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The Reggio Emilia Approach to Child Care

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The Reggio Emilia approach is an educational philosophy focused on preschool and primary education. It was started by Loris Malaguzzi and the parents of the villages around Reggio Emilia in Italy after World War II.  The destruction from the war, parents believed, necessitated a new, quick approach to teaching their children. They felt that it is in the early years of development that children are forming who they are as an individual. This led to creation of a programme based on the principles of respect, responsibility, and community through exploration and discovery in a supportive and enriching environment based on the interests of the children through a self-guided curriculum.


The city of Reggio Emilia in Italy is recognized worldwide for its innovative approach to education. Its signature educational philosophy has become known as the Reggio Emilia Approach which many preschool programmes around the world – including in the US – have adopted. The Reggio Emilia philosophy is based upon the following set of principles:

  • • Children must have some control over the direction of their learning;
  • • Children must be able to learn through experiences of touching, moving listening, seeing and hearing;
  • • Children have a relationship with other children and with material items in the world that children must be allowed to explore and
  • • Children must have endless ways and opportunities to express themselves.

The Reggio Emilia Approach to teaching young children puts the natural development of children as well as the close relationships that they share with their environment at the centre of its philosophy. Early Childhood programmes that have successfully adapted to this educational philosophy share that they are attracted to Regggio because of the way it views and respects the child. Parents are a vital component to the Reggio Emilia philosophy. Parents are viewed as partners, collaborators and advocates for their children. Teachers respect parents as each child’s first teacher and involve parents in every aspect of the curriculum. It is not uncommon to see parents volunteering within Reggio Emilia classrooms throughout the school. This philosophy does not end when the child leaves the classroom. Most parents who choose to send their children to a Reggio Emilia programme incorporate many of the principles within their parenting and home life. Even with the bridge between school and home, many wonder what happens to Reggio children when they make the transition from this style of education to a non Reggio Emilia school. The answer is that there is some adjustment that must take place. In most school environments, intellectual curiosity is rewarded, so students continue to reap the benefits of Reggio after they have left the programme.

There is the belief that teachers become skilled observers of children in order to inform their curriculum planning and implementation. In the Reggio approach, the teacher is considered a co-learner and collaborator with the child and not just an instructor. Teachers are encouraged to facilitate the child’s learning by planning activities and lessons based on the child’s interests, asking questions to further understanding, and actively engaging in the activities alongside the child, instead of sitting back and observing the child learning.

The Role of the Environment

The organization of the physical environment is crucial to Reggio Emilia’s early childhood programme and is often referred to as the child’s ‘third teacher’. Major aims in the planning of new spaces and remodeling of old ones include the integration of each classroom with the rest of the school, and the school with the surrounding community. The importance of the environment lies in the belief that children can best create meaning and make sense of their world through environments which support ‘complex, varied, sustained, and changing relationships between people, the world of experience, ideas and the many ways of expressing ideas’.

Long-term Projects as Vehicles for Learning

The curriculum 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 of 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 traditional 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 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 disposition to enjoy the unexpected.

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 toward the resolution of problems that arise.


Reggio Emilia’s approach to early education reflects a theoretical kinship with John Dewey, Jean Piaget, Vygotsky and Jerome Bruner, among others. Much of what occurs in the class reflects a constructivist approach to early education. Reggio Emilia’s approach does challenge some conceptions of teacher competence and developmentally appropriate practice. For example, teachers in the Reggio Emilia assert the importance of being confused as a contributor to learning; thus a major teaching strategy is purposely to allow 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 Western educators is the importance of the child’s ability to negotiate in the peer group.

One of the most challenging aspects of the Reggio Emilia approach is the gathering and use 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.

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