Started by parents in 1945, Reggio Emilia was as an alternative to the strait-laced, church-monopolized institutions that dominated Italian early education at the time. Amidst the rubble of post-World War II Italy, the community raised from almost nothing, preschools that would far exceed the custodial services appropriated by the Mussolini’s government. News of the experiment spread and Reggio schools were popping up in disadvantaged wards of the city. A young teacher, Loris Malaguzzi, was to provide leadership to the movement, that would continue till his death in 1994.
“Our task, regarding creativity, is to help children climb their own mountains, as high as possible.” Loris Malaguzzi Malaguzzi studied psychology in Rome, where he took inspiration from such thinkers as Vygotsky, Dewey, Piaget, and Bruner. Bruner and Vygotsky’s recognition of the child’s natural problem-solving capacities, and of the role of culture in developing the mind, fit Malaguzzi’s own perceptions. John Dewey believed that true education should stimulate a child ‘to conceive of himself from the standpoint of the welfare of the group to which he belongs.’ If any one concept embraces all other aspects of the Reggio curriculum and environment, it is this one.
The number of these parent-run centers rose steadily, and in 1967 the municipality took over their administration and financing. The Reggio preschools (and infant-toddler centres, publicly mandated since the 1970s) are available to children from birth to six regardless of economic circumstance or physical disability, and continue successfully to this day. In the early 90s Newsweek magazine recognized Reggio Emilia as one of the top approaches to preschool education in the world. This groundbreaking philosophy soon became more popular across the United States, including a growing number of public schools.
Reggio established a new educational framework based on the idea of relationships and co-constructivism. Reggio educators do not call their framework a model because it has connotations of something that’s finished or done. They see their work as an approach, something that is growing, changing, and dynamic. The focus is always on the process; the process of learning, the process of going farther and the process of going deeper. Fundamental Principles of the Reggio Emilia approach.
1. Child as protagonist, collaborator, and communicator. Reggio’s primary principle is that children are strong, powerful, and competent from birth. Children are seen as unique individuals with rights rather than simply needs. Children are protagonists with the right to collaborate and communicate with others. Their rights are manifested in curiosity, wonderment, exploration, discovery, social construction, and representations of their knowledge. Children are not passive learners to teacher-generated knowledge but are able to construct knowledge based on their experiences and interactions with others.
Children are also communicators, developing intellectually through the use of symbolic representations, including words, movement, drawing, painting, building, sculpting, shadow play, collage, dramatic play, and music, all of which lead children to surprising levels of communication. These multiple levels of communication have come to be known as the “hundred languages of children,” after a poem written by Malaguzzi, “the child has a hundred languages, and a hundred hundred hundred more.”
2. The teacher as partner, nurturer, guide, researcher. Teachers see themselves as partners in the co-construction of knowledge with the children. Teachers do not view themselves as leaders who are in front of the children but are with the children, exploring, discovering, and learning together. Each contribution is valued. This makes children more powerful contributors to their own education. Teachers are researchers who must continually readjust their image of children and learning. To be effective researchers, teachers hone their observational and listening skills. Educators decide what to teach by observing, listening, asking questions, reflecting on responses, and then introducing materials and ideas children can use to expand their understanding. As researchers into children’s skills and abilities, teachers create learning environments that encourage reflection, examination and their own personal beliefs about what children can and should be doing within educational settings.
3. Cooperation as the foundation of the educational system. Teachers are partners with their community. Collaboration exists at all levels and is a powerful tool in achieving educational goals. Each school contains an atellerista, a teacher specifically trained in the arts, who collaborates with the classroom teachers in planning documentation. The attellerista makes possible the deepening of instructions via the use of diverse media. All staff members are viewed as part of the educational experience and are often included in planning and implementing goals. All classes contain two teachers to plan experiences for the classroom and collaborate with teaching colleagues and staff members. This also allows for one teacher to observe, take notes and record conversations between children. Collaboration extends to every aspect of a Reggio Emilia school.
4. The environment as the “third teacher.” “environment indicates the way time is structured and the roles we are expected to play. It conditions how we feel, think and behave; and it dramatically affects the quality of our lives. Greenman Reggio Emilia schools place high value on physical environment and refer to it as the “third teacher”. The environment is seen as a living changing system. A vital part of every Reggio Emilia school is the atelier. The atelier is a studio that contains a wide range of media and materials fostering creativity and learning through projects. The atelier encourages children to use a variety of techniques and assists the adults in understanding processes of how children learn. It provides a workshop for documentation. Mini ateliers are present in each classroom.
5. The parent as partner. Children, teachers, and parents are seen as three equally important components in the philosophy’s educational process. Parents are encouraged to be active contributors to children’s activities in the classroom and in the school. Parent participation is manifested in daily interaction during school hours, in discussions regarding all aspects of educational and administrative issues. Parents often serve as advocates for the school in community politics.
6. Documentation as communication. “Teachers’ commentaries on the purposes of a project, along with transcriptions of children’s verbal language, photographs, and representations of their thinking are provided in accompanying panels or books designed to present the children’s learning processes. The documentation shows children that their work is valued, makes parents aware of class learning experiences, and allows teachers to assess both their teaching and the children’s learning. In addition, dialogue is fostered with other educators. Eventually, an historical archive is created that traces pleasure in the process of children’s and teachers’ learning experiences (Gandini, 1993).
The spiraling of experiences and symbolic representation characterizes not only children’s work but also the work of teachers in Reggio Emilia. Teachers utilize and depend upon sketches of children’s work as part of their field notes, photographs and videos of classroom experiences, audio transcriptions of conversations with children to represent and communicate their knowledge about the children’s meaning making. The teacher’s observations, videos and transcribed tapes are shared with colleagues for group reflection as teachers engage in collaborative reflection. Outcomes are often in the form of collective understanding (teachers construct new knowledge as they investigate, reflect, and represent children’s construction of knowledge).