Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Review of the Reggio Emilia Approach

An example of non-Reggio teacher-defined and regulated art
Although I have never seen the Reggio Emilia Approach in action, it appeals to me a great deal.

One aspect that I applaud is the emphasis on the process of learning. There is another educational philosophy called the Project Approach that closely resembles Reggio Emilia. I've been told that International Baccalaureate schools teach with an emphasis on learning how to research information rather than memorizing facts. The Project Approach and the Reggio Emilia Approach both seem beneficial to that end. In a world where so much information is available on the Internet and the reaches of human knowledge are constantly expanding, skills to gather, critique, and synthesize information are vital.

Similarly, experts say that open-ended projects develop skills needed in the work place like creativity and problem solving. I have already written about the need for fostering creativity in schools, and so I will not belabor this point, but it is a merit of the Reggio Emilia Approach that should not be understated.

I also agree that open-ended art activities are a positive replacement for teacher-defined and regulated craft projects. In an upcoming post I will write about why I think such craft projects are overrepresented in traditional preschool education and how I think Reggio-style documentation can help oust them.

At this point I have one critique of the Reggio Emilia Approach- the philosophy of following the child's interests. While I think children often have interests that we can capitalize on when teaching, only teaching them about things that interest them is problematic for two reasons. The first is that, given that they know so little and that our time to teach them is limited, some things children are interested in are not worth teaching about.

Take dinosaurs, for example. While American elementary education seems to have adopted dinosaurs into its core curriculum, they really are not that important. Millions of creatures existed before humans and to focus so narrowly on these few is sensationalism. I find it problematic that when I was in first grade I could probably name more dinosaurs than I could states that bordered mine, information that is much more immediate and useful.

Dinosaurs are a kind example of things children are interested in that are not worth teaching about (at that age, at least). In my experience, four-year-olds have two interests, Spiderman and Power Rangers (or maybe Disney Princesses). Three-year-olds also have two interests, Thomas the Train and their mothers. The commercialization of childhood is a sad topic for another day. Suffice to say, it seems to take an extremely idealistic view of children that does not mesh with my experiences to believe that they will learn what they need to learn by choice.

The second problem with letting children's interest define the curriculum is that there is a lot of specific knowledge that children need to acquire, be it in a top-down approach. Children may be people too, but they start out as people who can't read and will happily pee on themselves. If we don't teach them otherwise, they will remain as such. Where they live, how to count, what food is healthy- there is a lot of information that we need to impart on children, whether or not they are interested.

“Following the child” is something most preschool teachers agree is a good idea because it sounds nice, and they're not really thinking about it. Usually schools that say they “follow the child” or are “child-centered” are not doing much differently anyways.

When I wrote about the Pros and Cons of Montessori, a reader asked So what kind of school would you send your child to? In my humble opinion, the perfect preschool is some magic mix of approaches that may not exist. De facto, I might send my child to a Montessori school or a Reggio Emilia school or a traditional play-based preschool depending on a long list of criteria that cannot be determined from these labels.

1 comment:

dizzy said...

I had my kiddo in a Reggio program. I loved a lot about the school but at a parent teacher conference they told me their goal was to find one thing that my kid was into so she could have an ongoing project. They then told me that my kid (not quoting directly)was scattered, changed her mind to often about things she liked so they couldn't start a project. All I could think was "ya, some of us are generalist, we like lots of stuff." Between these issue and some other ones that had little to do with the school, we put her in a french immersion program (she was 4 1/2). Her daycare before the new moving to our new city had 12 kids, no dogma. They cared a lot about building with blocks and climbing. They learned about the moon, butterflies etc. and had a big beautiful wild backyard to feel like explorers in.