ERIC Identifier: ED447971
Publication Date: 2000-12-00
Author: New, Rebecca S.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood
Education Champaign IL.
Reggio Emilia: Catalyst for Change and Conversation. ERIC Digest.
Professional and lay interest in how other nations educate and care for
their youngest citizens has increased significantly in the United States
over the past several decades. The international perspectives that seem
to be of greatest interest are those linked to prevailing concerns in American
early childhood education. In the last decade of the 20th century, these
concerns included interpretations of social constructivism, implications
of brain research, and the meaning of developmental appropriateness in
a multicultural society. It was within this context that news of the small
city of Reggio Emilia, Italy, came to the United States (New, 1990). Many
early childhood specialists have subsequently explored the implications
of Reggio Emilia's work for the theory, practice, and improvement of U.S.
early childhood education (Edwards, Gandini, & Forman, 1993; Katz &
Cesarone, 1994; Cadwell, 1997). The exhibition, "The Hundred Languages
of Children," of work from infant-toddler and pre- primary centers in Reggio
Emilia has been shown in many U.S. cities. This Digest outlines the history
of Reggio Emilia's early childhood programs in order to provide insights
to educators in the United States; and it highlights some of Reggio Emilia's
less visible contributions, particularly its role in promoting discourse
among communities of adults in the United States, as they debate the meaning
and significance of their work with young children.
REGGIO EMILIA AND CONTEMPORARY ITALY
In order to fully appreciate what is particular about Reggio Emilia, it
is necessary to consider its position within the larger context of contemporary
Italy. As is the case with most of its European neighbors, Italy has a
national commitment to the period of early childhood that builds upon a
widespread cultural value of shared responsibility for young children.
Social activism in the late 1960s culminated in a wealth of social policies
related to working families with young children, including a 1968 law establishing
preschool education for all 3- to 5-year-olds based on the active participation
of both the state and local governments (New, 1993). Similar laws for increased
provision of infant-toddler care were eventually passed, first in 1971
and most recently in 1999. Italy's system of early childhood education
is now a subject of heightened interest as part of national educational
reform initiatives (OECD, 2000). In legal texts as well as public conversations,
high-quality early care and education are defined as socio-educational
services and a right of all Italian children and their families. Reggio
Emilia has contributed to both the discussion and interpretation of these
Reggio Emilia is one of several small wealthy cities in Emilia
Romagna, a region in northern Italy with a history of collaboration and
political activism. The groundwork for what is now regarded as "the Reggio
Emilia approach" was established shortly after World War II, when working
parents built new schools for their young children. Parents did not want
ordinary schools. Rather, they wanted schools where children could acquire
skills of critical thinking and collaboration essential to rebuilding and
ensuring a democratic society. This strong sense of purpose inspired the
late Loris Malaguzzi to join in this collaborative effort. In 1963, well
in advance of the national system, Reggio Emilia opened its first municipal
preschool. By the late 1970s, a system of municipally funded preschools
and infant-toddler centers was in place; it has since served about half
of the city's young children. As is the case in other Italian municipal
programs, fees (primarily for meals) are on a sliding scale. Children who
are not in the city program attend early educational programs provided
by the State, the Church, parent cooperatives, and private organizations.
During the decades following the 1960s, Reggio Emilia educators concentrated
on building schools and implementing their developing philosophy; they
also participated in national and regional discussions regarding early
care and education. Many credit Malaguzzi for bringing together other Italian
early childhood educators to share and debate the merits of their diverse
approaches to creating environments for young children. In some cities,
educators explored strategies to promote connections in and outside of
preschool environments, leading, for example, to Pistoia's curriculum-as-apprenticeship
model and the multi-year projects in Milan. In cities such as Parma and
Modena, university researchers worked with teachers and caregivers to study
the implications of attachment theory for infant-toddler care. In all of
these settings, documentation was explored as a means of promoting parent
and teacher understanding of children's learning and development.
Within the same period of collaborative exploration, Reggio Emilia educators
were busy exploring Malaguzzi's ideas--including his belief that creativity
is a characteristic way of thinking and responding to the world. These
ideas were eventually translated into partnerships of inquiry among teachers,
atelieriste [art educators], and pedagogiste [pedagogical coordinators]
to discover and nurture children's symbolic languages. Reggio Emilia also
served as a leader in examining principles of social management--originally
developed for the labor market--as a basis from which to build respectful
and enduring home-school relations.
A century after Montessori opened up the Casa dei Bambini in Rome, the
diversity of Italian interpretations of high-quality early childhood programs
remains consonant with Italy's tradition of innovation and regional variation.
The ongoing exchange and debate that has characterized the development
of program differences, in turn, continues to reflect (and contribute to)
the larger cultural value associated with the period of l'infanzia [early
childhood]. There is little question that Reggio Emilia has been a key
player in this lively Italian conversation. This role is now heightened
by the recent invitation from the Italian Ministry of Education for Reggio
Emilia to participate in the development of teacher education programs
nationwide. And yet its influence at home pales in contrast to the role
Reggio Emilia has played in expanding the vocabulary and the nature of
the discourse concerning early childhood education in nations beyond Italy's
borders. There are few places where Reggio Emilia's influence has been
as widespread as in the United States.
