The Power of the Reggio Emilia Approach in Education

You may have heard of the Reggio Emilia approach in education and wondered what it is or how it works. Like other educational theories gaining increased popularity in the 21st century, the Reggio Emilia approach focuses on putting the child at the centre of their learning experience.

The Reggio Emilia approach is an educational pedagogy that views children as capable and independent learners who are innately curious about the world around them. It emphasizes the importance of stimulation, engagement, self-expression, and problem-solving in early childhood learning.

We’ve compiled some answers to commonly asked questions about the Reggio Emilia approach, and also provided some guidance on how to implement it in your classroom.

What are the core values of the Reggio Emilia approach?

There are a few core values that make up the Reggio Emilia approach. First, children are viewed as the constructors of knowledge and learning. They have the inherent power to make meaning of their experiences and learn through trial-and-error. Second, children express themselves in multiple ways. They learn and think in a variety of ways, and express themselves differently depending on the task and their goals. Furthermore, with the Reggio-Emilia approach, the classroom is just as important as the quality of teaching. The classroom should act as a “third teacher” to provide a stimulating and aesthetically pleasing environment. Employing an emergent curriculum based on students’ needs is also a component of the Reggio-Emilia approach. Finally, observation and documentation is imperative in a Reggio-inspired classroom.

1. Children are constructors of knowledge and learning

Children learn from everything they are surrounded with. The Reggio Emilia approach believes that children are naturally equipped with the potential to learn and the capability to make sense and derive meaning from their experiences. Everyday opportunities to play, explore, and wonder are vital in the Reggio Emilia approach.

How to embed this in your classroom:

Create a culture that values student voice and choice. At a surface level, be intentional with the choices of materials you introduce into the room. Furthermore, provide space for children to write, draw, and create impressions of their ideas by hanging whiteboards in accessible places. From a professional development standpoint, this article on knowledge construction is an excellent resource to consult to better understand this component of the Reggio Emilia approach.

Moreover, tune into what children are doing. Ask questions and listen for ideas, theories, and wonders. Provide opportunities for children to explore different topics, subjects, and materials to get a feel for what interests them. Moreover, encourage thoughtful exploration, questioning, and collaborating with others. Bloom’s Taxonomy is a great tool to consult when planning for scaffolded learning opportunities. The Reggio Emilia approach encourages community and interrelationships, so treat children as active collaborators in their education.

2. Children learn, think, and express themselves in multiple ways

The idea that children possess the ability to think, understand, and make connections in a multitude of ways is a core principle of the Reggio Emilia approach. Children have unlimited potential for making sense of the world and also an abundance of creativity.

How to embed this in your classroom:

Since children all express themselves differently (linked to the idea of the Hundred Languages), teachers need to provide multiple channels through which children can communicate. It is the responsibility of the teacher to facilitate the exploration of new materials, ideas, and environments. A practical example of this is to thoughtfully lay out an assortment of objects and let each child interact with it how they feel comfortable.

Creating provocations and invitations helps introduce new concepts and ideas to children. They also encourage the development of self-expression and communication through whatever means they can. For example, some children communicate best by drawing or painting their ideas. On the other hand, some children prefer using words or movements. The table below offers some ways children can communicate about the same topic through different channels:

3. Learning environments should be welcoming, intentional, and authentic

The Reggio Emilia approach places emphasis on the classroom as a “living organism”, playing the role of a third teacher. Environments should constantly adapt to the new learning experiences that are happening and should be planned out with intention. Moreover, consider things like furniture choices, objects, and the conditions in which children explore and learn.

How to embed this in your classroom:

A Reggio-inspired classroom is an inviting and aesthetically pleasing space; it is also a multi-sensory environment. They should have the space and structure to explore things that interest them. We wrote an article previously on creating beautiful, effective learning environments to help you plan out your learning space.

The benefits of having an inviting, flexible, and collaborative classroom aren’t limited by age or ability; students of all ages and abilities benefit from interacting with their peers, and a classroom that is purposefully designed to support that has many positive benefits. Photos of children working and playing are not only encouraging for children to see, but they also help parents and teachers reflect on what is working for the children and what they’re enjoying.

4. Reggio Emilia uses an emergent curriculum

An “emergent curriculum” is built around children’s interests. Topics are decided upon by teachers as a result of observations and discussions with children and their families. The inclusion of items and materials that interest children (for example, toy characters, building materials, and popular children’s songs) is standard. From there, teachers ask that parents and the community involve themselves in the creation of the learning environment.

How to embed this in your classroom:

Make time for in-depth projects (typically called “adventures”) based on the information gathered about children’s interests. These adventures can last anywhere from a week to an entire school year. Emphasize the importance of collaboration, problem-solving, and communication between students.

The role of the teacher is to learn alongside the children in addition to providing support and guidance for these learning experiences. It is important to remember that a core belief of the Emilia Reggio approach is that teachers are learners too.

5. Emphasis on observing and documenting

Documentation of student growth and exploration is also incredibly important in the Reggio Emilia approach. It can include photos, informal notes, work portfolios, and recorded dictations. Furthermore, this includes transcribing the verbal language used by children and occasionally recording videos or audio clips of the learning that is happening.

How to embed this in your classroom:

Remember that teachers are partners in the learning process. They act as guides, facilitators, and observers. As you work alongside children, write down what you notice and what conversations are having. Listen for opportunities to encourage children to go deeper in their learning, and ask questions to help facilitate this. Utilize video, recording devices, and taking photos to understand the children and to also help parents understand their child’s learning processes.

By documenting children’s learning, teachers are also inadvertently demonstrating to children that their work is valuable and important. Children take deep pride in the work they create and it is important that they are mindful of their learning process. Documentation panels are a great way to showcase children’s work to foster a sense of pride in their learning.

What is the role of the teacher?

Teachers foster learning through the Reggio Emilia approach in a variety of ways. Firstly, it is important to remember that the teacher is a learner too. Their role is to facilitate, guide, and offer support. Second, fostering student success in a Reggio Emilia classroom means that teachers are doing many things. For example, they are making expectations clear, providing plenty of opportunities for collaboration, and challenging students at appropriate levels to advance their learning.

Teachers are also responsible for documenting ideas, observing, and engaging with children by asking questions. They compile their observations and offer students new provocations and opportunities to explore. From there, teachers introduce new objects and materials when students have reached the point when they are familiar with all aspects of the previous provocation. This can happen quickly, so teachers need to be ready to change course and create new learning opportunities at a moment’s notice.

Finally, teachers also take on the responsibility of preparing rewarding environments that engage students’ senses. The idea is to provoke new questions, new ideas, and new possibilities. Moreover, it is important that children see value in their ideas and contributions.

Photo by Paige Cody on Unsplash

What materials should I have in my Reggio Emilia classroom?

Purposeful and aesthetic items are a staple of any Reggio-inspired classroom. Things like loose parts, art materials, and natural items are the norm. Materials are carefully selected to reflect children’s interests and the potential that holds to enhance curiosity and exploration.

Don’t be afraid to share materials made of ceramic or glass; in my experience, children can be trusted with breakable items like these as long as they are guided and supported in doing so.

In most cases, Reggio-inspired items are common and can be found on Amazon or at your local dollar store, hardware store, or arts and crafts store. I am a huge fan of purchasing things like natural items, watercolours, and small tactile items from the dollar store. However, I’ve found that paying for higher-quality items like the ones listed below are well worth the investment for the amount of use they receive in the classroom. For example, I’ve had a very similar set of wooden serving trays from Amazon as these and they’ve lasted me close to 6 years now.

Some other useful items I’d recommend having in your Reggio-Emilia classroom:

Considerations with the Reggio Emilia approach

  • It is important for teachers to develop a more holistic image of their students and to consider their interests and curiosities. Ideas for provocations and learning experiences should come from the teacher’s observation of their students. For example, consider asking “How can we provoke students to think of the materials in new ways?”
  • Be careful not to let curriculum dictate the experiences created for students. Of course, there needs to be some element of learning going on, and the curriculum provides some good ideas for this. However, experiences should be curated in a way that entices students but also leaves room for scaffolding new concepts.
  • At the end of the day, it is about what motivates the students, not just what looks pretty online. I have fallen victim to scrolling around on Pinterest for provocation ideas, only to miss the point entirely about what a provocation should be and where inspiration should come from. Try to remember to focus on the students and what interests them.

Key Takeaways:

(1) The Reggio Emilia approach is an educational pedagogy that views children as capable and independent learners who are innately curious about the world around them.

(2) Early childhood learning should be characterized by engagement, self-expression, and opportunities for problem-solving.

(3) Core beliefs of the Reggio Emilia approach include the idea that children are constructors of knowledge and learning, and that they express their learning through “One Hundred Languages”.

(4) The classroom environment should be welcoming, authentic, and intentional, and include the use of an emergent curriculum.

(5) The role of the teacher is to be a co-learner and facilitator who documents children’s learning extensively and uses it to inform not only their planning of further learning opportunities, but also the children and their parents.

(6) A big shift is taking place in the world of education; many parents and teachers are realizing the incredible benefits of a Reggio Emilia approach to learning over traditional schooling options.

Do you currently use a Reggio Emilia approach in your school or classroom?

Leave a comment below with your thoughts on this approach, or join the conversation over on Instagram!

Share here:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *