Reggio Emilia Approach
|by Dr. Nkechy Ezeh, Ed.D.
The town of Reggio Emilia
is located in a wealthy region of Northern Italy that is well
known for its agricultural and industrial production, as well
as, for its art and architecture. New (1990) stated that the
1965 national law that instituted funding of preschool for
all children ages 3 to 6 years old evidences Italy's nationwide
development of its children. Rankin (1993) wrote that child
welfare is a major priority of Reggio Emilia's well-subsidized
social services as evidenced by the community's response to
child care needs of dual-earner families since the end of
World War II. Additionally, Hewett (2001) suggested that as
part of the city's postwar reconstruction, the first school
for young children in Reggio Emilia was built literally by
the hands of parents using proceeds gained from the sale of
a war tank, three trucks, and six horses left behind by retreating
Germans (Gandini, 1993; Malaguzzi, 1993b).
|Today the city of Reggio Emilia devotes 10%
of its budget to the early childhood education and runs 22 schools
for children ages 3-6 years as well as 13 infant toddler centers.
Forty-seven percent of preschool and thirty-five percent of
children from the two age groups are served, respectively (Edward,
Gandini, & Forman, 1993b; Gandini, 1993; New, 1990). The
schools in Reggio Emilia have grown out of three main features:
a culture that values children, an intense commitment of a group
of parents, and the leadership of a visionary man (Gandini;
There is evidence that Reggio
Emilia Approach is a constructivist and progressive approach,
but how does one explain it? In trying to explain the Reggio
Emilia approach, one must look at progressive educators like
John Dewey and constructivist theorists like Jean Piaget and
Lev Vygotsky. John Dewey a philosopher, advocated for progressive
education and the democratic school with emphasis on project
based curriculum that followed student interests (Epstein
1999). Dewey viewed teaching and learning as a process of
continual reorganization, reconstruction and transformation
of understandings. Dewey saw education as an active and constructive
process (not product) that was enhanced through social direction
and through joint activity, where people consciously refer
to each other's use of material, tools, ideas, capabilities
and applications. He believes that learning is a reciprocal
and collaborative process and that during a project, no one
person knows exactly how things are going to turn out or where
they will go. This mutuality of learning encapsulates Dewey's
educational philosophies (Rankin 1997).
|Piaget and Vygotsky both constructivists,
have provided insight about the way children think and how this
thinking changes developmentally (Santrock, 2000). Piaget a
cognitive constructivist argues that the child is competent
and education merely refines the child's cognitive skills that
already emerged. Vygotsky a social constructivist states that
while the child is competent, education plays a central role
through the process of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).
Language and dialogue are crucial in helping the child learn
the tools of the culture.
|Examination of the Key elements of Reggio
Emilia approach reveals recognition of Piaget's preoperational
stages of development, specifically intuitive thought and symbolic
function sub-stages. It also recognizes Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal
|Children in the second substage of preoperational
thought (approximately 4-7 years of age) want to know the answers
to many questions. They seem to know many things intuitively.
They are often unaware of what they know. Children at
this stage begin to reconstruct their thought that involve a
transition from primitive to a more sophisticated use of symbols
to express their ideas (Santrock, 2000). Reggio Emilia educators
believe that children have a hundred languages to express
their realizations about the world. Other principles of the
Reggio Emilia approach such as symbolic representation, image
of the child and role of the teacher all evidence recognition
of Piaget's sub stage of intuitive thought and symbolic functions.
|Vygotsky's ZPD helps advance children's cognitive
development through social interaction with skilled educators
embedded in a sociocultural backdrop (Santrock, 2000). This
supports the Reggio Emilia key principles of education that
is based on collaboration, image of the child, role of the parents,
role of the environment and the project approach.
|Teachers inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach,
are facilitators, as both Piaget and Vygotsky suggested. They
are guides, not directors, who provide support for children
to explore and discover knowledge through a topic of their interest.
This supports Vygotsky's idea of scaffolding. Reggio Emilia
inspired educators use scaffolding to: help children with self
initiated learning activities (Elicker 1996), offer just enough
assistance, to help a child move to a higher level of skill
and knowledge, use more skilled peers as teachers (Reggio teachers
recognize the fact that 'not just adults are important in helping
children learn important skills') (Gandini 1993), assess the
child's ZPD not IQ.
|The Reggio Emilia approach just as Piaget
and Vygotsky suggested, emphasizes authentic assessment for
example, use of portfolios as opposed to formal standardized
tests to assess children's learning.
Although, both Piaget and Vygotsky's theories
are constructivists, Vygotsky's social constructivist theory
emphasizes the social contexts of learning and the fact that
knowledge is mutually built and constructed which is the cornerstone
of the Reggio Emilia approach.
|The implication of Piaget's and Vygotsky's
theory for teaching is that children need support to explore
their world and discover knowledge as well as many opportunities
to learn with teachers and more skilled peers. Thus the Reggio
Emilia approach carefully blends the key elements from Piaget's
cognitive and Vygotsky's sociocultural constructivist theories.
