The Reggio Emilia Experience
Hailed as an exemplary model of early childhood education (Newsweek, 1991), the Reggio Emilia approach to education seeks to enhance a child’s “own powers of thinking through the synthesis of all the expressive, communicative and cognitive languages" (Edwards and Forman, 1993). The Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education grew out of a city-run system of centers in Reggio Emilia, Italy designed for all children from birth through six years of age. These programs have been recognized as the best in the world, and are based upon the following principles:
An emergent curriculum is one that builds upon the interests of children. Topics for study are captured from the talk of children, through community or family events, as well as the known interests of children (puddles, shadow, dinosaurs, etc.). Team planning is an essential component of the emergent curriculum. Teachers work together to formulate the possible directions of a project, the materials needed, and possible parent and/or community support and involvement.
Projects, also emergent, are in-depth studies of concepts, ideas, and interests which arise from the children. Considered as an adventure, projects may last one week or could continue throughout the school year. Throughout a project, teachers help children make decisions about the direction of study, the ways in which the group will research the topic, the medium that will demonstrate and showcase the topic, and the selection of materials needed for the work.
Consistent with Howard Gardner's notion of schooling for multiple intelligences, the Reggio Emilia approach calls for the integration of the graphic arts as tools for cognitive, linguistic, and social development. Presentation of concepts in multiple forms -- print, art, construction, drama, music, puppetry, and shadow play -- are viewed as essential to children's understanding of experience.
Collaborative group work, both large and small, is considered valuable and necessary to advance cognitive development. Children are encouraged to talk, critique, compare, negotiate, hypothesize, and problem-solve through group work. Within the Reggio Emilia approach, different approaches toward the same investigation are all valued, and thus children are given access to many tools and media to express themselves. The relationship and collaboration with the home, school and community all support the learning of the child.
Teachers as Researchers
The teacher's role within the Reggio Emilia approach is complex. Working as co-teachers, the role of the teacher is first and foremost to be that of a learner alongside the children. The teacher is a teacher-researcher, a resource and guide as she/he lends expertise to children (Edwards, 1993). Within such a teacher-researcher role, educators carefully listen, observe, and document children's work and the growth of community in their classroom and are to provoke, co-construct, and stimulate thinking and peer collaboration. Teachers are committed to reflection about their own teaching and learning.
Ideally, each Reggio Emilia school has an Atelier, which is a common space where students work on projects that involve clay, wire, mirrors, beautiful papers, drawing materials, paints and found objects. The Atelierista (or studio teacher) sees these materials as languages that children use to construct and express many kinds of knowledge, even before they can speak. Teachers trace the children's discoveries through the artwork, and together with the ‘atelierista’, document and reflect on the children's learning.
Similar to the portfolio approach, documentation of children's work in progress is viewed as an important tool in the learning process for children, teachers, and parents. Pictures of children engaged in experiences, their words as they discuss what they are doing, feeling and thinking, and the children's interpretation of experience are displayed. Documentation is used as assessment of learning as well as advocacy.
Within the Reggio Emilia schools, great attention is given to the look and feel of the classroom. Environment is considered the "third teacher." Teachers carefully organize space for small and large group projects and small intimate spaces for one, two or three children. 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 worktables for children from different classrooms to come together.
Features of The Reggio Emilia Approach
- to co-explore the learning experience with the children
- to provoke ideas, problem solving, and conflict resolution
- to take ideas from the children and return them for further exploration
- to organize the classroom and materials to be accessible and interesting to the child
- to organize materials to help children make thoughtful decisions
- to document children's progress: visual, videotape, tape recording, photos, portfolios
- to help children see the connections in learning and experiences
- to help children express their knowledge through projects
- to have a dialogue about their projects with parents and other teachers
- to foster the connection between home, school and community
- can emerge from children's ideas and/or interests
- can be provoked by teachers
- can be introduced by teachers knowing what is of interest to children: shadows, puddles, tall buildings, construction sites, heavy equipment, nature, etc.
- should be long enough to develop over time, to discuss new ideas, to negotiate over, to induce conflicts, to revisit, to see progress, to see movement of ideas
- should be concrete, personal from real experiences, important to children, should be "large" enough for diversity of ideas and rich in interpretive/representational expression
- explore first: what is this material, what does it do, before what can I do with the material
- should have variation in color, texture, pattern: help children "see" the colors, tones, hues; help children "feel" the texture, the similarities and differences
- should be presented in an artistic manner--it too should be aesthetically pleasing to look at--it should invite you to touch, admire, inspire
- should be revisited throughout many projects to help children see the possibilities