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The Reggio Emilia Approach

Activities and Play

5/13/2022 | Emily Jaeger

What is the Reggio Emilia approach? What is the difference between Reggio Emilia and Montessori? Developed in 1945 by educator Loris Malaguzzi and the local parents in Reggio Emilia, Italy, the Reggio Emilia approach believes in a child-centered approach to education, to the extent that learners shape the curriculum for the entire class. 

While Montessori and Reggio Emilia are similar in that they are both concerned with experiential education, there are some key differences. Consider incorporating some of the tenants of the Reggio Emilia approach below into your childcare facility, see how it compares with Montessori, and discover the pros and cons of the Reggio Emilia approach.

What is the Reggio Emilia Approach? 

Emergent Curriculum. This is one of the most exciting innovations of the Reggio Emilia approach. Unlike Montessori, where there are set curriculums that learners can approach independently, Reggio Emilia staff keep track of individual learners’ interests and craft a class-wide curriculum in real-time to foster further exploration of these themes. Emergent curriculums are project-based and open-ended with room for failure--you can’t know ahead of time where you will end up.  

100 Languages. This is a popular image in the Reggio Emilia approach is based on a poem that outlines their fundamental beliefs. 100 languages represent both the diversity of individual learners and the child’s diverse modes of expression (verbal and non-verbal). It is also a metaphor for the extraordinary potential of all children as fully competent human beings with inherent rights whose role in the classroom is as knowledge bearers, rather than knowledge seekers. 

 

Atelier. Italian for “workshop” or “studio,” these types of spaces are crucial to the Reggio Emilia early childcare center. Learners are often viewed as apprentices who can absorb skills from master “atelieristas.” You can expect to find fully functioning wood shops (yup, real saws!), STEAM labs, art studios, and more in the Reggio Emilia childcare center.  

 

Documentation. Careful documentation of learner progress and interests is necessary to develop that emergent curriculum and communicate with the collaborators in the Reggio Emilia approach: parents and guardians. Another crucial part of the documentation is preserving learner artwork and other projects. These are regularly displayed in the classroom and on bulletins. 

Learning from the Environment. In the Reggio Emilia approach, the world is the learner’s workshop. Learners are encouraged to learn from natural materials, the environment, and real tools (remember those saws?). This is a major departure from the Montessori method which advocates for the “prepared environment,” classrooms, and materials that are made specifically for children. A Montessori workbench includes a wood mallet fit to a child’s hand. A Reggio Emilia woodshop has real hammers. 

Intergenerational Community. Montessori encourages educational scenarios where learners work independently or in small groups with adult intervention for short introductions and when learners are out-of-bounds. However, Reggio Emilia requires a classroom and curriculum that is open to larger group projects and multiple generations. Children, adult teachers, community members, and parents are all considered to be co-creators of knowledge. They are meant to work together for the benefit of each child’s education and to learn from each other. 

Criticism of the Reggio Emilia Approach

The beauty of the Reggio Emilia approach is how much respect it places on children and their thoughts. And what is more empowering than allowing children to be the creators of their own learning experience? However, there are some challenges to widespread adoption. Of course, with each of these challenges, there is room to figure out your own zhuzh on the method. 

Lack of Structure. Reggio Emilia has no set curriculum. Some kids just need more structure. Structured schedules, routines, and even a more conventional classroom setup make the classroom a safe space where kids know what’s coming at them. 

Missing Metrics. Parents and guardians who like to be presented with immediate, quantifiable results may have difficulty understanding what their kids are learning. There is also no way to compare learners on a national level with mainstream schools (back to that whole “no curriculum thing”). It should be unsurprising that the Reggio Emilia approach doesn’t include standardized testing or grades. 

Lack of Certifications. There is no such thing as a certified Reggio Emilia teacher….that said, there are plenty of opportunities for professional development to incorporate these techniques into the classroom. 

Moreover, there are no Reggio Emilia schools outside of, well, Reggio Emilia, Italy. But that doesn’t mean that your facility can’t benefit from all the Reggio Emilia approach has to offer. 

Next Steps

Emily Jaeger is a professional writer with a background in education (she's taught every age group from preschool to retirement). Her writing has been featured on Parents Magazine, Kveller, Motherfigure and more. You can connect with Emily via her website emilyjaeger.com or on instagram @soulinparaphrase.

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