Should Our Community “Do Reggio?”

In an email exchange with a community that is interested in the Reggio approach, I went a little off the rails and wrote the following email.  I know that the approach is appealing for many, and I obviously advocate for its use in schools.  Yet, at the same time, I wonder about the reasons why educators are drawn to Reggio Emilia, and, perhaps more importantly, I wonder about what the families want for their children and how that ties into the Reggio approach.

In essence, while I believe the Reggio approach draws many in for the aesthetic appeal, there are inherent values that any community must investigate as they begin to implement Reggio-inspired practices.

Below is the email I wrote on this matter.

Something I always encourage educators to think about as they begin to learn about the Reggio approach is that it must begin with a personal investigation of who they think children are.  The Reggio educators speak of it as “the image of the child.”

  1. Are they, for example, incomplete humans who become complete later?
  2. Are children vessels that need to be filled with knowledge?
  3. Are they citizens of the world at a later date, or are they citizens now?
Image result for banking model of education

Child as empty vessel to be filled with knowledge

These deep questions are the beginning of the Reggio approach.  In Reggio Emilia, after decades of community discussion between educators and families, they espouse the following beliefs in response to the above questions:

  1. Even our youngest children are capable and competent people and deserve the best of our culture.
  2. Children are already competent theory-builders and possess knowledge that is constructed over time. They are active constructors of knowledge, and not passive recipients of knowledge.
  3. Children are citizens now and deserve a seat at the table (which requires new ways of listening to children).

Constructing knowledge of spiders

Many of these beliefs were developed in the 60’s and 70’s through town hall conversations. The families and community-members were the first teachers. Not just figuratively, they built and ran their schools in their town while competing against the monopoly of Catholic church schools in Italy; they even had to “prove” and legitimize their approach as quality to the Italian state and Catholic educators through demonstrations.

Image result for malaguzzi demonstration in italy

Loris Malaguzzi in one of Reggio Emilia’s demonstrations

They needed to design their pedagogy on their own by conducting their own research and holding community dialogue. As you can imagine, their approach required new and sophisticated modes of being.  They were inspired by their cultural history and art: They are proud of their small town in Italy.

While the town is affluent now (much of it driven by educational tourism; people go there to visit their schools from all around the world), they designed their approach from literal rubble: The town was completely destroyed after World War II.

I mention all of this for two reasons.  First, many find the history of Reggio Emilia to be inspirational. It is reminiscent of American ideals of ingenuity and value-driven creativity.  I am drawn to their story.  Second, for many who implement the Reggio approach in the United States, we have to confront that while as educators we hold these ideals, a big part of doing this approach will warrant conversations among the community.  What do people believe about children?  What do they want for their children?  It is certainly possible to implement ideas from Reggio Emilia, but families will inevitably ask: “What are my children learning and why are you choosing to teach in this way?”

The unfortunate reality is that the concept of early childhood education is sometimes just seen as having fun, caretaking, or babysitting.  Yet, the heart of the Reggio approach is not about fun or cuteness. It’s about taking children seriously: Their voices, their ideas, their citizenship and participation.

From those values, their pedagogy emerges: children are thought of as researchers, teachers are thought of as co-researchers, children’s curiosities are seen as worthy of investigation, media (such as paint, clay, light, natural materials, recycled materials and more) are seen as methods of expression rather than objects of play, the environment becomes rich with invitations to provoke further curiosity, the “pedagogy of listening”, families are protagonists in the children’s learning.

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