The Reggio Emilia System of Early Childhood Education

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livius drusus
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The Reggio Emilia System of Early Childhood Education

Post by livius drusus »

"This exhibit opposes any prophetic pedagogy which knows everything before it happens, which teaches children that every day is the same, that there are no surprises, and teaches adults that all they have to do is repeat that which they were not able to learn."

Loris Malaguzzi was referring to an exhibit called The Hundred Languages of Children which carries the art of the Reggio Emilia early childhood school students around the world. The quote, however, is a fine description of the basic educational philosophy of the Reggio system and I find it fascinating.

I encountered the educational philosophy of the Reggio Emilia schools some years ago and was immediately struck by its originality and flexibility, very much in contrast to the rigid US approach (and many others with which I am not familiar, I'm sure). Begun as a cooperative effort between parents, educators and children in post-war Reggio Emilia, by 1970 it had developed into a municipal system of public education for all children between the ages of 3 months and 6 years.

Its community-focused organizational structure, the intentional lack of hierarchy (the cooks, the teachers, the graphic experts, the educational director work together on the same level with parents and students every day), the 12% of the city budget dedicated to the school system, all indicate the high priority the society places on education, another notable contrast with the United States.

Encompassing aspects of Dewey, Piaget, Vygotsky and Bruner's educational philosophies (I know this because it says so here, but I have no real knowledge of those approaches and would be very curious to hear any information y'all might have), the Reggio system is based in the following principles:
  • Emergent Curriculum - a curriculum based on student interests
    For example, the teacher meets with the children in the morning to discuss the activities of the day. These discussions communicate respect for the ideas and preferences of the children. Teachers listen closely to children's discourse and strive to understand the children's interests. Believing that teaching is not merely the transmission of knowledge, but that the teacher is a facilitator of the child's learning, teachers exhibit flexibility in planning the day with the children. Teachers also attend to cues from the children about the point at which interest in a project begins to lag. (2)
  • Project Work - in-depth studies of those interests
    In a small art studio off to the side of one classroom, I noticed a book opened to a picture of the Milky Way galaxy. I thought that the children were studying about space. Other objects in the room included a bicycle wheel and an orange. On a large documentation board in another area of this classroom was a photograph of the bicycle wheel and the orange. I asked one of the teachers about the project that the documentation board described. She responded that the children were examining carefully the relationship between things that are found in nature and things that are man-made. In particular, the teachers asked the children, "What structure connects all other structures?" The children were observing the similarities in the physical structure of the objects, such as the sections of the orange and the spokes of the bicycle wheel.

    These children were certainly exhibiting high-level thinking. Seeking relationships, comparing and contrasting, and pursuing similarities and differences are all strategies that engage the mind in high-level thought processes. The children were not, as I first suspected, studying factual information about space, the galaxy, or spiral objects. (1)
  • Representational Development - using the graphic arts as tools for cognitive, linguistic, and social development
    The teachers referred to their use of "graphic languages" to make the learning experience "visible." Carla Rinaldi talked about the "Pedagogy of Listening" using documentation as a visible form of listening. Without the careful attention to how ideas are represented, and the use of the art expertise, the children’s work would be less visible to themselves and to the wider public. The graphic arts, broadly defined as any form of visual artistic representation, are their chosen media to share with others what children are thinking, doing, feeling, learning, and experiencing. They teach children art techniques to give them tools to express their ideas.(1)
  • Collaboration - group work as learning tool
    The first example was revealed during a presentation about the differences between boys' and girls' perspectives on developing a plan for a city. Giovanni Piazza, an atelierista, explained how two boys worked together for approximately 30 minutes before a third boy joined in. Sitting with his hands on his cheeks, the third boy observed the other two as they worked together. Only after one of the boys drew a road toward this third child did the third child initiate working with the other two. I could imagine that in an American classroom a teacher might have intervened much earlier to coerce participation and collaboration. Many American teachers might have had difficulty respecting the time needed for the third boy to join in.(1)
  • Teachers as Researchers - teachers learn from the children as they lend their expertise to guide without controlling
    Teacher-directed teaching is all about the teacher and what the teacher thinks the children need to know. Children may learn content and skills taught, but they may be of little meaning to them. When the learning experiences flow from the children's ideas, however, there is more likely to be a good match between what the children are ready to learn and activities offered in the classroom than in a teacher-dominated curriculum. (2)
  • Documentation - careful observation and recording of children's' work
    For example, a child may work on a particular drawing, which the teacher then photographs, makes an audio recording of the child talking about his or her experience with the project, and take notes on supplies used or observations made. All this provides a visual display of learning. However, the focus remains on children's' thoughts, memories and overall experience rather than the work itself. (3)
  • Environment - the "third teacher", much attention is given to the look and feel of the classroom and school itself
    Some of the environments are breathtakingly beautiful. The environment of each center supports the imagination and creativity of each child. The inside of the center is warm and calm (no primary colors jump out at you), featuring wood, glass, and muted colors. There is space to be alone, yet the environment encourages children to interact with others. Every center has a welcoming area with comfortable adult-size chairs for parents to give a last cuddle before saying goodbye for the day. The centers are very inviting and beckon you to come in and play. Each center contains many real plants and flowers, a kiln, kitchen, piazza, dining room, toileting rooms, and garden areas. (2)
(1) http://ecrp.uiuc.edu/v3n1/hertzog.html
(2) http://ecrp.uiuc.edu/v3n1/bennett.html
(3) http://ematusov.soe.udel.edu/final.pape ... 00002e.htm


