What is Reggio Emilia?

Matt Duncan
Last week, several Lower School teachers and I had the amazing opportunity to attend an online conference run by the North American Reggio Emilia Alliance (NAREA). The conference featured presentations by two Italian educators who work with very young students in the Reggio Emilia framework for learning. Their presentations discussed the ways in which nature, music, and environment can shape a child's learning and growth, empowering children to discover on their own terms using their inborn curiosity to foster motivation and achievement. 
Reggio Emilia is a city in Northern Italy. After World War II, educational researcher Loris Malaguzzi worked in and around Reggio to develop a new educational approach that would help rebuild following the war. Through the 1970s and early 1980s, Malaguzzi's approach was adopted and examined throughout Italy, largely thanks to a 1981 traveling exhibition titled "A Child Has 100 Languages," which focused on the creative approach to learning taken in kindergartens in Reggio Emilia. 

Reggio Emilia teaching and learning has four main principles:
  • Children must have a say in their own learning,
  • Children learn best through experiences like movement, touch, listening, and watching,
  • Children must be able to explore their own relationships to each other and the items around them, and
  • Children must have as many ways and chances for expressing themselves as possible. 
The environment where children learn is at the center of the philosophy. Also key to the approach is the right of the child to make choices. By creating a room or a space or a campus where children can make choices and constantly have a chance to learn, no matter which choice they make, teachers guide students collaboratively without stifling their youthful creativity.

The Independent School has been influenced by Reggio Emilia for quite awhile. The prominence of the approach at TIS has waxed and waned through the years, but during our In Service days in August of this year, teachers were asked about the sustainability of this approach, and as a faculty decided to increase our understanding of Reggio Emilia. Teachers Maya Billingham, Sky Hendrix, Kim Sanborn, and Michelle Bolin registered for last week's 2-day event and attended the online conference with me. We exchanged ideas throughout the sessions, and were privileged to see the approach in action at the world headquarters in the city of Reggio Emilia. 

Being a Reggio-inspired school takes a strong and ongoing commitment from teachers to work alongside their students and to provide opportunities for their students to grow and learn in ways that foster and cultivate the child's inherent desire to learn and explore. There's an element of trust that is important, and teachers must be open to everything they, too, can learn from the children. 
TIS is inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach. It informs our teaching, along with a number of other approaches, such as Mind, Brain, and Education as I presented last week, and Universal Design for Learning, which I will explore next week. While we are not a "Reggio school" in the purest sense, we do value the insight and opportunity such an approach to learning in our earliest grades can offer for our students and consider ourselves "Reggio-inspired." A central goal for TIS is creating and cultivating lifelong learners, and Reggio Emilia is a foundation for that effort. 

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