Lessons from Reggio Emilia, Italy preschools

The profound respect for children exhibited by the Reggio Emilia preschools has impressed preschool educators in the United States for decades. But Reggio Emilia educators warn U.S. visitors against seeing their preschools as models to be duplicated in the U.S., reports Margaret Inman Linn, Widener University, Chester, Pennsylvania.

The public preschools in the city of Reggio Emilia are rooted in the Italian culture, evolving from decades of work by educators and parents. Fresh from a recent study tour of these preschools, Linn believes that American educators can learn the value of careful listening and observation of children from the Reggio model. Linn describes the Reggio vision as seeing the child as possessing an “extraordinary wealth of inborn ability and potential, strength, and creativity.”

Its core belief in the competent child influences its choices about all aspects of child development and education. Reggio Emilia children with special needs (or “special rights” as they are called) are not limited by adults’ perceptions of their ability. These children are included in all activities. Linn suggests that the American perception, in contrast, sees the child as needing the protection of adults. We view adults as knowing what is best for children, while adults in Reggio Emilia encourage students to speak for themselves and then listen to what they say.

Parents and teachers in the U.S. are protectors of the emotional, intellectual and physical development of each child. We protect children from intellectual failure by ensuring that all academic tasks are within their perceived zone of proximal development. This results in a lack of sophistication in the materials we present to students and in their responses, writes Linn. American curricula are planned in advance and are based on what adults believe are the developmental needs of children. Preschools in Reggio Emilia have an emergent curriculum that grows out of the children’s interests and differs from
year to year and room to room. Reggio’s methods demand that educators believe in the child’s initiative and intelligence and that parents trust educators to nurture their child’s development without a prescribed curriculum. Linn suggests that rather than trying to copy the educational philosophy and practice of Reggio Emilia, we study their example to learn about the connection between our own culture and educational practice.

“An American Educator Reflects on the Meaning of the Reggio Experience,” Phi Delta Kappan, Volume 83, Number 4, December 2001, pp. 332-338.

Published in ERN February 2002 Volume 15 Number 22002

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