On March 15, the Inserra Chair at Montclair State University presented a panel on the Reggio Emilia approach as part of its regular cultural programming. In introducing the event, Dr. Teresa Fiore, Inserra Chair, brought attention to the diversity represented on the panel: next to a school director, a teacher and a parent from a Reggio-inspired school in NJ (A Child’s Place), the audience had the opportunity to listen to Lella Gandini, renowned Reggio Children Liaison for the Dissemination of the Reggio Emilia Approach in the U.S.. The Reggio Emilia approach was founded soon after World War II by pedagogue and teacher Loris Malaguzzi, who believed in the innate ability and curiosity of children, as well as their involvement in the specific environment around them. Gandini introduced the fundamentals of the approach by quoting Malaguzzi: “One of our strong points has always been to start from an explicit declaration about the very open image of the child that we hold. What does that mean? That means an observation of the interaction of children with teachers, teachers who observe and learn from the children what their interests are.”
Through the story of 10-month-old Laura, Gandini provided the audience with a example of a Reggio-inspired lesson and displayed the importance of observation, documentation through notes and pictures, and the learning that occurs in a real-life situation.
The Grand Rapids Child Discovery Center is inspired by the Reggio Emilia philosophy of education that originated in Northern Italy. The GRCDC does not intend to duplicate this philosophy because the children, families and teachers of Grand Rapids, MI offer a different culture, location and perspective.
The Reggio Emilia philosophy is an approach to teaching, learning and advocacy for children. In its most basic form, it is a way of observing what children know, are curious about and what challenges them. Teachers record these observations to reflect on developmentally appropriate ways to help children expand their academic and social potentials. Long term projects connect core academic areas in and out of the classroom.
Reggio educators speak of their evolving "experience" and see themselves as a provocation and reference point for learning.
Key features of Reggio Emilia's early childhood program include: the role of the environment as the ‘third’ teacher; children's multiple symbolic languages; documentation as assessment and advocacy; long-term projects; the teacher as researcher and the home-school relationships.
To learn more about the Reggio Emilia Approach, please reference the following links:
Kathleen Berkowitz, School Director at A Child’s Place, commented on the development of Reggio Emilia in the U.S. from the perspective of her direct experience in a Reggio Emilia inspired school. She explained that teachers need the time to study, collaborate, discuss, plan, and reflect on their work while they listen to the children and observe them in order to make authentic assessments and to document their work to make the learning visible. While they receive support in professional development, they are expected to take risks within their exploration. They develop trusting relationships not only with their colleagues, but also with the parents, becoming partners in supporting and facilitating the child’s ideas and interests. As she incisively put it: “Children are not vessels to be filled; we want to provide them with environments that provoke thought and learning. Children are born curious.”
The Reggio Emilia approach is a uniquely progressive method of education that has made its way from Italy into America, inspiring educators and parents alike. At a time in which standardization in public schools across the United States is becoming more prevalent, there is also an unfortunate withdrawal of art, music, theater, and other creative programs. This is of great concern, as the school system is sacrificing creativity in the name of uniformity and sameness. On the other hand, the Reggio Emilia approach has a significant focus on individualization, children’s interests and potential, and the use of art to innovate: it may thus be the light at the end of the tunnel in educational reforms.
Collaboration and cooperation are intentional in a school inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach to education. The entire system is designed to be connected and in relationship. Nothing is left to sit in isolation. Everything is alive and connected. Children, teachers and families join together to continually improve the system that supports our school community.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the Reggio Emilia approach is indeed the children and their abilities. Loris Malaguzzi once said that, “The child is made of one hundred. The child has a hundred languages, a hundred hands, a hundred thoughts, a hundred ways of thinking, of playing, of speaking.” With the Reggio Emilia approach, children can reach their full potential: exploring, creating, thinking, working together, and doing. Hearing Malaguzzi’s words from Lella Gandini herself was a highlight of the evening.
The following principles guide the practice and decisions made at the Grand Rapids Child Discovery Center and are borrowed from Foundations of the Reggio Emilia Approach by Lella Gandini.
She added that there is much emphasis on the school environment as the “third teacher” (indeed the schools have an atelier, a piazza, a kitchen, an outdoors space). The significance of the environment in learning is the reason why the Reggio Emilia schools in Italy cannot be exactly duplicated here in America. Because of this, schools are called “Reggio Emilia inspired” in other places.
This gives meaning to the inspiration of the "hundred languages of children" by Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of the Reggio Emilia Approach.
Bambini Creativi recognizes that children are not only our future, but are citizens of the world now and are treated with respect and enjoy full rights.
Far from being a marginal experimental phenomenon, the Reggio Emilia approach promises to reinvigorate the current system. As Debbie Piescor concluded: “there is a revolution happening. We have had schools and parents and superintendents of the public school systems telling us that a change is really needed, and they have sought us out to hear what makes things work at our school.”