Foundations and Current Issues of Early Childhood Education/Chapter 7/7.2

Imagine, for a moment, that you have been sent to Italy to student teach. You arrive at the early childhood center that you have been assigned and observe the following. Inside the building there are floor to ceiling windows and plants that blur the boundaries between outside and in (Tarr, 2001). Lights and shadows fluctuate across the floor. The school is designed around a piazza that reflects the central piazzas of the Italian city. You discover that this space (the piazza) serves as a gathering place for children from all classes and a comfortable meeting place for teachers and parents. This piazza also offers a store, with access to real vegetables. Nearby you see an area filled with fancy dress up clothes that invite investigation and a kaleidoscope large enough to hold many children (Tarr, 2001). As you continue your walk through the building, you observe beautiful vases of fresh flowers, and linen tablecloths on tables with real dishes. In some classrooms there are dried flowers hanging from the ceiling. You notice displays of both living and dried plants all over the building. Attractive jars of beans, shells, pebbles, and seeds are displayed on shelves in the dinning area of the infant toddler center. Manufactured as well as natural materials available for art projects are displayed carefully in transparent containers (Tarr, 2001). Many objects are set on or in front of mirrors to provide multiple views from the children’s’ perspective. Mini art studios are placed adjacent to every classroom. On the walls of every classroom are clearly visible words and photographs of children working on past projects along with previews of current ones. The artwork that you observe is detailed, complex, and beyond that usually expected of 4 and 5 year-old children. The children’s work is not just on display, but it is everywhere and it is an integral part of the environment, greeting you as you enter, dividing the environmental space, covering windows, and enhancing the outside yard (Finegan, 2001). This vision is a Reggio Emilia school. It is one out of approximately 33 Reggio Emilia preschools and infant-toddler centers located in the surrounding cities.



Loris Malaguzzi was the founder of the Reggio Emilia approach. He lived from 1920 to 1994. He was a teacher in Italy who was trained in education and psychology. In a little town called Villa Cella in the northern region of Italy known as Regio Ramana, Malaguzzi found inspiration. In 1946, he witnessed villagers, including children and parents collecting stone, sand and timber to build a school. This was during a time of political and economic chaos that followed the fall of Fascism and the German retreat from Italy (Scholastic, 2001). He was so impressed by what he saw that day, that he stayed there and worked a side those dedicated parents in developing what would become one of the first Reggio Emilia schools. Loris Malaguzzi was an educator, who enveloped a unique vision of early childhood education for his time, founded the Reggio Emilia school and remained the director until 1985. The Reggio schools are not private schools, but city run centers initiated by parents after World War II (Schiller, 1995). As of 1990, there were 33 preschools and infant-toddler centers in the surrounding cities of Italy. The structure of the infant-toddler center includes: the Asilo nido “nest” for children ages birth to three years, and two classroom teachers. The preschool is called scuola materna “maternal school” and is set up for a maximum of 25 children, ages 3–6, with two teachers in each classroom.

Reggio Philosophy


The philosophy that drives the Reggio Emilia schools reflects a theoretical kinship with Bruner, Dewey, Piaget, and Vygotsky (Finegan, 2001). Much of what occurs in Reggio Emilia classrooms resembles a constructivist approach to early childhood education. The image that Reggio Emilia educators have of the child guides much of their philosophy. This image of the child includes seeing him as strong, competent, capable of constructing his own thoughts, and having great potential to offer the world (Hendrick, 2001). Reggio educators believe that learning is spiral not linear, and the physical environment creates beauty and supports open-ended teaching and learning (Schiller, 1995). Also, there is a great concern for what the environment is teaching. The environment itself becomes the “third” teacher in addition to the two classroom teachers. Reggian educators belief that children have a right to environments that support the development of their many languages (Tarr, 2001). Further embedded in the Reggio Emilia philosophy is the notion that children’s interactions and relationships with other children and adults are a vital component of learning (Schiller, 1995).

Reggio Curriculum


Together, parents, teachers, community members, and a pedagogist design the curriculum, which continues to emerge as the children learn and grow. Teachers facilitate the exploration of themes, inspired by the children’s curiosity, through the use of a project approach, which may last from a day to a week to a year (Finegan, 2001). Despite the broad curriculum goal that the teacher may have in mind, the curriculum also follows the lead and interests of the children. A large part of the exploring, learning, and understanding of ideas is done through artwork. The Reggio approach does not teach art as a subject, but as a language for children to express understanding of their environment (Schiller, 1995). It is the art studio (called atelier) that becomes a place of research into what children know and understand. There is a visual art specialist, (called an artierlista) employed full-time at each Reggio center to guide children into appropriate media choices to complete their ideas and projects. Media choices available to students may include paint, clay, cardboard structures, bent wire adorned with tissue paper or dramatization such as shadow plays, to express what they understand. It is through this wide variety of artwork that students communicate the language of what they know.

“What children learn does not follow as automatic result from 
what is taught. Rather, it is in large part due to the children’s 
own doing as a consequence of their activities and our resources”.
--Loris Malaguzzi

A major focus of the Reggio program is observation and documentation. Documentation is done through tape recordings, written notes or video. Teachers routinely take notes and photographs and make tape recordings of group discussions and children’s play (Scholastic, 1982). The teachers meet each week to focus on their observations. Teachers and directors review the documentation and strive to hear the strongest currents of interest within the children’s flow of ideas (Scholastic, 1992). Then the teachers use what they learn to plan activities that are truly based on children’s interests and to gain insights into the individual personalities of the child. Teachers select an aspect of the children’s interests to develop further, one that presents a problem for them to consider and solve (or, as Reggian teacher’s put it, “provokes” the child into thought), (Hendricks, 2001). Photos are taken to document the learning process as the project evolves. Teachers develop panels, which include the pictures and words of children engaged in their area of discovery. These panels, set around the space of the school, help children remember prior learning and show parents the learning which children are experiencing. Throughout the process teachers and children interact by listening and talking to each other to explore subjects by exchanging ideas and trying out those ideas. The results of these joint investigations are then converted by the children into visible products that communicate what they have found out to other people.

