Alternative Education: Your Reggio-Emilia Questions Answered

The first time you heard the words Reggio-Emilia, you probably thought you were being introduced to a new kind of parmesan (no shame!). Since then, you’ve been curious about what exactly the teaching methodology entails.

Reggio-Emilia teachers see themselves as co-learners and collaborators in their student’s learning path. Children tell their teachers what they are interested in learning and the teacher’s job is to provide the experiences and materials that will feed their curiosity. This is a unique approach to early childhood education that has become increasingly popular in the last several decades and now the Reggio-Emilian way of schooling is a worldwide network of nursery and primary schools.

Who was Loris Malaguzzi?

In the spirit of creative rebuilding after World War II, Loris Malaguzzi founded a network of schools in the villages around the Reggio-Emilia district in northern Italy. Malaguzzi felt that children form their own unique personality and desire to learn during their early years if allowed creative expression. The idea is that a child’s innate curiosity naturally grows into the desire for more advanced learning when supported and encouraged by adults.

What is the Reggio-Emilia philosophy in a nutshell?

Malaguzzi described children as “knowledge bearers” full of intelligence, curiosity, and wonder. He saw children as powerfully active in creating their path in life and also in creating changes in their community. He saw them as producers “of culture, values, and rights.” It is the adult’s responsibility to give them the means to express themselves in as many creative ways as possible. Working on long-term, open-ended projects with other children and their “co-learner” teachers are felt to be an important vehicle for achieving these goals.

  • As part of this, a modern Reggio Emilia school believes that children should:
  • Have an active role in the direction of their learning;
  • Learn through sensory experiences that include touching, moving, listening, and observing;
  • Be allowed to explore and forge relationships with other students and learning tools;
  • Be given ample opportunities to express themselves.

The child’s social matrix is also an important part of the philosophy and significant classroom time is spent fostering and supporting relationships between the children, and with their community.

How is the classroom and curriculum organized?

Whereas in a traditional public school, kids are shuffled from teacher to teacher on a yearly basis, in the Reggio-Emilia system, a teacher is responsible for the same group of children for three years. The idea here is that the longer relationship naturally gets the instructor more invested in the education of each and every student – whether they be top performers looking for more challenge or struggling students who need extra attention.

As mentioned, a Reggio-Emilian teacher isn’t just an instructor who offers knowledge for kids to memorize or work on in projects. He is a facilitator and a “co-learner” that is inside the learning situation.

For instance, if a preschooler shows interest in numbers and beginning arithmetic, the teacher designs experiences that bring the world of numbers alive and activates the child’s curiosity even more. The teacher engages with the child as an active fellow learner while listening carefully to the child’s questions and the direction of her curiosity. No teaching manuals or curriculum guides are used at all, the approach is entirely individualized.

On top of the individualized education that this three-year engagement allows, students are also better able to forge deep relationships with their peers and a tight social matrix.

How is the Reggio-Emilia classroom different?

In the Reggio-Emilia philosophy, the learning environment is almost just as important as the instructor. You’ll be greeted by a natural lit space when you walk into a Reggio-Emilian school. Environments that are aesthetically pleasing, that foster connection with the community, and that are relaxing are the goal. Classrooms are specially designed around a central space, with each room also accessible to the outside world through large, plentiful windows and doors.

The environment is often described as the child’s “third teacher”. The philosophy behind this design is that the child can best make sense of their world if their environment supports a free exchange of ideas and experiences.

If there are no books or grades, how will I know how my child is doing?

Part of the teacher’s role is to document the learning and thinking style of each child in her care. The teacher use can notebooks, videos, and other materials that include the child’s own work to show you what your child has been working on. Documentation of the child’s learning style provides a feedback system for the teachers in designing future curriculum. It also gives parents a peek into their child’s inner world and creates a better understanding of how their child naturally learns.

Are you considering a Reggio-Emilia school for your children? Why or why not?

Tags : preschool   toddlers   Reggio-Emilia   

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