ERIC Identifier: ED354988
Publication Date: 1993-00-00
Author: New, Rebecca S.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL.
Reggio Emilia: Some Lessons for U.S. Educators. ERIC Digest.
During the past several decades, U.S. educators have increasingly turned
their attention to other nations' policies and practices to inform deliberations
on American child care and early education. One internationally acclaimed
program that supports and challenges American notions of appropriate early
education is the municipal early childhood program in Reggio Emilia, Italy. For
the past 25 years, this affluent northern Italian community has committed 12% of
the town budget to the provision of high quality child care for children six
years and under. Today the community boasts 22 preprimary schools and 14
infant-toddler centers serving about half of the city's young children.
There is much about Reggio Emilia's approach to child care and education that
distinguishes it from other efforts both inside and outside of Italy and that
attracts worldwide attention. Of special interest is the emphasis on children's
SYMBOLIC LANGUAGES in the context of a project-oriented curriculum. This feature
has been well-documented in two traveling exhibitions. The Reggio Emilia
approach is made possible through a carefully articulated and collaborative
approach to the care and education of young children.
COMMUNITY SUPPORT AND PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT
tradition of community support for families with young children expands on
Italy's cultural view of children as the collective responsibility of the state.
In Reggio Emilia, the infant/toddler and preprimary program is a vital part of
the community, as reflected in the high level of financial support. Community
involvement is also apparent in citizen membership in LA CONSULTA, a school
committee that exerts significant influence over local government policy.
The parents' role mirrors the community's, at both the schoolwide and the
classroom level. Parents are expected to take part in discussions about school
policy, child development concerns, and curriculum planning and evaluation.
Because a majority of parents--including mothers--are employed, meetings are
held in the evenings so that all who wish to participate can do so.
ADMINISTRATIVE POLICIES AND ORGANIZATIONAL FEATURES
administration of the Reggio Emilia early childhood program is moderately
representative of other Italian community-based programs. A head administrator,
who reports directly to the town council, works with a group of PEDAGOGISTA
(curriculum team leaders), each of whom coordinates the efforts of teachers from
five or six centers. Each center is staffed with two teachers per classroom (12
children in infant classes, 18 in toddler classes, and 24 in preprimary
classes), one ATELIERISTA (a teacher trained in the arts who works with
classroom teachers in curriculum development and documentation), and several
auxiliary staff. There is no principal, nor is there a hierarchical relationship
among the teachers. This staffing plan, coupled with the policy of keeping the
same group of children and teachers together for a period of three years,
facilitates the sense of community that characterizes relationships among adults
Other features of Reggio Emilia's approach to early education that have
generated interest among American educators include the concept of teachers as
learners, the importance attributed to the role of the environment, the use of
long-term projects with small groups of children as the major curriculum
strategy, and the emphasis on children's many symbolic languages.
TEACHERS AS LEARNERS
Teachers' long-term commitment to
enhancing their understanding of children is at the crux of the Reggio Emilia
approach. Their resistance to the American use of the term model to describe
their program reflects the continuing evolution of their ideas and practices.
They compensate for the meager preservice training of Italian early childhood
teachers by providing extensive staff development opportunities, with goals
determined by the teachers themselves. Teacher autonomy is evident in the
absence of teacher manuals, curriculum guides, or achievement tests. The lack of
externally imposed mandates is joined by the imperative that teachers become
skilled observers of children in order to inform their curriculum planning and
Teachers routinely divide responsibilities in the class so that one can
systematically observe, take notes, and record conversations between children.
These observations are shared with other teachers and the ATELIERISTA and
parents in curriculum planning and evaluation. Teachers of several schools often
work and learn together under the leadership of the PEDAGOGISTA as they explore
ways of expanding on children's spontaneous activities.
THE ROLE OF THE ENVIRONMENT
The organization of the
physical environment is crucial to Reggio Emilia's early childhood program.
Major aims in the planning of new spaces and the remodeling of old ones include
the integration of each classroom with the rest of the school, and the school
with the surrounding community. Classrooms open to a center piazza, kitchens are
open to view, and access to the surrounding community is assured through
wall-size windows, courtyards, and doors to the outside in each classroom.
Entries capture the attention of both children and adults through the use of
mirrors (on the walls, floors, and ceilings), photographs, and children's work
accompanied by transcriptions of their discussions. These same features
characterize classroom interiors, where displays of project work are
interspersed with arrays of found objects and classroom materials. In each case,
the environment informs and engages the viewer.
Other supportive elements of the environment include ample space for
supplies, frequently arranged to draw attention to their aesthetic features. In
each classroom there are studio spaces in the form of a large, centrally located
atelier and a smaller mini-atelier, and clearly designated spaces for large- and
small-group activities. Throughout the school, there is an effort to create
opportunities for children to interact. Thus, the single dress-up area is in the
center piazza; classrooms are connected with phones, passageways or windows; and
lunchrooms and bathrooms are designed to encourage playful encounters. It is no
wonder that Reggio Emilia teachers refer to the environment as OUR THIRD
LONG-TERM PROJECTS AS VEHICLES FOR LEARNING
is characterized by many features advocated by contemporary research on young
children, including real-life problem-solving among peers, with numerous
opportunities for creative thinking and exploration. Teachers often work on
projects with small groups of children, while the rest the class engages in a
wide variety of self-selected activities typical of preschool classrooms.
