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What’s the Reggio Emilia learning approach about?

Trusting someone to watch your child during the day is one thing. Most childcare providers can change nappies, feed, hydrate and play with kids just fine. But handing over your sweet babe’s education? The development of their ideas, skills and thoughts on the world? Um, that’s a whole different ball game.

Researching different approaches to education can help you figure out what kind of childcare or school fits with your style of parenting. At some point in your inevitable Google frenzy, you might come across something called the Reggio Emilia method. Maybe that’s even what landed you here. 

So, what’s it all about? Here’s the lowdown on Reggio Emilia.

The philosophy

Reggio Emilia encourages children to research and investigate subjects they’re naturally drawn to. Some consider this approach to fall in the wheelhouse of play-based learning (similar to Steiner), but the key differentiator is the strong focus on project work. 

Primarily designed for preschool aged children (3-4 years old), it’s also incorporated into many daycare centres and some primary schools, so can be applied to kids anywhere from infancy to 6 years old. 

True Reggio Emilia schools can only exist in the original Italian town but the philosophy has been introduced in over 145 countries and territories globally, resulting in around 5,000 self-professed Reggio-inspired childcare centres. You may find that your chosen daycare centre or school incorporates many of the Reggio Emilia practices without harping on about it too much. On the other hand, some may throw the term around as a sneaky marketing hook. Reggio Emilia Australia Information Exchange suggests some questions you can ask to determine if a childcare provider is the real deal or not.

The classroom set-up

A Reggio Emilia classroom is sometimes called ‘the third teacher’ – the first being the self-teaching child, the second being an actual teacher. It’s bright and open, with resources placed carefully around the room to inspire interactive learning. 

Natural lighting and neutral colours are all the rage, in an effort to simulate nature. Meanwhile, there’s a similar approach to classroom set-up as with Montessori, with activity stations created around the room. For example, there may be an area to explore maths, an area to explore science, etc.

The materials

Kids are prompted to learn directly from their environment by picking up and exploring the materials at hand. Tools and resources are easily accessible and relevant to the local community – for example, Australian classrooms may feature books and resources about native animals and kids might cook locally inspired dishes. 

Beyond physical materials, kids are encouraged to learn and communicate through expression. There’s a Reggio Emilia concept that children have ‘A Hundred Languages’ through which they can interact (not ‘language’ of the Dutch/French/Spanish kind – 100 actual languages would be wild!). Speaking is one language, as are dancing, creating, playing music or pretend playing.

The learning style

Reggio Emilia curriculum is ‘emergent’ – aka teachers have no idea what they’re going to be teaching on any given day. Kids direct their own learning experience, so an array of different projects will be going on at the same time.

The day may begin with discussion about what the kids want to do. They can then explore the classroom freely, while teachers observe and support their learning. Then, kids discuss their findings at lunchtime and decide what they’ll do in the afternoon. 

It’s not exactly a free-for-all play situation. When kids show an interest in a subject, teachers ask questions, introduce materials and suggest other activities to inspire further research and get them to form logical connections.

The role of teachers

Reggio Emilia teachers are co-learners, researchers and role models. They actively notice what children are interested in, and help them engage in related learning activities and projects. They ask questions and encourage kids to express themselves and discover their ideas, thoughts and questions. 

Documentation is an important part of the job too. Teachers will not only document on paper how students are developing, but will also take photos and videos to help them realise their own growth and potential. Work is often displayed around the classroom so kids can see and identify their progress themselves.

The benefits of Reggio Emilia learning

Reggio Emilia-inspired learning teaches kids to:

  • Explore the world
  • Solve problems
  • Engage with their community and environment
  • Welcome new experiences
  • Build social skills
  • Express themselves with confidence
  • Genuinely enjoy learning.

It’s a progressive educational style that touches on building social, intellectual and physical development, along with an appreciation for research and investigation. 

Expect your kids to develop their self-expression, learn to solve problems on their own (very handy), and generally be clever, self-aware little guys and girls!

Another benefit is that you (parents) are invited to participate in the learning experience. Teachers will share what’s been covered in the classroom so you can facilitate further discussion and exploration at home. This is great for parents that like to get involved in education and continue encouraging learning from home.

So how does Reggio Emilia sound to you? Pop your thoughts and questions in the comments below.

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