I know there are Reggio schools in the US, and there's a Montessori not too far from my house, but they're private, of course. I'd love to hear about creative approaches to childrens' public education in the US, but I fear that the standardized test trend makes such attempts less and less likely.

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Post by viscousmemories »

I just wanted to bump this fine quality thread about this fascinating subject in answer to Quester_X's desire for more activity in this forum while avoiding her post-slut thread. I wish I had something more substantial to contribute but alas I'm an idiot. :)

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Post by iain »

I too have no interesting information. I do have a question though. In my experience, it is very easy to sell educational theories that we feel really should work.

For example, we might feel that if children are allowed to have more freedom, more responsibility and more say over their own education, they will grow into adults more able to manage freedom & responsibility and better educated.

Is it true though? I can't judge an educational theory sensibly without looking at adult who went through that system as children and comparing them to adults who went through other (e.g. traditional) educational systems but had otherwise similar backgrounds.

Do people who have been educated this way end up happer? Better qualified? Better educated? In more senior or highly paid jobs? Less likely to commit crimes?

Without this sort of information, what sort of judgement can be made?

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Re: The Reggio Emilia System of Early Childhood Education

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livius drusus wrote: I know there are Reggio schools in the US, and there's a Montessori not too far from my house, but they're private, of course. I'd love to hear about creative approaches to childrens' public education in the US, but I fear that the standardized test trend makes such attempts less and less likely.
Sounds pretty close to the Madison Avenue approach to learning. :D
We had no grades and no tests, except for one boy whose Mother just couldn't wrap her head around that concept and worried her son wasn't learning anything. :roll:

We also didn't give any credence to age. You learn at your own pace. When the kids were ready for college we started taking practice ACT tests and going to the high school for the formal test.

Thanks for bringing this system to my attention. I think the public school system here in the US is too large and bogged down by paperwork and testing and seem to be dependent on the high numbers of kids to survive. I think the funding dollars are related to the amount of kids on their roll books. The future of education here in the US will lean towards more and more alternative private education choices

One of my dreams is to take my school out of my apartment and into a facility where I can teach more than just a couple three kids at a time and I would have the space to offer more experiences. I do fine by just word of mouth (that lady that can homeschool your kid when the school is "being stupid" to him)

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livius drusus
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Post by livius drusus »

Oh wow, posts! Thanks for the bump, vm, and for your contributions, iain and tamiO.
iain wrote:I too have no interesting information. I do have a question though. In my experience, it is very easy to sell educational theories that we feel really should work.
Just up front, I'm not sure the Reggio school is an education theory in the sense that most people intend. The main difference here is that it was designed collaboratively by the community of Reggio Emilia and has therefore been in practice since its inception 50 years ago.
Is it true though? I can't judge an educational theory sensibly without looking at adult who went through that system as children and comparing them to adults who went through other (e.g. traditional) educational systems but had otherwise similar backgrounds.
I can't see how such a comparison would be an effective judge of the validity of a pedagogical approach. It seems to me the gauge should be the children themselves: specifically, are they learning?
Do people who have been educated this way end up happer?
I don't see how this is pertinent at all. A million factors are involved in someone's happiness, the vast majority of them entirely unrelated to whether you had a positive, enlightening elementary school experience.
Better qualified?
For what?
Better educated?
In what sense?
In more senior or highly paid jobs?
That assumes that seniority and remuneration equal success, which is a very narrow definition indeed and grounded in a cultural presupposition which is not necessarily shared by everyone. What if a society values, say, artists more than corporate drones of any level?
Less likely to commit crimes?
Weed is decriminalized in Reggio Emilia. ;)
Without this sort of information, what sort of judgement can be made?
I think one can judge by the child himself how effectively she's being taught. The questions I would ask include: is the child motivated to go to school? Does she get personal attention from teachers? Does she work well with her classmates? Is she proud of her work? Is she inquisitive and thoughtful?

The same questions you would ask of any school before you enrolled your child, and the many of the ones you find on elementary school report cards, really.

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livius drusus
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Re: The Reggio Emilia System of Early Childhood Education

Post by livius drusus »

tamiO wrote:Sounds pretty close to the Madison Avenue approach to learning. :D
We had no grades and no tests, except for one boy whose Mother just couldn't wrap her head around that concept and worried her son wasn't learning anything. :roll:
I'm sure this is a really stupid question, but is the "Madison Avenue approach" an actual educational approach, or a reference to a specific school on Madison Avenue? I did a Google but I couldn't find anything specific.
We also didn't give any credence to age. You learn at your own pace. When the kids were ready for college we started taking practice ACT tests and going to the high school for the formal test.
That's very interesting. From one-room schoolhouses to local districts to consolidated mega-schools and back again. Do you have any stats like average test scores, by any chance? Did y'all do worse, the same, better on average when compared to the mainstream high schoolers testing by your sides?
Thanks for bringing this system to my attention. I think the public school system here in the US is too large and bogged down by paperwork and testing and seem to be dependent on the high numbers of kids to survive. I think the funding dollars are related to the amount of kids on their roll books. The future of education here in the US will lean towards more and more alternative private education choices
I think consolidation is a Saturnian horror that eats its own children. Huge schools = huge beaurocracies = children as numbers = no personal attention = learning despite the system instead of because of it. The intent behind it was to be able to offer more elective options. Well, that didn't exactly turn out as they planned. Programs get cut all the time now; size, in the end, does not matter when the axe falls.

Granted, I'm biased. I went to a small Catholic school: my graduating class had 30 students; my senior Chemistry class had 2, including myself.
One of my dreams is to take my school out of my apartment and into a facility where I can teach more than just a couple three kids at a time and I would have the space to offer more experiences. I do fine by just word of mouth (that lady that can homeschool your kid when the school is "being stupid" to him)
That sounds great. Is there a community center that might be able to give you some space, perhaps? How about things like field trips, maybe even long weekenders with other parents as chaperones/teachers?

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Post by iain »

livius drusus wrote:I think one can judge by the child himself how effectively she's being taught.
Exactly. And whilst you can make some sort of ongoing judgement for an individual child, surely the best way to judge how successful teaching is is to look at the end result.

I suggested some things which education commonly tries to achieve. You might disagree with some of them as measures; but surely the principle of judgeing a system by the end result is a valid one.
The questions I would ask include: is the child motivated to go to school? Does she get personal attention from teachers? Does she work well with her classmates? Is she proud of her work? Is she inquisitive and thoughtful?

The same questions you would ask of any school before you enrolled your child, and the many of the ones you find on elementary school report cards, really.
Those are all helpful questions, but if this has been going for 50 years, I really can't see why you wouldn't want to judge it on end results. What is the education system trying to achieve - and does it achieve it better than alternative systems?

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Re: The Reggio Emilia System of Early Childhood Education

Post by tamiO »

livius drusus wrote:
tamiO wrote:Sounds pretty close to the Madison Avenue approach to learning. :D
We had no grades and no tests, except for one boy whose Mother just couldn't wrap her head around that concept and worried her son wasn't learning anything. :roll:
I'm sure this is a really stupid question, but is the "Madison Avenue approach" an actual educational approach, or a reference to a specific school on Madison Avenue? I did a Google but I couldn't find anything specific.
Nah, it's not a stupid question. It's what I call my church school. I formed a church school to be able to homeschool in my state (Alabama) and not have to pander to the homeschool oversight requirements.

The kids that I have taught have had higher than average intelligence to begin with, so comparing their scores with an average isn't going to tell us much. I rescue kids that are being held back and frustrated with public school and want to get on with college. Lately I have been getting kids out of school before the end of a school year when it looks like the school will make them attend summer school or repeat a grade for some bureaucratic bullshit reason like not attending school the required amount of days/hours in a school semester. I catch them up and they transfer back into the school the next year at their proper age level.