The powerful outcome, according to Santrock (2000), is an approach
where children often explore topics in groups. This fosters
a sense of community respect for diversity, and a collaborative
approach to problem solving. Two co-teachers are present to
serve as a guide for the children. Every project is based on
what children say and do.
|The philosophy of Dewey and the theories
of Piaget, Vygotsky and other socio_constructivists have assisted
in the creation of central operating principles and the core
aspects of the Reggio Emilia philosophy. Therefore, the central
operating principles lead to an integrated approach to education
that effectively engages the creativity of young children (Rankin,
Key Factors to Integrating the Principles of Reggio Emilia
into Teacher Education:
Aquinas College Early childhood pre service teachers actively
observe children to learn their interests, and then offer
to develop their interests into theories that can be explored
Working with the laboratory Instructors and the Atelierista
the children explore projects of their own theories in the
studio. Early Childhood pre service teachers scaffolds and
helps children at the laboratory school represents their ideas.
The whole process of exploring a project is documented as
the early childhood pre service teachers listen, watch, transcribe,
and tape record children's conversations. They also take photos
and video tapes. Often the early childhood pre service teachers
combine quotes and photos into huge documentation panel (big
wall posters). The documentation process give importance to
the children's efforts and shows parents and visitors what
their children have been doing.
Children revisit their experiences often creating
new art work that reflects what they have learned. Pre service
teacher gain in-depth knowledge about children's thinking
while revisiting the documentation with each other, their
professors, laboratory instructors and with the children.
Fundamental Principles of the Reggio Emilia Approach:
|The following are the fundamental principles
of the Reggio Emilia Approach as identified by Louise Boyd Cadwell
in her book Bringing Reggio Emilia Home. These principles weave
themselves throughout the implementation of the process.
|The child as protagonist.
Children are strong, rich, and capable. All children
have preparedness, potential, curiosity, and interest in constructing
their learning negotiating with everything their environment
brings to them. Children, teachers, and parents are considered
the three central protagonists in the educational process.
|The child as collaborator.
Education has to focus on each child in relation to
her children, the family, the teachers, and the community rather
on each child in isolation. There is an emphasis on work in
small groups. This practice is based on the social constructivist
model that supports the idea that we form ourselves through
our interaction with peers, adults, things in the world, and
|The child as communicator.
This approach fosters children's intellectual development through
the systematic focus on symbolic representation, including words,
movement, drawing, painting, building, sculpture, shadow play,
collage, dramatic play, and music which leads children to surprising
levels of communication, symbolic skills, and creativity. Children
have the right to use many materials in order to discover and
communicate what they know, understand, wonder about, question,
feel, and imagine. In this way, they make their thinking visible
through their many natural languages. A studio teacher, trained
in the visual arts, works closely with children and teachers
in each school to enable children to explore many materials
and to use a grate number of languages to make their thinking
|The environment as third teacher.
The design and use of space encourage encounters, communication,
and relationships. There is an underlying order and beauty in
the design and organization of all space in a school and the
equipment and materials within it. Every corner and space has
an identity and a purpose, is rich in potential to engage and
to communicate, and is valued and cared for by children and
|The teacher as partner, nurturer
and guide. Teachers facilitate children's exploration
of themes, work on short and long-term projects, and guide experiences
of joint, opened-ended discovery and problem solving. To know
how to plan and proceed with their work, teachers listen and
observe children closely. Teachers ask questions; discover children's
ideas, hypotheses, and theories; and provide occasions for discovery
|The teachers as researcher.
Teachers work in pairs and maintain strong collegial relationships
with all other teachers and staff, they engage in continuous
discussion and interpretation of their work and the work of
the children. These exchanges provide ongoing training and theoretical
enrichment. Teachers see themselves as researchers preparing
documentation of their work with children whom they also consider
researches. The team is further supported by a pedagogista
(pedagogical coordinator) who serves a group of schools.
|The documentation as communication.
Careful consideration and attention are given
to the presentation of the thinking of the children and the
adults who work with them. Teachers' commentary on the purposes
of the study and the children's learning process, transcriptions
of children's verbal language (i.e., words and dialogue), photographs
of their activity, and representations of their thinking in
many media are composed in carefully designed panels or books
to present the process of learning in the schools. The documentation
serves many purposes. It makes parents aware of their children's
experience. It allows teachers to better understand children,
to evaluate their own work, and to exchange ideas with other
educators. Documentation also shows children that their work
is valued. Finally, it creates an archive that traces the history
of the school and the pleasure in the process of learning experienced
by many children and their teachers.
The parent as partner.
Parent participation is considered essential and takes
many forms. Parents play an active role in their children's
learning experience and help ensure the welfare of all the
children in the school. The ideas and skills that the parents
bring to the school and, even more important, the exchange
of ideas between parents and teachers, favor the development
of a new way of educating, which helps teachers to view the
participation of families not as a threat but as an intrinsic
element of collegiality and as the integration of different
wisdoms (Cadwell, 1997, pp. 5-6).
|Cadwell, L. B. (1997). Bringing Reggio Emilia
Home. New York : Teachers College Press.
|This summary authored by Dr.
Nkechy Ezeh, Ed.D.
|Last updated on November 1, 2005.