Role of Teachers & Parents


The teacher is the facilitator of the child’s learning. The children and teachers are equally involved in the progress of the work and the ideas being explored (Schiller, 1995). As a facilitator the teacher helps the child reach the next level of understanding. The teacher is not the dispenser of knowledge, but rather helps the child to discover his or her own learning.

The Reggio Emilia approach recognizes parents as valuable partners in the learning experience of the young. Parents are involved to help teachers learn about their child. Parent input includes participation in curriculum development, in program planning, evaluations of both child and school, and in the broader arena of advocacy and policy decisions (New, 2003). Parents are perceived as competent and rightful contributors to the school program in which a child spends his or her time (New, 2003).

The Significance of Reggio


The Italian culture demonstrates a profound respect for children—and for childhood—and the way in which it is put into educational practice in the preschools of Reggio Emilia has captured the minds of American educators (Linn, 2001). For all children, both the process and the products of their learning are taken seriously, giving a dignity to children’s work that is often lacking in American preschools (Linn, 2001). The Reggio Emilia schools of Italy raise awareness about to connections between culture and educational practices that are different than our own. Many educators and researchers have visited Italy to observe this approach firsthand and have conducted research and written about what U.S. educators can learn from this approach (Finegan, 2001). Preschools in the United States already embrace many ideas basic to the Reggian philosophy: parent involvement, fostering creativity, child-centered, hands-on, and cooperative learning (Hendericks, 2001). The term “Reggio inspired” is often used in education to depict U.S. programs that have embraced specific aspects of the Reggio Emilia philosophy.

Multiple Choice Questions


1. Which terms describe the Reggio Emilia curriculum?

A) linear & closed-minded

B) teacher driven & standardized

C) emergent & child centered

D) isolated & never changing

2. In which country did the schools of Reggio Emilia begin?

A) Germany

B) Turkey

C) Italy

D) United States

3. How do students in a Reggio Emilia school communicate what they know to others?

A) through artwork

B) through standardized tests

C) through journal writing

D) through oral assessment

4. Which of the following are standard classroom practices for the teachers in a Reggio Emilia school?

A) observing students

B) taking pictures

C) recording conversations

D) all of the above

5. In a Reggio Emilia school, what is the focus of dialogue between teacher and child?

A) daily routines

B) ideas and work in progress

C) classroom rules

D) student conduct


1. C

2. C

3. A

4. D

5. B

Essay Question


What are some differences between preschools in the United States and the Reggio schools of Italy? Will these differences alter your own educational practices?

Essay Answer: There are many differences between U.S. preschools and those discussed in Italy. In the U.S. preschools are decorated in bright primary colors with cartoonish simplified decorations. But Reggio schools utilize real objects that are both beautiful and complex. Where Reggio schools are open to a piazza, early childhood centers here are closed in with walls. We are accustomed to artwork made at preschool that can typically stick to a refrigerator door, but artwork in a Reggio school is often three-dimensional. Teachers in the U.S. consider themselves dispensers of knowledge and children vessels who need to be filled. However, Reggio teachers view themselves more as facilitators who believe that children are empowered with their own knowledge that simply needs discovering. Currently, the U.S. educational system is a test driven system, with standardized tests being the tool use to measure success and knowledge. But the Italian educational system is not test driven, and teachers in Reggio schools and probably other schools as well, assess children in different ways (including long term projects). The differences between our culture and that of Italy are very complex and affect every inch of society, not just schools. One very important difference, that is more of a societal issue, has to do with the relationship between teachers and parents. In many U.S. schools, parents are not largely committed to consistent daily collaboration with teachers that alters the design of the curriculum. There is not always a strong connect between community, parents and schools. While we try to improve this relationship, our culture as a whole does not value the relationship in the unique way, that we see practiced in Italy. So it may be difficult to implement the philosophy fully. There are some practices that I do see continuing in my own classroom that may have their origins in Reggio Emilia. The importance of listening to what others say and observing how children learn best can be used for teacher reflection and adaption of lesson plans. In addition, the use of project oriented learning, constructing knowledge and inquiry based/discovery lessons are important methods of teaching to me.



Finegan, C. (2001). Alternative early childhood education: Reggio Emilia. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 2, 82-84.

Hendrick, J. (2001). The whole child developmental education for the early years. Columbus,OH: Merrill Prentice Hall.

Linn, M. (2001). An American educator reflects on the meaning of the Reggio experience. Phi Delta Kappan, 332-334.

New, R. (2003). Reggio Emilia: New ways to think about schooling. Educational Leadership, 7, 34-38.

Schiller, M. (1995). Reggio Emilia: A focus on emergent curriculum and art. Art Education, 3, 45-50.

Tarr, P. (2001). Aesthetic codes in early childhood classrooms: What art educators can learn from Reggio Emilia. Art Education, 3, 33-39.

Unknown author (2001). Loris Malaguzzi, founder: the Reggio Emilia approach, believing in the power of the child. Scholastic Early Childhood Today, 8, 46.