I'll have some more time to read your post properly and answer, but I am running late right now. I only meant to rattle off a quick answer, but this is one of those topics that make my fingers fly across the keyboard. :)

BTW, I know you'll get a kick out of this. I looked up the word Heifah in the dictionary.

[mode="GP"] I LOL at me. [/mode]

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Post by livius drusus »

iain wrote:I suggested some things which education commonly tries to achieve. You might disagree with some of them as measures; but surely the principle of judgeing a system by the end result is a valid one.
Indeed. I just don't think something like a high salary is the end result of a quality primary school education; I think the end result is a happy, confident, curious, independent-minded child. There are simply way too many things that happen to a child between the ages of 6 and adulthood to be able to use any of the adult's circumstances as a measure of how good his early childhood schooling was.
Those are all helpful questions, but if this has been going for 50 years, I really can't see why you wouldn't want to judge it on end results. What is the education system trying to achieve - and does it achieve it better than alternative systems?
I hope I've answered that above, but again, I don't think the goals of the Reggio Emilia schools for children aged 3 months to 6 years involve things like high salaries, nor should they. For one thing, this is Italy we're talking about, where people can and do go to university for decades and unemployment is at 12%. Who makes what at what level is seniority is far more likely to be a gauge of who they know than what they learned in preschool.

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Re: The Reggio Emilia System of Early Childhood Education

Post by livius drusus »

tamiO wrote:Nah, it's not a stupid question. It's what I call my church school. I formed a church school to be able to homeschool in my state (Alabama) and not have to pander to the homeschool oversight requirements.

<snip description>
Oohh... I see. That's fascinating, tami. Are you familiar with Cynthia Peters? I used to read her essays on youth, parenting and education on ZNet all the time. The last question from this interview gives you a good idea where she's coming from wrt to homeschooling.
I'll have some more time to read your post properly and answer, but I am running late right now. I only meant to rattle off a quick answer, but this is one of those topics that make my fingers fly across the keyboard. :)
Well, not much makes my fingers fly across the keyboard (I'm the queen of tortured prose), but I love this subject and have since I read The Lord of the Flies when I was 9. I used to spend hours talking to my mom about my ideal school, so even though I don't have children nor do I intend to have any, the topic is still riveting to me.
BTW, I know you'll get a kick out of this. I looked up the word Heifah in the dictionary.

[mode="GP"] I LOL at me. [/mode]
:lol: I'm right behindya.

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Post by iain »

livius drusus wrote:Indeed. I just don't think something like a high salary is the end result of a quality primary school education; I think the end result is a happy, confident, curious, independent-minded child.
No problem with that. Different people have different opinions on what education is trying to achieve; as long as it is trying to achieve something and you know what that is, I'll go along with you.
There are simply way too many things that happen to a child between the ages of 6 and adulthood to be able to use any of the adult's circumstances as a measure of how good his early childhood schooling was.
Would you say that schooling doesn't make any difference, then? If it does make a difference then that should be quantifiable if you can define what you are looking for and have a large enough sample size with appropriate controls.

For example, there are many educationalists who would say that instilling discipline in children and giving them a more traditional education of the sort you might get in a public school (what is called a private school in the US) actually leads to adults who are more confident, better educated and better able to cope with the modern adult world; meaning that they are better able to achieve their goals in life, whatever they might be.

Are they right, or are they wrong. From what you say, it sounds like your answer is that we can't know; but I think we can.
Who makes what at what level is seniority is far more likely to be a gauge of who they know than what they learned in preschool.
I can't speak for Italy, but all the educational research I'm aware of suggests that the quality and quantity of pre-school education does have a very significant effect on the overall educational achievement of a child and, therefore, on their life chances.

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Post by hammegk »

IMO, just another "from each according to his ability - to each according to his needs" attempt to pretend life is fair, and the ability to read, write & do sums is irrelevant.
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Post by DrMatt »

Sooner or later in the teaching of children, some adult is going to have to step into a leadership role to make sure the kids have the linguistic, mathematical, critical, interpersonal, and cultural skills needed to thrive beyond school. That's what we hire teachers for--to know more than the students and to help them find their way. Elementary school students are not ready to pick and choose seminars, and that level of decision-making responsibility, on the one hand, puts adult stress on little kids, and on the other hand, is likely to leave quite a few of them critically uneducated, as in my experience with e.g. University of Chicago Lab High School honors graduates who needed remedial 6th-grade English and were years away from being able to formulate a coherent paragraph.
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