You might have heard of the Reggio Emilia approach before, but what is it? How is this early education approach different than Montessori, or Waldorf? How is this teaching philosophy put into practice? You aren’t the first to ask.
The Reggio Emilia approach was pioneered by Loris Malaguzzi in Italy following World War II. This approach is rooted in the belief that children have “100 Languages”, meaning that children communicate and express themselves in many ways, not solely through verbal communication. This approach takes into account that every child is different and thus learns in a different way – some children learn and communicate better through making art, some do so through physical movement. The goal is to give children as many avenues as possible for self-expression, and in this way they will be able to guide their own learning. The best way to think of this approach is that it’s a philosophy, not so much of a “curriculum”, because our kids set the curriculum!
Despite their historical similarities, these two early childhood education approaches are very different. The Reggio Emilia approach prioritizes community and parental involvement greatly, and it deeply influences the curriculum. Also, while the Montessori method privileges a “prepared environment”, the Reggio Emilia approach focuses more on a free-spirited classroom that is cozy and organic. Reggio Emilia emphasizes the rights and opinions of each child, recognizes their highly individualistic learning styles, and relies more on the community to be a part of the ever-evolving learning process. This approach isn’t just about freedom and independence, but self-confidence and interdependence.
The fact that children guide their own learning is a huge benefit in itself. This approach deepens children’s creativity and pushes them to be independent. When children are given such autonomy over their learning at a young age, it sets the foundation for self-directed learning throughout their lives. This also translates to their social skills; with so many varied ways of self-expression, children learn to communicate in better and more varied ways, as well as better convey their emotions.
The Reggio Emilia approach has a flexible, child-led curriculum, but documentation is key in tracking their progress over time. Teachers at St. John’s record curriculum and child development in portfolios. The classroom is also a sort of “third teacher”, so the classroom organization and decoration is very important. Not only should toys, materials and furniture be age-appropriate, but the classroom should be inviting, homey, and should spark exploration and creativity.
As stated above, community engagement is key to the Reggio Emilia method. Children, their parents, school teachers, and community members should all participate in the learning process. Children at St. John’s give back to the community by collect donations to deliver to food pantries, and parents give back to the school by volunteering time or donating new toys and educational materials. Reggio Emilia schools should practice symbiotic relationships and teach children to do so as well.