REGGIO EMILIA AND U.S. EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION
The first presentation on Reggio Emilia at an annual conference of the
National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) took place
in Anaheim in 1987. Since that time, inspired by the exhibition "The Hundred
Languages of Children" and fueled by delegations of educators who have
seen firsthand the city and its early childhood classrooms, American interest
in Reggio Emilia has grown at a remarkable pace. Once used as a counter
to U.S. notions of developmentally appropriate practices (DAP) (New, 1994),
the revised version of NAEYC's DAP guidelines is filled with examples from
this Italian city (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997). Interest among American
educators is focused on the implications of key features of Reggio Emilia's
municipal early childhood program, including:
* the role of the environment-as-teacher,
* children's multiple symbolic languages,
* documentation as assessment and advocacy,
* long-term projects or progettazione,
* the teacher as researcher, and
* home-school relationships.
Efforts to understand and utilize the principles of Reggio Emilia's
practices are now described in numerous English-language manuscripts and
publications, including theses and dissertations as well as accounts by
teachers struggling with the realities of Reggio Emilia's compelling challenge.
Reflecting and contributing to this still-rising level of interest is a
revised second edition of The Hundred Languages of Children--Advanced Reflections
(Edwards, Gandini, & Forman, 1998), a Reggio Emilia track at NAEYC's
national conference, multiple electronic discussion lists and study groups,
a newsletter, annual U.S. delegations, and reference sites. Thus it should
be no surprise that Reggio Emilia's "image of the child" has become a dominant
theme in discussions on early care and educational policies and practices
at the local and national levels. It is this influence--to promote not
only change, but reflection, debate, and conversation--that may well be
Reggio Emilia's greatest legacy.
THE CHANGING CULTURE OF EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION
While it is premature to make claims about the influence of Reggio Emilia's
example on children's lives, there is little question that the field of
early childhood education, including teacher education, has been altered
as a result of exchanges taking place with Italian colleagues. In settings
around the world, educators are now looking with greater attention to children
as sources of their own learning, to parents for new ways of thinking about
sharing in children's early education, and to each other for support and
collaboration in making schools learning communities for adults as well
as children. As a result of these cross-cultural conversations, some have
begun to use Reggio Emilia as illustrative of how nations might best respond
to children's development and learning potentials--in particular, Reggio
Emilia's emphasis on local processes of knowledge construction (Dahlberg,
Moss, & Pence, 1999; New, 2000). Loris Malaguzzi often repeated his
immodest and ambitious goal of changing the culture of childhood. The impact
of this advocacy agenda continues to reverberate as parents and teachers,
citizens and policy makers in schools, in states, and across nations debate
the rights and potentials of young children in a changing global society.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Bredekamp, S., & Copple, C. (Eds.). (1997). DEVELOPMENTALLY
APPROPRIATE PRACTICE IN EARLY CHILDHOOD PROGRAMS (Rev. ed.). Washington,
DC: NAEYC. ED 403 023.
Cadwell, L. B. (1997). BRINGING
REGGIO EMILIA HOME: AN INNOVATIVE APPROACH TO EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION.
New York: Teachers College Press. ED 413 036.
Dahlberg, G., Moss, P., & Pence, A. (1999). BEYOND
QUALITY IN EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION AND CARE: POSTMODERN PERSPECTIVES.
London: Falmer Press. ED 433 943.
Edwards, C., Gandini, L., & Forman, G. (Eds.). (1993). THE
HUNDRED LANGUAGES OF CHILDREN: THE REGGIO EMILIA APPROACH TO EARLY CHILDHOOD
EDUCATION. Norwood, NJ: Ablex. ED 355 034.
Edwards, C., Gandini, L., & Forman, G. (Eds.). (1998). THE
HUNDRED LANGUAGES OF CHILDREN: THE REGGIO EMILIA APPROACH--ADVANCED REFLECTIONS
(2nd ed.). Greenwich, CT: Ablex. ED 425 855.
Katz, L. G., & Cesarone, B. (Eds.). (1994). REFLECTIONS
ON THE REGGIO EMILIA APPROACH. Champaign, IL: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Elementary and Early Childhood Education. ED 375 986.
New, R. (1990). Excellent early education: A city in Italy has it. YOUNG
CHILDREN, 45(6), 4-10. EJ 415 419.
New, R. (1993). Italy. In M. Cochran (Ed.), INTERNATIONAL
HANDBOOK ON CHILD CARE POLICIES AND PROGRAMS. Westport, CT: Greenwood
New, R. (1994). Culture, child development, and developmentally appropriate
practices: Teachers as collaborative researchers. In B. Mallory & R.
New (Eds.), DIVERSITY
AND DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE PRACTICES: CHALLENGES FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD
EDUCATION. New York: Teachers College Press. ED 365 469.
New, R. (2000). The Reggio Emilia approach: It's not an Approach--it's
an attitude. In J. Roopnarine & J. Johnson (Eds.), APPROACHES
TO EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION. Columbus, OH: Merrill.
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. (2000). Thematic
review of early childhood education and care policy. OECD ONLINE. Available: