Fundamental Principles: What’s it all about?

The Reggio Emilia Approach is an innovative and inspiring approach to early childhood education, which similarly to Montessori, values the child as strong, capable and resilient; rich with wonder and knowledge. Every child brings with them deep curiosity and potential and this innate curiosity drives their interest to understand their world and their place within it.

The Reggio Emilia Approach originated in the town (and surrounding areas) of Reggio Emilia in Italy out of a movement towards progressive and cooperative early childhood education. It is unique to Reggio Emilia and so unlike Montessori, it is not a method, there are no international training colleges to train to be a Reggio Emilia teacher. Outside of the town of Reggio Emilia, all schools and preschools (and home schools) are Reggio-inspired, using an adaptation of the approach specific to the needs of their community. This is important as each student, teacher, parent, community, and town are different. No two Reggio-inspired communities should look the same as the needs and interests of the children within each community will be different.

Typically the Reggio Approach is applied to preschools and early childhood settings but I think, with an understanding of the general principles, this inspiring child-led approach can be adapted to the home as well.

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1: Children are capable of constructing their own learning. They are driven by their interests to understand and know more.

2: Children form an understanding of themselves and their place in the world through their interactions with others. There is a strong focus on social collaboration, working in groups, where each child is an equal participant, having their thoughts and questions valued. The adult is not the giver of knowledge. Children search out the knowledge through their own investigations.

3: Children are communicators. Communication is a process, a way of discovering things, asking questions, using language as play. Playing with sounds and rhythm and rhyme; delighting in the process of communicating. Children are encouraged to use language to investigate and explore, to reflect on their experiences. They are listened to with respect, believing that their questions and observations are an opportunity to learn and search together. It is a process, a continual process. A collaborative process rather than the child asking a question and the adult offering the answers. The search is undertaken together.

4: The environment is the third teacher. Similarly to Montessori, the environment is recognised for its potential to inspire children. An environment filled with natural light, order and beauty. Open spaces free from clutter, where every material is considered for its purpose, every corner is ever-evolving to encourage children to delve deeper and deeper into their interests. The space encourages collaboration, communication and exploration. The space respects children as capable by providing them with authentic materials & tools. Also similarly to Montessori, the space is cared for by the children and the adults.

5: The adult is a mentor and guide. Our role as adults is to observe (our) children, listen to their questions and their stories, find what interests them and then provide them with opportunities to explore these interests further. Reggio Emilia takes a child-led project approach. The projects aren’t planned in advanced, they emerge based on the child’s interests.

6: An emphasis on documenting children’s thoughts. You’ll notice in Reggio and Reggio-inspired settings that there is an emphasis on carefully displaying and documenting children’s thoughts and progression of thinking; making their thoughts visible in many different ways: photographs, transcripts of children’s thoughts and explanations, visual representations (drawings, sculptures etc.) all designed to show the child’s learning process.

7: And probably the most well-known aspect of the Reggio Emilia Approach, the Hundred Languages of Children. The belief that children use many many different ways to show their understanding and express their thoughts and creativity. A hundred different ways of thinking, of discovering, of learning. Through drawing and sculpting, through dance and movement, through painting and pretend play, through modelling and music, and that each one of these Hundred Languages must be valued and nurtured. That they are all a part of the child, that learning and play are not separated. The Reggio Emilia Approach emphasises hands-on discovery learning that allows the child to use all their senses and all their languages to learn.

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4 thoughts on “Fundamental Principles: What’s it all about?

  1. This is a great post. I had not heard of Reggio Emilia learning before. I am currently homeschooling my kindergarden aged son, and I really like the “adult as mentor and guide” approach – this is very “John Holt”. I am finding it really difficult to not get too “teach-y”! I have a public school and university background I have been apt to think that we can’t learn on our own, but need to be taught everything from a teacher. Then I read John Holt’s book “Learning all the time” and that really helped me. I have also read some Charlotte Mason, which also has some similar theories.
    Thank you for the post!

    • Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of The Reggio Emilia Approach was influenced by many constructivist theorists and educators. It came about as a community’s way to rebuild and break from the old after WW2. The community quite literally rebuilt a school from rubble. So you’ll notice a lot of similar thoughts and attitudes towards children and learning. I used to have a difficulty too, trying to control the learning too much. I was a high school teacher and taught students who had lost their passion for learning and so I used many bells and whistles to ‘engage’ them. It wasn’t until after I left teaching and read more about Reggio and Montessori and John Holt that things started to change for me.

      It is a difficult and fundamental shift though, isn’t it? I really like ‘Learning all the Time’ and ‘How Children Learn’, they helped me a lot too. I have read a little of Charlotte Mason, I am not too familiar though. Is there something you would recommend?

      • I have downloaded some free e-books from simplycharlottemason.com and from what I have read so far they are a great resource. There is one called “The Way of the Will” which has some great insight on children and self-control ( which is an issue with all of my little ones!) I also downloaded “Education Is” and “Smooth Easy Days” (Ha! I like the sound of that!).

        I find it interesting that when starting from nothing a community would create such a beautiful harmonious way of teaching their children, like The Reggio Emilia method. I feel that the U.S. and Canada would be so different if public schools would just start again from scratch. But that is simply not going to happen I suppose. I read “Dumbing us Down” by John Gatto (I think). Wow.
        If you were a high school teacher and you now homeschool I’m sure you have either read that or lived it! But we just do what we can with our own children. It feels so natural to help them to learn, and discover. I feel so blessed to be able to stay at home with them and that I live in a province (I’m Canadian) where I can homeschool and the curriculum is not dictated to me. I love your website, the photos are great, and the kids are cuties! I love the photos of pudgy fingers lacing the beads! So cute!

        Here is a quick description of the Charlotte Mason Method from the “Education Is” free e-book

        “Charlotte Mason—Based on the educational writings of Charlotte Mason, a turn-of-the-century British educator. Uses “living books” rather than textbooks or twaddle. Respects children as persons and gives them a broad education. Presents a generous curriculum, including nature study, picture study, music study, and handicrafts, as well as the usual academic subjects. Seeks to “spread a feast” before the child and let him digest what is appropriate for him at that time. Uses methods that will nurture a love for learning, not just present a body of information.”

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