Tuesday, December 20, 2011

What is the Reggio Emilia Approach?

A child's drawing from Reggio Emilia, Italy
The Reggio Emilia Approach is a philosophy and set of practices for early childhood education that were developed in Italy in the city of Reggio Emilia. The approach has gained popularity in America, and while only a handful of preschools are strictly “Reggio,” a growing number are “Reggio inspired.”

The first Reggio Emilia school was opened after WWII. The community was rebuilding, and in a backlash against Fascist ideology, the town wanted to make sure the new school allowed students to define what they learned, rather than allowing traditional top-down teaching. The resulting school was one in which teachers spend a great deal of time observing children and then presenting information of interest to them.

One defining aspect of the Reggio Emilia Approach is the use of projects. Students work in small groups on long-term open-ended projects. For example, a teacher may notice that a group of students is interested in dinosaurs. She then brings them together on a daily basis to work on a project involving dinosaurs. The students begin by gathering information. They may read books (or have the teacher read books to them) interview other adults and take trips. They then decide what sort of project to take on. For example, they might decide they want to create a life-sized drawing of a dinosaur. They work together over weeks to accomplish this.

Another defining aspect of the Reggio Emilia approach is documentation. The teacher is charged with documentation of student work for future reference. She may take photographs, write titles on art work, preserve and display artwork and even transcribe conversations.

A final defining characteristic of Reggio Emilia is open-ended art. The schools of Reggio Emilia, Italy each have entire rooms designated as art studios. Students have large blocks of unregulated time to create any kind of art they want.

Students are encouraged to graphically represent their ideas. For example, in the dinosaur project, they may start by drawing pictures of dinosaurs, and then, after a few days of research, draw them again. In this way, their new ideas and understandings are expressed and refined. Teachers of Reggio Emilia have claimed that most people drastically underestimate children's abilities to graphically represent their ideas.

Picture supplied without permission from The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art

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