Just look around your local area and you’ll see that there are so very many different childcare settings to choose from. People choose settings for many different reasons: location/pricing/recommendations/Ofsted inspection findings. They may prioritise hours of provision/funded places/aesthetics, or feel of the setting and philosophy of the setting.
For instance, since Prince George started at a Montessori nursery, many Montessori nurseries have seen a surge in applications to join their particular setting – some nurseries now have long waiting lists for places.
One such education philosophy is the Reggio Emilia approach. I recently attended a seminar from Linda Thornton, well respected author, educator and owner of the Reggio Emilia based ‘Reflections’ nursery in Worthing, West Sussex. I was able to see their setting in action, having worked there as bank staff with a local agency. I have also worked at other settings which have ‘borrowed’ aspects of the Reggio approach.
Some of the things I love about a setting that follows the principles of Reggio Emilia are that:
- The practice is always changing – this is because it’s seen as ‘research based’ and follows many educational theorists and their ideas of best practice. They are constantly borrowing and adapting ideas from the best and also following current research and leading thinkers. If done well, I feel that this stops practice becoming stale and and really focusses on the child being at the centre of their learning.
- Creativity and critical thinking in children is planned for, supported and given real value. This empowers and encourages children to be more confident and curious about their learning
- The setting is a community which finds wonder and joy in the children in their care and concrete appreciation of what the children do, children feel respected and listened to
- They believe that you “can’t make a school too beautiful” and use the learning environment itself as a third teacher (the others being adults and other children)
- The emphasis is not on getting children ‘ready for school’ but is in enjoying, and making the best of, the moment. This means there is less pressure of expectations of both the child and adult
Below is a short guide, which I hope gives a good summary of the most important principles of this approach.
First, a little bit about the history – Reggio Emelia settings are inspired by the Reggio Emilia philosophy of education which originated in Northern Italy after the Second World War. It is community driven, having been the desire of the women of the region for a secular pre-school for their children – where children were seen and valued as citizens. For more information on the origins and history visit here.
Main Principles of the Reggio Emilia Approach to Education
- The Image of the Child
Children are viewed as being curious, full of knowledge, having great potential, and being competent and interested in connecting to the world around them. Their teachers are mindful of every child’s potential and so they plan and construct the learning environment for engaging and enriching experiences for each child.
- Collaboration and Interaction
Collaboration, co-operation and interaction are so very important. Children, teachers and families join together to continually improve the ‘system’. Everyone is included in order to help support, and become part of, the school community. The benefits of this approach are that it really embraces the ‘Parents as Partners’ ethos, it is inclusive (includes everyone, everyone has access and input), and gives everyone equal status.
- The Environment
The environment is considered to be the third teacher. That might sound weird – How can a room be a teacher? Well it’s not just a room, it’s spaces, inside and out. Teachers organize, support and plan for various spaces with which the child may interact. Daily planning makes sure that there is a good balance between individual and small/large group activities, and also between child-led and teacher-initiated activities, and outdoor and indoor experiences. This makes sure that the teaching and learning is dynamic, never static, ever evolving as appropriate.
- The Three Subjects of Education: Children, Families and Teachers
I love that the belief in Reggio Emilia is that for children to learn, their well-being has to be guaranteed; it is a priority. Also children, parents and teachers have equal rights:
- the right to safety, care and welfare
- the right to be involved, and
- the right to grow/learn/develop
- Documentation as a Tool
Recording takes on many forms; video, observations, photography, conversation transcripts and/or actual objects like drawings. I love the fact that recording/observations are given huge importance. They are not simply a remark made in a Learning Journal, or as the means of ticking off a development goal. Instead, teachers use this documentation to identify the child’s interests, ideas, and skills, and then plan next steps to support learning and development.
- Emergent Curriculum
Emergent Curriculum is a way of teaching and learning that requires teachers to use their recordings and observations to inform them in planning activities and long term projects. Teachers partner with children and the exchange of ideas are referred to as the ‘Cycle of Inquiry’. Teachers use their interpretations, intentions and goals (social, emotional and academic) to make choices that they share with the children. Learning is seen not as a linear approach but as an ever spiralling and organic process.
- The Hundred Languages of Children
The Studio Teacher (or Atelierista) works closely with the other teachers and the children through the Studio. This is a space containing materials and tools to pursue, reflect, record and extend thinking and concepts.
- The Role of the Teacher
The ‘image’ or knowledge of the child (who they are) informs the role of the teacher and involves four major components. Teachers are:
- Documenters: they watch, listen, record, display and review
- Advocates for children: they should be involved in the community, aware of politics relating to children, should speak for children as individuals and as a whole, should be engaged in the process of sharing children’s work to other educators and community members
- Co-constructors: in this they have many roles – they guide, care for, help solve problems, learn alongside, act as a partner, hypothesise with the child (give possible reasons for things)
- Researchers: they are ever learning, observing, reviewing.
- The Role of Parents
Parents are an essential part of the school, taking an active part in their children’s learning journey and well-being. This is wonderful – it includes, informs, supports, teaches, empowers, respects and gives value to the parent.
- The Role of Time and the Importance of Continuity
The minute, hour, day, week, month and term are hugely influenced by the interests and activities that the children bring to their learning. This in turn impacts plans, timetables and routines. Teachers get to know children’s interests, skills, needs and personality because children stay with the same teacher and the same peer group for two years. I love the continuity of this for everyone involved. Somehow it makes the different relationships more permanent, more cohesive, informed and valued.
Projects are the centre of the child’s/ teachers’ learning experiences. Project ideas come from the experiences, problems and interests of the children and teachers and can last from a few days to several months.
Many early years childcare settings around the world use or practice various aspects of the Reggio Emilia philosophy. Educators/leaders in Reggio Emilia don’t suggest that their program should be looked at as a model to be copied in other countries; instead, they consider their work as an educational experience, with a foundation of principles, which is continuously renewed, reinforced and readjusted. They suggest that teachers and parents in each school/any school/anywhere could, in their own way, reflect on these ideas. Thus finding possible ways to construct change in their own setting and practice. If you are interested in this approach for your child, it is worth finding out which local settings follow or borrow from this practice.
I didn’t find it easy to find a comprehensive list of Reggio Emilia settings in the UK. However, mumsnet has a Reggio Emilia thread with lots of people ready to answer your questions.
If anyone knows a good Reggio Emilio setting in their area please post the details here.