Despite its strong principles, the Reggio Emilia education philosophy remains little known. Developed in Italy in the town Reggio Emilia in the 1960s, this philosophy was influenced by major education philosophers and largely drew its inspiration from the Montessori philosophy.
Loris Malaguzzi is recognized as the founder of Reggio Emilia. He was an early childhood theorist who focused his education philosophy on the development of emotional, social and moral competencies in kids.
Reggio Emilia: How it all began
Unlike many other education philosophers, Reggio Emilia refers to a town, and not to the philosopher associated with this education pedagogy.
There is a lovely story behind the development of this education philosophy. In the aftermath of WW2, several women around the town of Reggio Emilia decided to use what the German army had left behind after the war to build a school.
They wanted future generations to shun all forms of injustice. Malaguzzi got wind of this project and decided to work alongside the women. It is during this period that he created his unique vision of learning which is today referred to as Reggio Emilia education.
Impressed by his education philosophy, the town decided to incorporate Malaguzzi’s approach in all the new schools that it was building at the time. Malaguzzi would work for years as a director of the Reggio Emilia schools.
The Key principles of Reggio Emilia education
Loris Malagguzi developed his vision of education at a time when many other early childhood theorists had come before him. He was therefore familiar with different education philosophies, and all these philosophies helped shape his vision of education.
Reggio Emilia education revolves around several principles. Here are just four of them.
1) Children need child-centered learning to thrive
Malaguzzi believed that “Creativity seems to emerge from multiple experiences, coupled with a well-supported development of personal resources, including a sense of freedom to venture beyond the known.”
In other words, he believed that we should let children be free to discover things on their own. He also considered that children should be exposed to multiple experiences and given the resources to promote independent learning.
Like other early childhood theorists before him, Malaguzzi believed that keeping kids passive prevented them from acquiring knowledge. He argued that children needed to construct their own knowledge if they were to learn.
Reggio Emilia education is convinced that children have an intrinsic motivation to learn and that the only thing they need are the resources to make that possible. Malaguzzi was against imposing learning and did not provide a model to follow. He believed that if provided with solid early education principles, the right environment and the right resources, children would “find their own path”.
In line with child-centered learning, Malaguzzi believed that play-based learning helped children make sense of even abstract concepts. It helped them analyze, explore, try, experiment, and so on, which helped them to learn.
2) Learning is a “village affair”
Malaguzzi believed that learning was not just a teacher issue or a parent issue but rather, involved the entire community: children, adults, parents and so on.
He said that “There are three teachers of children: adults, other children, and their physical environment”. He believed that learning took place everywhere and that children were always learning.
Malaguzzi also believed that all children were full citizens with their own rights:
“The child is not a citizen of the future; he (sic) is a citizen from the very first moment of life and also the most important citizen because he represents and brings the ‘possible’…a bearer, here and now of rights, of values, of culture…It is our historical responsibility not only to affirm this but the create cultural, social, political and educational contexts which are able to receive children and dialogue with their potential for constructing human rights.” Carlina Rinaldi
Reggio Emilia education views children as citizens within a specific community and aims to prepare them for a life of democracy. When we view kids as citizens, we are able to treat them as people who have their own rights and who must be taught to live in unity with others.
3) Art is at the center of learning
Reggio Emilia education revolves around the different forms of art (dance, drawing, sculpture, etc.) because it believes that artistic activities help children develop their creativity. Malaguzzi believed that proposing different types of art enabled children to view reality from a different perspective and to discover nature.
He also believed that art was a channel through which children could communicate through various forms, and that it was the role of adults to ensure that kids had an opportunity to express themselves using different resources.
4) Your child sees themselves through your eyes
Reggio Emilia education believes that our perception of children influences their self-concept. Malaguzzi believed that children’s environment, and the labels used to describe kids, had a major impact on how they viewed themselves.
In other words, if you view your child as weak, they will come to think of themselves as “weak”, but if you view them as “confident and strong”, they will eventually come to see themselves in this light. It is therefore important to tell your child’s words that help build them up and show that they are capable of success. Here is a free list of words that every kid needs to hear.
That said, simply thinking of your child in a certain way – or telling them certain words – will not affect their behavior. Malaguzzi believed that children’s environment had to help them become autonomous and encounter success.
He said that it was important to treat children as full members of their society and to encourage them to participate in this society as fully as possible, depending on their abilities. He also believed that just like adults, children had their own rights and that it was important to let them speak their minds freely.
In his book The Hundred Languages of Children, Malaguzzi speaks of children’s endless potential “The child is made of one hundred. The child has a hundred languages a hundred hands a hundred thoughts a hundred ways of thinking of playing, of speaking. A hundred always a hundred.
What this means is that Reggio Emilia education believes that there are multiple ways of being and so it is important to respect each child’s personality and to treat each kid as an individual in their own right.
Malaguzzi also believed that respecting each child’s unique rhythm was important if we wanted children to thrive.
Although Reggio Emilia education is more common in schools that use a Reggio Emilia curriculum, it is possible to adopt some of the principles of this education at home. Here are easy tips to get started.
Reggio Emilia at home
Loris Malaguzzi strongly believed that learning and education was not “set in stone”. This means several things. First, no two children learn the same way, meaning that what works with one child may not necessarily work with another.
Second, as children grow and acquire knowledge, they may need a different environment to help them continue to thrive.
In other words, Reggio Emilia education is about observing children and changing their environment if need be in order to ensure that they continue to learn and to grow.
That said, here are some easy ways to incorporate Reggio Emilia at home.
- Propose different resources to help your child acquire knowledge. As mentioned earlier, children use multiple ways to express their understanding and creativity. Providing multiple avenues for learning (role-playing, building blocks, dance, music, drawing, painting, etc.), allows each kid to learn in his or her own way. Ensure that your child gets to play every day.
- Much like Montessori education, Reggio Emilia education believes in keeping kids’ spaces organized. When toys and other objects are organized, they are more accessible, and this helps children make choices and develop independent thinking. Using cube-like storage or easily accessible shelves is an easy way to keep your child’s space organized and to encourage them to keep it tidy by themselves.
- Much like the Waldorf education philosophy, Reggio Emilia education believes that it is important to “bring the outside in” and to let children collect simple and natural toys from the environment. Encouraging children to connect with nature and their natural surrounding every day is also a core principle of Reggio Emilia.
- Allow your child to fully participate in your family’s everyday life. This could look like encouraging them to perform age-appropriate chores, allowing them to take part in the decision-making process through a parent-guided framework, and so on.
- Reggio Emilia education revolves around the principle that children are curious beings and are natural explorers. Providing opportunities for them to explore their environment is therefore an easy way to help them learn.
- Encourage your child to express themselves through art and expose their artwork for everyone to see.
Final thoughts on Reggio Emilia education
One of my favorite Malaguzzi quotes is: “Our task, regarding creativity, is to help children climb their own mountains, as high as possible.”
Reggio Emilia education believes that children are highly competent and have an intrinsic desire to develop their skills further. They develop these skills through discovery.
The best way to help them achieve their potential is to provide them with multiple resources then step back and let them discover things by themselves.
As Malaguzzi says:
“Stand aside for a while and leave room for learning, observe carefully what children do, and then, if you have understood well, perhaps teaching will be different from before”.
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Insights and Inspirations from Reggio Emilia
Updated on 21/04/2022