More of a philosophy than an educational program, the Reggio Emilia method is based on the belief that children are resourceful individuals. A Reggio Emilia preschool aims to make children equal partners in their education. This allows their own curiosity, rather than a set curriculum, to drive lesson plans.
From the Ashes of War: Reggio Emilia’s Beginnings
The Reggio Emilia method emerged in the Italian town of the same name in the aftermath of World War II. The women of Reggio Emilia built a new school with the rubble from war, selling discarded German military equipment for funding.
In 1946 the school attracted the attention of a young educator named Loris Malaguzzi. After joining the school, Malaguzzi went on to serve as its director until 1985. During his tenure, Malaguzzi’s ideas about education became the basis for the Reggio Emilia method.
Students Take the Lead
Malaguzzi believed the role of early childcare was to provide students with opportunities to drive their own learning. “We must widen the range of topics and goals, the types of situations we offer and their degree of structure, the kinds and combinations of resources and materials, and the possible interactions with things, peers, and adults,” he once wrote.
Reggio classes are built around themes and projects that react to the students’ curiosity. The New York Times described the procession of a Reggio Emilia class: “they focused on textures, including creating them, measuring them and identifying them out of school. That led to learning about Braille and the five senses.”
The initial focus on textures served as the jumping-off point to explore a host of other subjects. This approach creates lessons that engage students in a variety of concepts.
Engaging Classroom Environments
Reggio Emilia classrooms are designed to encourage interaction and creativity. Instead of classroom materials marketed toward children, students might use “fine art materials such as clay, tools, reclaimed materials, natural materials like plants or modern tech,” according to the New York Times.
Art is a central element of the Reggio method, so much so classes often have a separate dedicated art space known as an “atelier.” These spaces contain creative materials of all kinds, allowing students to experiment with different forms of expression. Typically a separate instructor called an “atelierista” will oversee the atelier.
Reggio instructors will often line class walls with examples of student artwork. This is just one way the method places a heavy emphasis on documentation.
Alison Maher, executive director of the Boulder Journey School, told the New York Times that documentation is “the glue that holds everything together.” As such, Reggio teachers document student progress in a variety of forms, from notes to photographs to tape recordings. These documents are shared openly with parents and students, allowing the full participation of both. Often the saved documents will help determine the direction of future lessons.
The crowded field of alternative preschool options makes the process of choosing one tricky. However, for parents that want to raise independent, creative children, Reggio Emilia is an option to consider.