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What is a Reggio Emilia approach to preschool?

Elizabeth Weiss McGolerick is a freelance writer and editor who contributes regularly to SheKnows, MintLife, AOL, iVillage and other sites. In her articles, Elizabeth covers a variety of subjects including relationships, pregnancy, paren...

Creating an environment for growth

In a Reggio Emilia approach to preschool, the environment in which children learn is just as important as what and how they learn.

Create an environment for growth

In a Reggio Emilia approach to preschool, the environment in which children learn is just as important as what and how they learn.

Reggio Emilia preschool class

Origins of the Reggio Emilia preschool teaching method

In the 1940s, in a town in northern Italy named Reggio Emilia, teacher Loris Malaguzzi developed a unique approach to educating children. Feeling the effects and destruction of World War II, parents wanted their children to develop into better citizens and respectful, responsible individuals. Malaguzzi and his colleagues believed this goal could be achieved through a supportive, enriching environment that focused on exploration, self-discovery and a self-guided curriculum.

According to Malaguzzi, “A simple, liberating thought came to our aid, namely that things about children and for children are only learned from children. We knew how this was true and, at the same time, not true. But we needed that assertion and guiding principle — it gave us strength and turned out to be an essential part of our collective wisdom.”

Understanding the Reggio Emilia learning style

Reggio Emilia schools typically employ a project-based approach where the lessons that are learned are based on the interests of the students.

The children develop the ideas just by exhibiting that they are intrigued by certain subjects — it’s the role of the teacher to notice these interests and build upon them by offering opportunities for preschoolers to learn through experiences of touching, moving, listening, seeing and hearing.

The Reggio Emilia curriculum includes documenting what the children do and learn, be it through photos, videos or written observations. Projects that children undertake can last for weeks at a time, and they’re studied in-depth, whether the subject is flowers or ice. The documentation allows the preschoolers to visualize and understand the arc of their learning, to see their work as important and to understand how they’ve made progress over time.

Is a Reggio Emilia preschool right for your child (and you)?

A Reggio Emilia preschool is typically a creative setting and it is certainly community-oriented. This type of preschool may be a great opportunity for an only child, or a child who is used to playing solo, to learn about cooperation by engaging with others to work on group projects, solve problems and resolve conflicts. Teachers encourage the children to find answers to their own questions rather than just giving them the answer.

“My daughter attended a Reggio preschool for four years. The Reggio method that allows children to learn through collaboration and exploring was a huge benefit to her growth,” says Diane White. “I loved the parental ‘partnership’ model as well. As parents, we were very involved in the process of designing the curriculum, setting up experiences and participating in our daughter's success. We were encouraged to participate in the activities at school and outside of school. Parent nights happened on a regular basis and each day we received a detailed email and photo of the day’s activities. At the end of the school year they provided a complete scrapbook detailing the year’s experiences.”

What is a Reggio Emilia preschool classroom like?

The Reggio Emilia preschool environment is sometimes compared to that of the Montessori school environment. The major difference is that the “third teacher” — the learning environment — has been enhanced and extended in the Reggio approach. Plant life, natural light, mirrors, photographs, found objects and extensive displays of the children’s work are all incorporated to inform and engage whoever is in the classroom.

The homelike atmosphere of a Reggio classroom is also designed to help children feel comfortable with their space while learning about practical life issues and lessons. The classroom supplies are very diverse and chosen for their aesthetic qualities, capabilities for inspiring learning and discovery and are often derived from natural materials. They might include wooden blocks, fabric scraps, pebbles, sticks, leaves, play scarves, pinecones or popsicle sticks.

More articles about preschool

Choosing a preschool
Keeping learning fun for preschoolers
How to encourage imaginary play

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