Exploring the Reggio Emilia Approach® to Early Childhood Education

28 April 2023

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You’ve probably heard of it, but what exactly is the Reggio Emilia Approach®? Read on for our breakdown of adult and child-centred early learning philosophy.

The Reggio Emilia Approach® has soared in popularity in recent decades. This approach to early education was created in the town of Reggio Emilia, Italy, and has become renowned worldwide for its focus on the child as an active participant in their learning.

At Explorers, we’re proud to deliver a Reggio Emilia inspired curriculum from our intentional teaching strategies along with the construction of our learning spaces. But what exactly is the Reggio Emilia Approach®?

In this post, we break down the Reggio Emilia Approach® and consider how it challenges traditional early childhood views of children, their experiences, and unique ways of learning.

A Brief History of the Reggio Emilia Approach®

The Reggio Emilia Approach® was developed during the aftermath of WWII by Loris Malaguzzi and the community of Reggio Emilia, Italy.

The philosophy was born out of a desire to create a new kind of education that would instil the values of the region, including democracy, community, and solidarity. Malaguzzi firmly believed that children construct their own knowledge through interactions with their peers, adults, the physical and social environment, materials and resources, and more.

The Environment as the Third Teacher

In the Reggio Emilia Approach®, they refer to the metaphor of the environment as the third teacher. This metaphor suggests that children construct knowledge from many sources and their education is enhanced by a collaborative approach, rather than a passive transmissive approach.  

Educators are responsible for constructing a learning environment that encourages exploration, creativity, and critical thinking. The teacher observes and documents children’s learning and uses this information to inform their teaching practice. Therefore, the teacher’s responsibility is to empower children to take an active role in their own learning and to facilitate growth, development, and curiosity.

Families are essential partners in the learning process. They are encouraged to talk to their children to share their knowledge and expertise, and to collaborate with teachers in designing learning experiences and contribute to projects that explore children’s curiosities.

The environment is considered just as important as families or educators in children’s educational journey. Carefully designed learning environments promote exploration, creativity, and learning. Children are active participants in the learning process, and environments are therefore designed to be flexible, adaptable, and responsive to deep underlying pursuits and curiosities of children.

Key Principles of the Reggio Emilia Approach®

A series of principles inform all aspects of a Reggio Emilia-inspired curriculum:

  1. Children are rich, strong, powerful, competent and capable of constructing their own learning.
  2. Children learn by watching, listening, and experiencing.
  3. Children are collaborators and learn through interaction with others.
  4. Documentation is a strategy used by educators to make children’s learning visible.
  5. Educators provide rich open-ended environments for children to express themselves.
  6. Projects are developed for children to research the world around them.

Project-Based Learning

Projects are a core component of the Reggio Emilia Approach®. In other words, children’s emerging curiosities are noted and acted upon. Therefore, our Educators play a vital role in guiding emerging curiosities by asking questions and providing materials to nurture awe, wonder, and learning.

An example of a project could be a child taking an interest in how insects move. An Educator would ask questions, listen to children, and may focus on the concepts of flying or crawling as intentionality for the environments they design for children to explore. The Educator would then observe children, interpret their learning, and document their experiences, always thinking about how to extend children’s learning. They may ask children:

How does an insect move?

Does it have wings or legs?

Where do insects live?

The children’s answers would then be recorded in documentation. Documentation is critical to record the process and progress of the project. It is shared with families to communicate their child’s learning and learning processes.

How does the Reggio Emilia Approach® differ from traditional education philosophy?

The Reggio Emilia Approach® differs from traditional early childhood approaches. Firstly, it places a strong emphasis on the image of the child as an active participant in their own learning rather than a passive recipient of knowledge.

Additionally, it values communication and communication among children, teachers, parents, and the broader community.

Lastly, the the educational principles and values of Reggio Emilia include creativity and imagination and therefore children are offered various media as a means of expression and learning.

The Appeal of Reggio Emilia

There are numerous appealing features to the Reggio Emilia Approach®:

  • Children are considered citizens with rights.
  • Curriculum design builds on the curiosities of children to ignite awe and wonder.
  • The value of the unique abilities of each child promotes a sense of individuality, but also value as a group member.
  • Creativity and critical thinking enhances engagement and joy.

Encourages creativity and critical thinking, preparing children for success in the modern world.

What is the Image of the Child?

The Reggio Emilia Approach® places a high value on the image of the child. In other words, children are seen as capable, competent, and full of potential. Therefore, the Educator’s role is to facilitate children’s learning by creating an environment that encourages exploration, creating motivation to learn. Ultimately, children are free to express themselves through various means, such as drawing, painting, and sculpture, just to name a few.

The Reggio Emilia Approach is an innovative approach to early education which emphasises collaboration, communication, and creativity. These values are favoured by many early learning providers and families along with recognising the unique abilities and curiosities of each child. Explorers is inspired by the educational project of Reggio Emilia and commits to providing a curriculum for young children that fosters a love of learning.

🍃 To tour one of our Reggio Emilia inspired Explorers Centres, please click here. Otherwise, check out our website to register your interest at Explorers Early Learning today!