Bringing the outside in
In Reggio Emilia Education there is a recognition that children interact with the environment almost as if it were a living being. Their classrooms are filled with natural light, plants, little jars of tempting objects, placed to enhance the child’s natural curiosity.
The curriculum is not set but emergent; arising from the conversations and play of children. Teachers enhance the process by reflecting the children’s words back to them and asking them to clarify their meaning and thus refine their thought processes. The approach is considered scientific, children and teachers are both engaged in real time investigations. Part of the teacher’s work is to continuously consider and research how they might better serve the children. Children test and reflect on theories they themselves propose.
Learning is considered to happen in a spiral pattern. Themes and subjects are recalled and revisited to allow the children’s understanding of them to evolve. Documentation is a key part of this process: Teachers record fragments of children’s conversations and display them on the walls along with photographs and art work. These wall displays act as a kind of community memory.
Parents are welcomed as part of the community, their ideas and opinions valued and included.
Each classroom has an atelierista – something like a resident artist – who provides the children with material such as paints and clay and works with them closely. Art is taken seriously in the Reggio classroom as an important part of scientific investigation. Complexity and multimodality are valued; that art and science are overlapping and interlinked. Learning is made visible symbolically by the children through gesture, speech, sound, writing, mark making amongst other ways. This is sometimes referred to as the “One Hundred Languages of Childhood”.
The Reggio Emila approach was developed post world war 2 in a region of northern Italy, a collaborative project between citizens, parents and educators to offer provision for 4 to 6 year olds. Psychologist and educator Loris Malaguzzi was instrumental in its development. Children from all socioeconomic backgrounds attend and children with disabilities are given priority: Malaguzzi saw differences as positive and stimulating, with disability just one of the ways children could be different from one another.
In the book “The hundred languages of children the Reggio Emilia experience in transformation”, Edwards, Gandini and Forman link the way in which the community has collaborated to develop the system of education to a long history of collectivism in the region, dating back to the craft guilds of the 14th Century. They also connect it to an ideology of participatory democracy within the town: The right and ability of citizens to play a role in making decisions which affect them. There is a strong recognition of the rights of the individual and of accommodating a multiplicity of needs and circumstances.
There are many things I love about the Reggio approach; the deep respect it affords to children and all members of the community. Teachers are trusted and respected to develop and evolve their own practices. Education is not something fixed which is handed down by those in power but something which emerges from our relationships with self, other and environment: principles which could be the foundations for more connected ways of living which I believe are the foundations of flourishing”.