The Reggio Emilia Approach to Early Childhood Education

The Reggio Emilia approach supports children to be drivers of their own learning, but what are the core values? How is it different to other educational approaches? Read on to find out more about this educational approach and whether it suits you..

Where Reggio Emilia began

The Reggio Emilia approach originated in an Italian town at the conclusion of World War II. In the wake of the war, Loris Malaguzzi identified a need for educational change and he revolutionised early childhood education – with the Reggio Emilia approach becoming one of the world’s most popular approaches to early childhood education.

Reggio Emilia approach
Every child is viewed as a competent and capable learner in the Reggio Emilia approach

What theory is Reggio Emilia based on?

Malaguzzi’s style of education involved a holistic view of children and a view that every child is an individual who is from birth, a capable and competent learner. His belief was that all children are intelligent, resourceful, unique and with different ways of learning and communicating. His approach to education involves the teacher learning alongside the children rather than historical methods of teaching where educators are viewed as the givers of knowledge.

What is the Reggio Emilia approach?

The Reggio Emilia approach supports children to be drivers of their own learning. Children are encouraged by educators to explore, wonder and question. Their learning is centred around communication and children are encouraged to notice the world around them, ask questions and talk about their observations. Through exploring their world and through interactions with others, children are able to learn about themselves as well as the world in which they live.

Play is considered an essential vehicle for learning and children freely express their understandings through their play in a great multitude of ways. The learning is expressed through language, drawing, sculpting, music, modelling, acting, pretend play and so on. Within the Reggio Emilia approach, this is known as the ‘100 languages’ of children. You can read Loris Malaguzzi’s poem about the 100 languages of children here: 100 languages | Reggio Children

What are the core values of the Reggio Emilia approach?


There are four key principles that underpin the Reggio Emilia approach.

An emergent curriculum

An emergent curriculum is one that stems from the interests of children. Teachers collaboratively reflect on children’s learning and use their observations to make decisions about the next steps in the learning journey for each individual child.

A project approach

In Reggio Emilia classrooms, the learning is led by children and is centred around projects. Educators support children to research and investigate areas of interest and these studies can last from a week to an entire school year, depending on how the children are responding to the learning. The educators have an important role in helping children decide what direction the project might take, in determining how they can represent their thinking, and also in deciding what materials might be of greatest use.

Reggio Emilia approach
Children are encouraged to work together to explore their interests

Representational development

Within the Reggio Emilia approach, children are encouraged to represent their ideas and thinking in many ways. This approach takes into account Howard Gardiner’s concept of multiple intelligences and therefore incorporates aspects of art, music, drama and print as valuable ways to represent learning. The representations also allow educators to better understand the children’s thinking and learning so as to better inform their planning.

Collaboration

Collaboration forms a big part of a Reggio-inspired program and teachers often work with groups of children to investigate their interests. Collaborative practice is seen as an important way of furthering a child’s cognitive development and children are encouraged to listen and learn from each other. In a Reggio-inspired classroom, groups of children work together to solve problems and each child is supported to build a strong sense of self by being valued within these groups.

You can read more about the Reggio Emilia approach here: Key Elements of the Reggio Emilia Approach | The Compass School

What does a Reggio Emilia Classroom look like?

A Reggio-inspired classroom is typically a beautiful environment that incorporates many natural elements and provides access to a wide range of materials that are purposely placed to spark curiosity. Many common characteristics of a Reggio-inspired space includes large windows for natural light, lots of soft furnishings such as big rugs and cushions and a vast array of natural materials.  A great emphasis is placed on children developing a sense of belonging in relation to the spaces. Every element of the space is given deep consideration as the learning environment is deemed as being so important that it is described as ‘the third teacher’.

Reggio Emilia approach
Children are encouraged to use their senses to explore all parts of their environment

In a Reggio-inspired classroom, children are encouraged to use all of their senses to explore their interests and ideas. Materials are given that align with the view of children as being capable and competent individuals, such as the use of real crockery rather than plastic. Children are encouraged to be independent and manage their own needs as best they can and the environment is designed to allow this to occur, for example a kitchen bench at child-height so that the children can prepare their own fruit snacks.  Many of the ideas overlap with the Montessori style of education encouraging children to be learners of practical life skills. Plants are placed throughout the rooms and Reggio-inspired classrooms are comfortable places that look comfortable and welcoming as well as engaging. Access the following link for a deeper look at Reggio-inspired classrooms environments: Environment as a Third Teacher – Reggio Emilia (weebly.com)

What is it like to be a Reggio Emilia Educator?

An educator who works within a Reggio-inspired early childhood program is typically someone who loves to be spontaneous and flexible so as to follow children’s ideas and interests. The most effective teachers are able to see the learning that occurs through play and can gently scaffold and work as a co-researcher with children on their journey of exploration. Reggio-inspired educators document children’s thinking and learning rather than their ‘doing’ and are intentional and responsive in all they do. By utilising strategies that support children to build their self-expression, communication, problem solving and thinking skills – they are holistically educating the ‘whole child’ rather than delivering narrow curriculum content. To access one of Early Childhood Australia’s training opportunities surrounding the Reggio Emilia approach, check out the following link. Online professional learning on Reggio Emilia – ECA and REAIE (earlychildhoodaustralia.org.au)

Reggio Emilia approach
Parents are highly valued as part of the child’s holistic development in the Reggio Emilia approach

Reggio Emilia and the community

The Reggio Emilia approach highly values parents as well as the wider community. It’s village-style approach aspires to engage children, parents and the community and recognises that these are all important in terms of a child’s holistic development. Parents are viewed in partnership with educators and respected as every child’s ‘first teacher’. Communication is considered highly important and parents often come into the learning environment to engage with children as volunteers and to share their own perspective and experiences with the children.

Summary of the Reggio Emilia approach

There must be a good reason why thousands of child care centres, preschools and schools all across the globe have explored the Reggio Emilia approach and taken inspiration from its philosophy of learning. Any approach that views children as capable and competent and provides opportunities for child-led learning ticks a lot of boxes in my book. If you work within the field of early childhood education and have not heard about the Reggio Emilia approach, I strongly encourage you to check it out. Let me know what you think about the Reggio Emilia approach!

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