What is the Reggio Emilia Approach? Art Sprouts Intro to Reggio Inspired Learning

The Reggio-Emilia approach developed in the Reggio-Emilia area in Northern Italy when educators, parents and children began working together to reconstruct society after World War II. It was under the leadership of philosopher and educator Loris Managuzzi that the Reggio Emilia approached evolved from a parent cooperative movement to a city-run system first, to today’s internationally acclaimed pedagogical approach. 1

Rather than a method or a set curriculum, the Reggio approach refers to an ever-evolving set of community-constructed values and educational theories that are continuously translated into high-quality educational practices by educators all over the globe. 2

At its core, the Reggio approach believes that children are resourceful social beings, with rights and agency, that should be given fair opportunities to develop their full potential.

As a method, it prioritizes the social and communal aspect of education, standing true to its original vision to improve human society by helping children realize their full potential as intelligent, creative, whole persons.

The Barbed Noose with the Mice“, Paul Klee, 1923

An education based on relationships

As children are viewed as active constructors of knowledge, the educator’s primary role is to empower and support children as they explore and investigate. However, Reggio educators disagree with the Piagetian view of the child forming knowledge from within, almost in isolation. 3 Instead, they believe the complex social fabric of teachers, parents, and peers that surround children, as well as the physical learning environment, are the fundamental elements of the children’s learning experience.

The Reggio approach is often defined as “education based on relationship”, where each person is considered a “subjective agency” while existing as part of a group. A successful practice should aim at the establishment of a social group where children learn to respect each other, but also learn to express themselves and define their identities.

“Our goal is to build an amiable school, where children, teachers and families feel at home. Such a school requires careful thinking and planning concerning procedures, motivations and interests. It must embody ways of getting along together, of intensifying relationships.”

Loris Managuzzi, “The Hundred Languages of Children” (Norwood, NJ: Ablex, 1993)

The characteristic of the Reggio approach


The Teacher

Reggio teachers are more than educators or passive observers of the children’s education: they are encouraged to facilitate children’s learning by planning lessons based on their interests, ask questions to further their understanding, and actively engage in the activities alongside students. “As partners to the child, the teacher is inside the learning situation” (Hewett, 2001).So how does a typical Reggio lesson look like? Ideally, Reggio educators should aim to produce controlled situations in which children can learn by themselves and with each other, taking advantage of their knowledge and resources. These situations are often called “provocations” as learning happens spontaneously through the children’s action.  

Process-based education is based on two relatively simple statements: children enjoy being observed, and children enjoy being encouraged.

Let’s say a child put all of his effort and attention in completing a task, albeit with somewhat poor outcomes; would it be wise to judge him solely on the results? Or, knowing that practice will eventually improve his skills, wouldn’t it be better to praise his effort so to encourage further attempts?

Again, Reggio educators are telling us that what we should focus our observations on is the child in the process, not the final product.

In the Reggio Emilia approach, the teacher also acts as a recorder of the students learning. More than just a keepsake, documentation is a visual aid that allows children to revisit their processes and words, thereby making their learning visible. Projects don’t have established scopes and results; instead, past works are kept in the learning environment available for children to review, develop or change.

“DIE DORFVERRÜCKTE”, Paul Klee, 1920

The child

In his article “Your Image of the Child: Where Teaching Begins“, Managuzzi warns educators against preconceived abstract ideas of what children are. He often stated the importance of acknowledging each child as his own entity influenced by his own reality, and thus the value of creating a school capable of reflecting this fluidity and able to adapt and accommodate changes.

School can never be predictable. We need to be open to what takes place and able to change our plans and go with what might grow at that very moment both inside the child and inside ourselves.

As life flows with the thoughts of the children, we need to be open, we need to change our ideas; we need to be comfortable with the restless nature of life. 4

“Contemplating”, Paul Klee, 1938

The Parents

Along with teachers and students, parents form the triad of the Reggio approach to learning. After all, the whole movement started with a group of parents reclaiming abandoned buildings, and petitioning the government for help in building a school system that didn’t even exist until then: a place where children would be taken seriously and where they would acquire the skills and values of collaboration and critical thinking necessary to a free and democratic society.  5In Reggio schools, parents are invited to take an active role in the school, being it as volunteers during lessons, or by taking part in regular meetings with the educators to discuss and improve the learning process.

