What is Reggio Emilia? Your Guide to this Child-Driven Approach

Student playing drum

Research in early childhood education (ECE) can leave you exhausted and confused. Everyone seems to have an opinion about childcare—and a strong opinion at that. But tab over to the Reggio Emilia sites and you’ll see beautiful words in creative fonts, accented with pictures of smiling children playing with natural elements in a bright classroom.

The happy faces and cheerful colors will likely have you intrigued by this education method. But what is Reggio Emilia exactly? Allow us to enlighten you in this child-driven approach to early childhood education.

What is Reggio Emilia?

Broadly speaking, Reggio Emilia is an approach to early childhood learning named after the town where it originated in Italy. Founder Loris Malaguzzi believed children were in need of a more holistic kind of education after World War II. He began the Reggio Emilia style based on the principle that children are endowed with “a hundred languages,” a philosophy that means every child is unique and will express their unique interests in many different ways.

Reggio Emilia believes that children have special knowledge and are powerful in their own way. This belief expresses itself in a co-learning environment, where teachers learn with the children and work in a lateral relationship as opposed to a hierarchical one. That partnership is also intended to encompass the parents and community of each child.

Reggio Emilia also revolves around the children’s senses, relying on sight, sound, touch and even taste and smell to assist with learning. As a result, Reggio Emilia classrooms tend to look different than your average preschool with large common spaces, natural elements and lots of light.

What makes Reggio Emilia different?

While Reggio Emilia does employ a play-based learning style in beautiful settings, so do many other early childhood education programs, says Emily Horton of GVEOE. “What sets Reggio Emilia apart is its emphasis on student projects.” When students show interest in a topic, teachers create projects to encourage that interest. They keep documentation in a portfolio for each child throughout the year, allowing them to track individual development.

"Children can demonstrate their ideas in many different ways."

Basing the course of study on the children's interests creates maximum learning potential, says Nancy Farber, director of Reggio school Cushman Scott. “The children negotiate with the teachers on which interests will be studied.” He explains that asking the children to help direct the course of learning allows them to feel heard and respected and builds their sense of self-worth.

This sense of worth is also echoed in the “hundred languages” philosophy. If a child isn’t strong with their letters and numbers, they can still receive encouragement in other forms of expression. “Children can demonstrate their ideas in many different ways: dance, paint, wire, clay, pencil, nature materials...other than just number and letter,” says Marty Watson, director of the Dodge Nature Center.

What does it take to be a Reggio Emilia educator?

This system of learning puts great emphasis on observation and adaptability in its teachers. While it makes a great fit for some, it’s not for everyone. “A circle discussion may lead the day into an entirely different focus,” Farber says, adding that the Reggio style is inspiring for teachers who love spontaneity and are flexible with change.

Watson explains that beginning lessons with what children know and enjoy and building towards development is a different way to work. She adds that it can be challenging “to learn what it means to observe a child and really know that child and family.” The Reggio philosophy recognizes the importance of community in a child’s life, which means teachers try to involve parents and family in the work of education.

Teachers who specialize in Reggio Emilia will obviously have the option of working at Reggio schools, but they will also have hiring appeal in Reggio-inspired schools. Horton suggests checking out resources like the Reggio Alliance or the Louis Malaguzzi International Center where job opportunities are frequently posted to learn about options in your area.

Now you know

So what is Reggio Emilia? It could very well be the perfect learning approach to encourage your little one’s development. It could even be the perfect opportunity for you to make a career out of guiding children to reach new heights.

Regardless of the approach, ECE plays a crucial role in developing the minds of the future. Learn more about the importance of early childhood education.

Brianna Flavin

Brianna is a content writer for Collegis Education who writes student focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She earned her MFA in poetry and teaches as an adjunct English instructor. She loves to write, teach and talk about the power of effective communication.

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