curriculum is project-based. Projects are formulated based on experiences, questions, ideas, or observations by children or teachers.
Reggio Emilia teachers extensively document each child’s responses, queries, and reactions to learning in the form of transcripts of discussions and photographs of the child’s work. This documentation serves the following purposes:
The Reggio Emilia, Montessori, and Waldorf approaches to education all emerged in Europe during the early 20th century. You can read Noodle articles to find out more about the Montessori and Waldorf methods of education.
All three methods seek to educate the whole child and to help children become responsible citizens who lead meaningful lives in harmony with others. These similarities aside, Reggio Emilia–inspired schools remain distinct in the following ways:
While Montessori and Waldorf teachers are required to go through various years of specialized training and can take tests to be recognized as certified professionals in their respective methods, Reggio Emilia educators do not go through formalized training. While teachers interested in learning about the method can take courses or participate in professional development provided by Reggio support networks, the schools puts more emphasis on the personal experience of the educator as opposed to formal knowledge acquired from a training program.
The teacher collaborates with students in a Reggio Emilia classroom, whereas the function of a teacher in a Montessori or Waldorf classroom is to guide or direct students.
While Waldorf education prohibits the use of technology in the classroom and also does not advocate teaching kids in preschool to read, no such restrictions are placed on a Reggio Emilia classroom. The curriculum in a Reggio Emilia classroom is not predefined and evolves based on the children’s responses and interests, unlike the defined curricula of the Montessori or Waldorf classrooms.
Montessori and Waldorf classrooms do not incorporate parental participation except on special occasions. Parental involvement is much greater on a daily basis in a Reggio Emilia classroom.
More information about Reggio Emilia and a listing of Reggio Emilia–inspired schools by state can be found on the website of the North America Reggio Emilia Alliance (NAREA).
For a practical guide to homeschooling using Reggio Emilia methods and materials, as well as a list of Reggio–inspired books, you can visit the inspiring blog An Everyday Story
Gandini L., Values and Principles of the Reggio Emilia Approach (2003). Retrieved on January 13, 2015 from Learning Materials Work.