Volcanoes and the Reggio Emilia Approach

‘There are bubbles coming out of volcanic mud’ – Jack

It all started with a book. A simple non-fiction book that I rotated into Jack’s bedtime reading basket about six weeks ago. Jack had never seen a volcano before and something about these pictures of giant fiery eruptions captured his imagination. This was the start of something. An opportunity to discover and explore; an opportunity to follow his lead and let the experiences emerge naturally. This is what I love most about the Reggio Emilia Approach, the fact that I don’t have to come up with all the activities, that his interest is enough to motivate Jack to want to know more. That activities aren’t done once in isolation. Jack has and indeed needs, exposure to the same activities again and again in order to develop his skills and understanding. These child-led investigations or projects are the corner-stone of Reggio Emilia.

It started with a discussion, ‘this is a volcano. This is lava. Lava comes out the top of the volcano. It’s very hot. The volcano is erupting’. Jack took it from there. He represented his understanding by drawing. You can see his deepening understanding of how a volcano works  as his drawings became more elaborate.

Jack's first observational drawing of a volcano

‘This is a volcano and this is the lava. It’s coming out. And this is the ash cloud’

I put out red, black and white paint and he chose to paint volcanoes. Again, you can see his understanding of the relationship between the volcano and the lava in the paintings.

Jack’s first volcano painting

‘This is a dormant volcano. There’s no lava coming out.’

An active volcano

We did a simple baking soda and vinegar activity which he associated with eruptions.

“This is the lava and it’s coming out the top”.

We went to the library and borrowed some more books on volcanoes and watched YouTube videos in order to build on his prior knowledge.

Jack’s also represented his understanding of volcanoes through clay sculpting, dramatic block play and sand play. None of these activities are difficult to prepare and are entirely child-led. My role is to simply provide him with the tools to express his understanding; to pursue his interest until he has had his fill and his interest shifts to another topic. This is my understanding of the Reggio Emilia Approach.

The Reggio Emilia Approach is an early childhood approach to learning in centres although this is my understanding of how you can apply the main principles to your home.

The Child:

  • has an interest in constructing their own learning – they decide, not you (relieves a lot of pressure, doesn’t it?)
  • constructs meaning through their interactions with the real world – real play, not worksheets
  • expresses their understanding visually – drawing, painting, building, sculpting…
  • needs to have access to authentic art materials

The Parent:

  • is a guide not a director – don’t think ‘what will I teach them today?‘ Think ‘what are they interested in and how can I build on that interest?’
  • observes the child and follows their lead
  • presents opportunities for the child to express their understanding visually – make their thoughts or ideas come alive
  • asks open-ended questions to encourage thinking, discover ideas, imagine, remember – not questions to elicit facts
  • presents open-ended activities with no pre-conceived ideas about learning
  • allows the child to explore freely

The Environment:

  • is the ‘third teacher’ – everything in the room should have a purpose. Why is it there? How does it benefit the child?
  • encourages investigation, communication and discovery through its design
  • is ordered and engaging
  • is aesthetically pleasing
  • is fully accessible to the child
  • uses natural and authentic materials

I don’t know how much longer Jack will be interested in volcanoes; six weeks now and still going strong. I wonder what he will be fascinated by next…..


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8 thoughts on “Volcanoes and the Reggio Emilia Approach

  1. I always love reading more about Reggio Emilia. This is wonderful … I love how child-directed the whole activity is.

  2. Waterfalls and geysers at our house. Boy and his dad did a whole geyser unit on YouTube. I’m kind of relieved you use it too; so many play-based ECE bloggers seem so opposed to any screen time, but that ship has long since sailed for us.

    The field trip to a Really Big Waterfall in the “mountains, mommy! Look!” was the best.

    • Frances I can just imagine how gorgeous your waterfalls are. We don’t nearly have anything like you guys. I don’t see anything wrong at all with using YouTube. I mean, short of actually taking Jack to an active volcano, how else will he know what an eruption looks like? I can definitely see their point about reducing screen time but there is so much wealth of knowledge of the internet, why would you not use it?

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