“In Angel’s Care”, Paul Klee 1931

Learning space: The Reggio Emilia classroom

The Reggio Emilia school is a living organism interacting with the people within, not just capable of evolving, but actively promoting change and variation. Filled with natural material and muted tones, the classroom should be engaging but not overwhelming.A thriving Reggio Emilia space should provide the opportunity for children to split into small groups. Small-groups work is more than a functional tool: it gives kids have a better chance to participate actively in the discourse, making complex interactions and debates more likely to occurs, while self-regulatory accommodations are more easily negotiated.

Read more: Reggio Emilia Classroom Design | Art Sprouts Intro to Reggio Inspired Learning Spaces

“Fish Magic”, Paul Klee, 1920

Open-ended Projects

The Reggio approach takes into strong consideration children’s innate proclivity to inquire and learn. Students are encouraged to explore and make hypothesizes, and to depict their understanding through any of their “hundreds of languages” (expressive, communicative, and cognitive)—words, movement, drawing, painting, building, sculpture, shadow play, collage, dramatic play, music, to name a few—that they systemically explore and combine. 6

Open-ended projects, or invitations, provide a narrative structure to the children’s and teacher’s learning. Mistakes are allowed and even encouraged as removing the fear of a bad evaluation gives children the confidence to take risks, and to venture beyond their established area of competence.

“Träger für ein Schild”, Paul Klee, 1934

How can the Reggio approach be implemented within a traditional curriculum?

Even though we may not be able to wholly, or even partially, stir away from standards-driven curriculum and testing, the Reggio Approach is a good reminder that other possibilities exist.

It reminds us that children are receptive, social beings that will model their behaviour on the interactions they have with their peers and with adults, actively participating in creating their identity and the identity of others. Implementing changes to create a safe and balanced environment for all students can certainly benefit all.

From the perspective of educators, Reggio Emilia approach requires teachers to take responsibility for their decisions and provide accurate accounts of their work and of what happens in school, as every dimension of the education is up for debate and discussion.

Possibilities at Sea by Paul Klee, 1932,
“Possibilities at Sea” by Paul Klee, 1932,

It is endless work, and indeed a demanding path for teachers.

However, the primary motivation that urged parents and teacher to seek a better learning experience for the youth is still relevant today: to surpass social disadvantages and to raise a generation with a renewed sense of community and self-worth.

We often talk about the importance of providing kids with inspirational examples and role models, somewhat evading our responsibility to nurture their self-assurance and confidence from within, first and foremost by creating a safe, healthy, amiable environment in our schools.

What we have to do now is draw out the image of the child, draw the child out of the desperate situations that many children find themselves in. If we redeem the child from these difficult situations, we redeem ourselves.

Children have a right to a good school — a good building, good teachers, right time, good activities. This is the right of ALL children.

It is necessary to give an immediate response to a child. Children need to know that we are their friends, that they can depend on us for the things they desire, that we can support them in the things that they have, but also in the things that they dream about, that they desire.

Children have the right to imagine. We need to give them full rights of citizenship in life and in society.

It’s necessary that we believe that the child is very intelligent, that the child is strong and beautiful and has very ambitious desires and requests. This is the image of the child that we need to hold.

Those who have the image of the child as fragile, incomplete, weak, made of glass gain something from this belief only for themselves. We don’t need that as an image of children.

Instead of always giving children protection, we need to give them the recognition of their rights and of their strengths.

Loris Managuzzi, “Your Image of the Child: Where Teaching Begins” Translated by Baji Rankin, Leslie Morrow, and Lella Gandini.

Über Bergeshöhe by Paul Klee, 1917
“Über Bergeshöhe” by Paul Klee, 1917

Resources:

You may also be interested in: 

What-is-the-Reggio-Emilia-Approach-Art-Sprouts_ Reggio inspired Learning

Notes:

  1. Three Approaches from Europe: Waldorf, Montessori, and Reggio Emilia“, Carolyn Pope Edwards
  2. https://www.reggioalliance.org/general-questions/
  3.  For an Education Based on Relationships, Loris Managuzzi, Young Children, Nov 1993
  4. Your Image of the Child: Where Teaching Begins“, Loris Managuzzi
  5.  Reggio Emilia As Cultural Activity Theory in PracticeRebecca S.New
  6. Three Approaches from Europe: Waldorf, Montessori, and Reggio Emilia“, Carolyn Pope Edwards

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