In 1963, the northern Italian town of Reggio Emilia began developing a remarkably creative and successful pre-school program. Today, the town spends nearly 12 percent of its budget to support 22 pre-primary schools for three- to six-year-olds and 13 infant-toddler centers for children aged three months to three years.
Like other quality pre-school programs, the Reggio Emilia approach grew from the belief that “children are rich, powerful people, full of the desire and the ability to grow up and construct their own knowledge.” According to the Reggio Emilia philosophy, children should not be taught anything they could not learn themselves. In addition, educators in Reggio Emilia believe that children have the right to interact and communicate with one another, as well as with caring, respectful adults. Creativity and learning are considered part of the same process; children create their own knowledge as they explore their environment.
This philosophy is reflected not only in the curriculum, but in the school’s environment as well. The entire design of the school, including its layout, furniture, materials and landscaping, are planned to be safe, supportive, and stimulating. Each school is designed around a kind of town square that serves as the communication center of the school. Children of different ages play together here. Unbreakable mirrored surfaces and lots of natural light from skylights and glass walls provide plenty of opportunities to observe the outdoors – nature, weather, light, and shadows.
Every school has one classroom each for three-, four-, and five-year-olds with 25 students and two teachers per classroom. The dining room has small tables which the children set and decorate themselves. In addition, there is a kind of arts-materials library, a workshop where an artist-in-residence is available to assist and guide students as they create and explore. The guiding principle behind the school’s philosophy, as well as behind every curricular decision and interaction between teacher and child, is that children are accepted and valued for who they are.
Teachers take notes and photographs
Teachers in Reggio Emilia schools routinely take notes and photographs and make tape recordings in their classes. They also meet together for up to six hours every week to review these notes and photographs, to share their ideas, and to discuss plans for their children. Teachers then plan activities developed for each child based on his or her interests. Teachers learn by listening, observing, asking questions, reflecting on responses, and introducing materials and ideas for children to use to expand their understanding. They support children in learning activities by encouraging them, by helping them organize their ideas, and by supplying them with materials.
Many projects begin in small groups where discussion and cooperation among children lead to a variety of ideas and activities. Anything that inspires a child can lead to a project which can last from a few days to several months. Children are not rushed; they are allowed to work at their own pace.
The school day follows a general sequence, but no precise schedule. After greeting the children, teachers offer a choice of activities, followed by a class meeting time when children and teachers talk about events at home and school, and about ideas for the day. Children then have about two hours in which to explore and “work” before they break for lunch. After lunch, there is a long rest time followed by more activity time before the children leave about 4:00. There is extended care for families who need it.
Teachers stay with the same children for three years or until children move on to primary school. This allows teachers time to develop meaningful partnership with parents. Families are expected to share with the school the responsibility for educating their children. Parents become deeply involved with the school and its plans for their children. Parents, teachers, and children meet at school several times before the school year begins. During the school year, there are individual meetings with parents, as well as group discussions and social events to strengthen parent-teacher partnerships. Teachers report that relationships with families can be challenging, but that it is essential to “serve and work with families in order to serve children.”
“Reggio Emilia: A Model in Creativity” Scholastic Pre-K Today Volume 7, Number 2, pp. 81-84.
Published in ERN November/December 1992 Volume 5 Number 5