The projects that teachers and children engage in are distinct in a number of
ways from those that characterize American teachers' conceptions of unit or
thematic studies. The topic of investigation may derive directly from teacher
observations of children's spontaneous play and exploration. Project topics are
also selected on the basis of an academic curiosity or social concern on the
part of teachers or parents, or serendipitous events that direct the attention
of the children and teachers. Reggio teachers place a high value on their
ability to improvise and respond to children's predisposition to enjoy the
unexpected. Regardless of their origins, successful projects are those that
generate a sufficient amount of interest and uncertainty to provoke children's
creative thinking and problem-solving and are open to different avenues of
exploration. Because curriculum decisions are based on developmental and
sociocultural concerns, small groups of children of varying abilities and
interests, including those with special needs, work together on projects.
Projects begin with teachers observing and questioning children about the
topic of interest. Based on children's responses, teachers introduce materials,
questions, and opportunities that provoke children to further explore the topic.
While some of these teacher provocations are anticipated, projects often move in
unanticipated directions as a result of problems children identify. Thus,
curriculum planning and implementation revolve around open-ended and often
long-term projects that are based on the reciprocal nature of teacher-directed
and child-initiated activity.
THE HUNDRED LANGUAGES OF CHILDREN
As children proceed in an
investigation, generating and testing their hypotheses, they are encouraged to
depict their understanding through one of many symbolic languages, including
drawing, sculpture, dramatic play, and writing. They work together towards the
resolution of problems that arise. Teachers facilitate and then observe debates
regarding the extent to which a child's drawing or other form of representation
lives up to the expressed intent. Revision of drawings (and ideas) is
encouraged, and teachers allow children to repeat activities and modify each
other's work in the collective aim of better understanding the topic. Teachers
foster children's involvement in the processes of exploration and evaluation,
acknowledging the importance of their evolving products as vehicles for
Reggio Emilia's approach to early education
reflects a theoretical kinship with Dewey, Piaget, Vygotsky, and Bruner, among
others. Much of what occurs in the class reflects a constructivist approach to
early education. Yet, Reggio Emilia's approach challenges some American
conceptions of teacher competence and developmentally appropriate practice. For
example, teachers in Reggio Emilia assert the importance of being confused as a
contributor to learning; thus a major teaching strategy is to purposefully allow
for mistakes to happen, or to begin a project with no clear sense of where it
might end. Another characteristic that is counter to the beliefs of many
American educators is the importance of the child's ability to negotiate in the
peer group, which renders teacher intervention in children's conflicts minimal.
One of the most challenging aspects of the Reggio Emilia approach is the
solicitation of multiple points of view regarding children's needs, interests,
and abilities, and the concurrent faith in parents, teachers, and children to
contribute in meaningful ways to the determination of school experiences.
Teachers trust themselves to respond appropriately to children's ideas and
interests, they trust children to be interested in things worth knowing about,
and they trust parents to be informed and productive members of a cooperative
educational team. The result is an atmosphere of community and collaboration
that is developmentally appropriate for adults and children alike.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Edwards, C., Gandini, L., and Forman,
G. (Eds.) THE HUNDRED LANGUAGES OF CHILDREN: THE REGGIO EMILIA APPROACH TO EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION. Norwood, NJ: Ablex, 1993.
Forman, G. "Helping Children Ask Good Questions." In B. Neugebauer (Ed.), THE
WONDER OF IT: EXPLORING HOW THE WORLD WORKS. Redmond, Washington: Exchange
Gandini, L. "Not Just Anywhere: Making Child Care Centers into 'Particular'
Places." BEGINNINGS (Spring, 1984): 17-20.
Katz, L. "Impressions of Reggio Emilia Preschools." YOUNG CHILDREN 45, 6
(1990): 11-12. EJ 415 420.
New, R. "Excellent Early Education: A City in Italy Has It." YOUNG CHILDREN
45, 6 (1990): 4-10. EJ 415 419.
New, R. "Early Childhood Teacher Education in Italy: Reggio Emilia's Master
Plan for 'Master' Teachers." THE JOURNAL OF EARLY CHILDHOOD TEACHER EDUCATION 12
New, R. "Projects and Provocations: Preschool Curriculum Ideas from Reggio
Emilia." MONTESSORI LIFE (Winter, 1991): 26-28.
New, R. "Italian Child Care and Early Education: AMOR MATERNUS AND OTHER
CULTURAL CONTRIBUTIONS." In M. Cochran (Ed.), INTERNATIONAL HANDBOOK ON CHILD CARE POLICIES AND PROGRAMS. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1993.
New, R. "The Integrated Early Childhood Curriculum: New Perspectives from
Research and Practice." In C. Seefeldt (Ed.), THE EARLY CHILDHOOD CURRICULUM: A
REVIEW OF CURRENT RESEARCH. Revised edition. New York: Teachers College Press,
Columbia University, 1992.