Reggio Emilia, the innovative approach

By on July 31, 2012
The initial learning phase from birth to age 8 is crucial to achieving an effective outcome to a child’s development.  

The Reggio Emilia Approach to early childhood education began over 60 years ago in the region of the same name in Northern Italy. Its philosophy now used in many quality pre-school programs around the world is based on the principles of respect, responsibility and community. The Reggio Emilia Approach encourages students to learn in a self-guided manner through exploration and discovery, in a supportive and enriching environment, based on the interests of the children. These qualities have made the Reggio Emila Approach to education something that increasingly many parents look for when choosing a pre-school program.

In Tokyo, the ASIJ Early Learning Center (ELC) uses the fundamentals of the Reggio Emilia Approach to preschool learning as the foundation of its educational philosophy. Dr Lella Gandini from the Reggio Emilia region of Italy recently spoke to ELC parents and teachers at a parent education session at the school sponsored by the PTA. Dr Gandini is the Reggio Children’s United States Liaison for the Dissemination of the Reggio Emilia Approach and serves as Associate Editor of Innovations in Early Education: the International Reggio Exchange. She is also co-author and co-editor of The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Experience in Transformation, which outlines the concepts of the Reggio method.

“Dr Gandini’s presentation was inspirational and uplifting as we continue to look to the Reggio Approach for inspiration in how we understand children, with our project approach, and in how we document children and their work,” says Judy Beneventi, Director of the Early Learning Center. “We feel very fortunate that four of our ELC teachers had the opportunity to further work with Dr Gandini for two days at the Japan ASCD Spring Conference.“
Dr Gandini also spoke about the roles of children, teachers and parents all learning together.  ASIJ’s ELC program teaches young learners to begin to take control of the direction of learning, to learn through the experiences of touching, moving, listening, seeing and hearing and to learn in a group with other children. Parents also play a vital role in the education of their preschool children and the Reggio approach encourages them to participate at school.  “At the ELC, parents are partners with the school and are expected to volunteer within their child’s classroom and share some of the discovery process with their children,” says Beneventi.  Many parents who choose to send their children to a Reggio Emilia inspired program incorporate some of the same principles within their parenting and home life and this re-enforces the effectiveness of the approach.

The classroom environment is another major piece of the Reggio approach with the physical environment of the classroom often labeled the “third teacher.” At pre-schools using the Approach, such as ASIJ’s Early Learning Center, natural light, indoor plants, kitchens, displays of children’s work, and ample classroom materials are an essential part of implementing the Reggio philosophy. “The design of the classrooms is meant to facilitate learning and to facilitate the independence that we encourage in children,” says Beneventi. “Each of the spacious classrooms features separate areas that can be used for art and crafts, group activities and creative play, a reading loft and a dramatic play area that might be a vegetable shop one month or a Japanese house the next.”

The fundamental goals of the Reggio Approach are to respect and foster intellectual curiosity and create self-directed learners. The result is that students develop a love of learning that stays with them long after they have left kindergarten.

1. What is the fundamental role of Reggio Emilia in early education?
The Reggio Emilia Approach to teaching and learning is one approach to which educators can make reference. In 1991 Newsweek acclaimed the infant and toddler centres and preschools of Reggio Emilia as being some of the highest quality early childhood education settings in the world. Since that time thousands of educators visit Reggio Emilia every year to see the preschools and to study the Approach.  

It is an Approach founded on Loris Malaguzzi’s (founder of the Reggio Emilia preschools and infant and toddler centres) vision of a new future for young children – within which the school is a seen as a democratic place…a community. It is an Approach which draws on many theories e.g. Social Constructivist theory – Lev Vygotsky; Theory of Multiple Intelligence – Howard Gardner. As such, the Approach offers educators a way of working with young children which respects the child as an individual, embedded within the context of a family and community.  

Many preschools and schools across the globe make reference to the guiding principles / values of the Reggio Emilia Approach (see my response to Q 3)

2. Please explain in detail what is the inquiry based approach?

An inquiry based approach to teaching and learning is basically a co-constructed, emergent curriculum i.e. a curriculum that is negotiated between adults and children.

This differs from more traditional teacher-directed teaching approaches where the content of the curriculum is decided without necessarily making reference to children’s identified interests, ideas and theories about how the world works.  

Inquiry approaches invite teachers to use a different skill set to traditional transmission  of facts and knowledge. Teachers working within inquiry approaches must closely observe and document young children’s interactions with materials,  people and ideas to understand what the child currently knows and understands; and then to support connections between new and prior knowledge. Inquiry based approaches embed all the literacy, scientific and mathematical learning that children need to experience within projects that are based on children’s expressed ideas and interests i.e. they capture the motivation of children’s interests as a means of ‘teaching’ curriculum goals / objectives.

3.  What defines Reggio Emilia philosophy?

Programmes which work in reference to the inspirations of the Reggio Emilia approach commonly share a belief in children as being strong, competent individuals,  full of potential, protagonists in their own learning (image of child) a belief in children’s rights and what it means to honour children’s rights, an image of teacher as a co-researcher, learning with and from children,  documenting children’s ideas and comments, conversations and theories as a basis for curriculum design.   Teachers undertake pedagogical documentation as a means of studying their teaching as well as children’s learning. It believes in the ‘third teacher’ environment  designed to offer children diverse choices within any one teaching day.  It also believes in the 100 languages of children i.e. children having multiple ways of expressing and representing their thinking in drawing, painting, constructing; modeling with clay and wire… etc. Each material offers children affordances.  The Reggio Emilia approach also promotes strong partnerships with parents and the community.

4.  Please describe the highlights of the conference.

The excited buzz as the conference began…Having 350 educators from all over the Asia Pacific region (14 different countries) all gathered together with a shared vision of wanting to enhance the quality of their teaching; to make a difference in children’s lives. The speakers from Reggio Emilia, speaking in Italian…and inspiring the delegates with their obvious passion for learning and the dedication of their work…the speakers gave generously of their time and thinking… The power of visual image to make connections; the power of story/metaphor to create meaning between people The sense of community amongst conference delegates – all prepared to share with and listen to all speakers as well as each other.  

Heather Conroy  
Executive Director of Pedagogy, EtonHouse
Heather Conroy has lived and worked in Singapore for the past 10 years, the last seven of which she has worked as lecturer and senior pedagogist with EtonHouse International Holdings. She has a particular interest in curriculum development and has worked as a classroom mentor for many years supporting teacher’s critical reflection on practice. Her current leadership role involves working with teachers to support the design and delivery of inquiry based curriculum. Heather also facilitates the teacher’s work with pedagogical documentation, which has been an essential aspect in supporting the transformation of curriculum into a child responsive and integrated approach.  Heather has visited Reggio Emilia many times as a participant in International study groups and intensive study schools. She believes that a teaching team’s dialogue about image of child is a critical turning point in the construction of both the school’s identity and the practices that are visible within the school. Heather collaborated with colleagues in Reggio Emilia to con-vene the first Reggio Children conference in the Asia Pacific Region in Singapore in 2010. She is a member of the EECERA (European Early Childhood Education Research Association) special interest groups on mentoring and child participation and has just completed a nine year term as member of the publications sub-committee for Early Childhood Australia.

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