What is The Reggio Emilia Approach?

An Everyday StoryThe Reggio Emilia Approach is an innovative and inspiring approach to early childhood education which 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.Exploring Reggio - Art and Painting Explorations An Everyday Story

Background

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. 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.Homeschool Kindergarten - working with clay (An Everyday Story)

Fundamental Principles

I have included links to posts which highlight these principles in more detail. If you are interested in implementing a Reggio-inspired approach in your own homes, check out our 30 Days to Transform Your Play series.

Children are capable of constructing their own learning

They are driven by their interests to understand and know more.

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.

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.

The environment is the third teacher

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. The space is cared for by the children and the adults.

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.

The Reggio Emilia Approach takes a child-led project approach. The projects aren’t planned in advanced, they emerge based on the child’s interests.

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.

The Hundred Languages of Children

Probably the most well-known aspect of the Reggio Emilia Approach. 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.

These languages, or ways of learning, are all a part of the child. 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.Exploring Reggio - Playdough faces - An Everyday Story

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37 thoughts on “What is The Reggio Emilia Approach?

  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.”

  2. I work in a Kindergarten shool in Vienna, Austria..I am just a childminder but I am interested in learning to educate children so I can conrtibute to their knowledge in my own little way . I find this page very interesting and helpful. Thank you!

    • Thank you for popping by. The Reggio Emilia Approach is a truly inspiring approach to early childhood education which values and nurtures to whole child in all their capacities. I hope you find more inspiration and decide to implement some of the principles with the children in your care.

    • I think that all of you would also be interested in WALDORF education. Rudolf Steiner started this school after the war when asked by the Waldorf Factory to teach their employees children . This education is one that incorporates the “WHOLE” Child, Hands, Heart & Head; the
      3 H’s . I am a public school trained Teacher, and if I were younger I would go back and do my Waldorf Teacher Training; it is “Exceptional” in so many ways . THe child is really encouraged and the teacher takes the time to “learn” about the child, the teacher has the children from grade 1 – 8 ; so you can see that a “special” rapport and bond is there.
      I can not say enough, take a look for yourself…..

  3. Please also recognize that the principals are very similar to the Waldorf approach in many ways. I noticed you gave credit to Montessori, but not Waldorf.

    • I know that Maria Montessori did in a way influence Loris Malaguzzi and the educators of Reggio Emilia when they were rebuilding their schools and rethinking their ideas on early childhood education. I am only vaguely familiar with Waldorf, I know Waldorf nurtures the creative and holistic child with an emphasis on slow learning. I would be interested in hearing more about the similarities with the Reggio Emilia Approach.

  4. I noticed you mentioned that this approach is applicable to the home too. How do you suggest people do this? I imagine it would be easy to create the homey and cozy environment because it is done at home. But how would you suggest promoting learning at the home through student interest? Because the student will be at there home where they are so accustomed to playing but not learning through it so that piece of the Reggio play seems to be hard to integrate.

    • The children learn through play. They learn through hands-on exploration of their interests. If we observe our children and identify their interests we can create an environment for them which supports these interests by putting out particular toys and materials and displaying them in inviting ways. Playing and learning aren’t separated. We have art materials available for children to further pursue and recreate their interests. We take field trips, we ask questions and pursue answers in a hands-on discovery based way. We document our children’s interests and experiences and use these to guide us.

      • Hi, Kate. Our sons are 3 and 2. Would you mind sharing an example of how you document the interests and experiences of your children? How then do you use those observations as a guide?

  5. Hi, can you tell where you took the principles from? I realize it’s Reggio, but is there a specific book or resource you copied them from? I would like to use this list but I need to know the original resources. Thanks. :)

    • Hi Stephanie, this is a summary of my understanding of the main principles from my own readings. You can see which books I recommend on my Reggio Books page.

  6. hello
    i am currently researching Reggio Emilia as an approach to teaching, i am struggling to find information on ‘what happens next’ after primary age, are there secondary schools that follow that support the same ethos??

    • Hi Harry,

      The Reggio Emilia Approach is an early childhood approach to learning (preschool years). Project-based, emergent and other such approaches to teaching and learning practice similar principles to The Reggio Emilia Approach. There are several alternative schools (from the typical mainstream approach) which continue into the secondary years. Have a look for democratic and free schools and emergent-based curriculum schools.

  7. Hi, I am Mary, I visited Reggio Emilia in 2006, was amazing experience, at the time I was half way through my study, this changed my whole thinking and linked how in NZ Te Whaariki links in with the RE Approach to early childhood education. What we currently identify as ‘thechild – heart of the matter’ Ko te Tamaiti te Puutake o te Kaupapa. quote from MOE Review office June 2013. I can certainly draw paralels between Te Whaariki and Reggio Emilia. I believe here in NZ we may develop a town that is totally child focused, it may change how adults see children as competent learners from babies to adults. My thoughts for the day.

  8. I really enjoyed reading this. I am Montessori teacher but am now studying as much as I can about the Reggio Emilla approach. I work in Early Years in Vientiane, Laos and look forward to bring this approach to my classroom and my home with with young ones. Hopefully someday I can do a study tour to Italy. ;) Until then, I enjoy your blog.

    • Hi Kelly :) Thank you for popping by. The Reggio Emilia Approach was inspired in many ways by Maria Montessori so I am sure you are seeing many similarities; particularly the emphasis on the child as capable and valued. I wish you all the best with implementing some of the principles into your teaching and learning and hope to hear from you soon.

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