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The Reggio Emilia approach is so called as it derives from the educational philosophies and practices of a municipal group of early childhood centres in the Italian town of Reggio Emilia. An understanding of the Reggio Emilia approach is a useful foundation when considering an inquiry model of curriculum development. If you would like to record some key ideas about the Reggio Emilia approach, there is a box below the reading where you can take notes.
The Reggio Emilia educational philosophy derives from educational pedagogies and philosophies developed since the 1950s within early childhood settings in the town of Reggio Emilia, Northern Italy. This educational project was initiated in the aftermath of World War II and was intended to be progressive, democratic and liberating. The Reggio Emilia approach takes a constructivist and social-constructivist approach to teaching and learning, grounding curriculum in children’s inquiries and projects. Like Te Whāriki, it focuses on the idea of the child as creative and intelligent, capable of exploring and discovering for themselves, with both the intention and the right to make meaning in many different ways. This takes place in a context of rich relationships with other people and materials.
The main features of the Reggio Emilia approach
Inquiry: The Reggio Emilia approach focuses on wondering with children about what they experience, think and feel and on encouraging children to make sense of their world. Inquiry is therefore flexible and responsive to children’s motivations, interests and contexts, and what is meaningful for children in their lives.
Project-based: Teachers in Reggio Emilia seek underlying or overarching ideas in children’s play and inquiry as a basis for projects. Teachers are always prepared to ask children challenging questions. They encourage children to ask questions, form hypotheses and do research. Individual interests are developed into in-depth group experiences and projects. Children are invited to join projects and meetings in regard to co-researching specific learning interests. Teachers follow the children and make proposals or plan possibilities rather than designing predetermined plans. They hypothesise about what might take place in educational projects and formulate objectives that are flexible and can be adapted to children’s interests and needs during the project process.
Environment as the third teacher: Teachers provide a well-planned environment with provocative materials as well as meaningful experiences in the world. This leads them to describe the environment as a ‘third teacher’.
Expressive experiences: Teachers encourage children to make sense of experiences and ideas through ‘100 languages’, which recognises both multiple knowledge systems and ways of understanding phenomena, as well as multiple ways of expressing and communicating ideas. Each language is thought to help children to think about phenomena in a different light. For example, children might explore an interest in giraffes through the language of art or clay, the language of biology, or the language of measurement.
Collaboration, dialogue, and exchange of ideas: Children are encouraged to make explicit what they think and engage in interaction, discussion, and conflict (intellectual argument) in order to negotiate and build meaning with others. In this way children co-construct knowledge in relationship with other children and their teachers; they also are involved in co-constructing the culture (rules and meanings) of their early childhood setting, while teachers see themselves as observers, listeners, partners and provocateurs. Teachers build on the prior knowledge and beliefs of children by providing the communicative and practical skills as well as the concepts and knowledge systems children need to pursue activities related to their interests. Children, families and communities are all involved in planning and evaluating projects.
Pedagogical documentation: this is a form of recording children’s actions and words in early childhood settings in order to listen to and come to better know the child, to develop new ways of relating to children, and to co-construct curricular experiences with children. Teachers use the process of documenting their practice and the children’s responses to explore their own teaching, to inform professional dialogue and to generate questions and inquiry about the children and their learning. Documentation aims to make children’s learning, skills, strategies, processes and understandings visible, foregrounding their learning processes for knowledge construction rather than the context and activities. It is shared with children and families to enable them to interpret, reflect upon, evaluate and co-construct the meaning of experiences.
To read this guide on The Education Hub website, with references, click here.
All three of the case study centres in this course draw on the Reggio Emilia approach for inspiration, while being careful to contextualise their practices for Aotearoa New Zealand and the rich framework of Te Whāriki. You may have noticed that the teachers from Kids’ Domain featured in the case study in Part 4 draw on the Reggio Emilia philosophy, and that the discussion of Pakuranga Baptist Kindergarten’s visual arts practices in Part 2 bears a number of connections to the Reggio Emilia approach.