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Reggio Emilia Philosophy

Since 1999, we have been studying the philosophy of education that is practised in Reggio Emilia, a province of Italy. As a staff we have decided to embrace that philosophy, because we believe that the principles of education underlying it, are principles that we strongly believe in for children. We have ‘married’ those principles with our own philosophy, our Community and environment to create the educational precinct that we have here.

THE PHILOSOPHY OF REGGIO EMILIA

Reggio Emilia is a city of approx. 130,000 people, in Northern Italy, which was devastated by World War II. Following the war a very forward thinking teacher, Loris Malaguzzi, and a group of families decided that the only way to overcome the devastation and look to the future was to focus on the children. Together they built the first school, funds for which came from the sale of an abandoned tank, a few trucks and some horses left behind by the Germans.

From these humble beginnings, over the past 60 years, educators working together with parents and citizens have built a public system of education that is increasingly being recognised as a source of inspiration to educators world wide. Though the system has grown and is ever-changing, there are several principles that remain central to its philosophy, the main one being, the focus on the child. To quote Loris Malaguzzi, “Begin with the child and the rest will take care of itself”.

There are several principles that are central to the philosophy of the Reggio Centres and we (at West Albury Pre school) are embracing them all.

(i) An amiable school

The principle of ”an amiable school” focuses on the whole environment being an attractive place to be. There is much emphasis on beauty, incorporating the beauty of light and nature. All of the elements within the Centre; the people, their work, the materials the building are to be treated with care and respect.

The physical space needs to be structured in a way that encourages encounters, communication and relationships. The arrangements of objects, structures and activities needs to be such that it encourages choices, problem solving and discoveries.

Our rooms are filled with natural light and look out to the large natural garden. The centre environment and all experiences that are added to it reflect this emphasis on beauty, light and nature.

(ii) The image of the child.

The child is seen as strong and capable. If we change our image of the child, to that of believing that they are strong and capable and allow them to enjoy and develop through their childhood at their own pace, then they will cope with the wider world when the time comes.

We focus on what the child can do, (rather than what they can’t do) and build from there. If a child feels really good about themselves because we and their peers are continually recognising their strengths, efforts and caring natures, then they will gradually develop the confidence to ‘have a go’ at things that they find more challenging.

Girls Painting

Boat Creation

Fairy Land

Outside Equipment

(iii) The Hundred Languages of Children

This principle of the Reggio philosophy is one that you may hear quite often, partly because of it’s importance as a principle, but also because it is the name of the book that is the main reference book of the philosophy and also the name of the travelling display of documentation of Reggio that travels the world. In the Reggio Emilia Philosophy, children are encouraged to explore their environment and express themselves through all available “expressive, communicative and cognitive languages”; whether they be words, movement, drawing, painting, building, sculpture, shadow play, collage, dramatic play, dance, playing an instrument etc. .

In Reggio they believe that the more skilled children become in other languages, the more skilled they eventually become in the spoken word. From a very young age children are encouraged to express their thoughts and ideas in other languages. “Can you draw your idea for us?” “Can you make it out of clay?”

Skills are taught: e.g. pencil skills, scissor skills, how to mix paint, join clay, how to have a conversation, using voices and bodies to dramatise etc.

When we first started researching the philosophy we were amazed by the detail in and maturity of the children’s art work in the examples that we saw from Italy. Because those children have been encouraged from a very young age, to express and interpret through other media, they have developed skills and confidence much earlier than we traditionally see in Australia. Now that we have been practising the philosophy in our Centre for a few years, we are seeing much more detail, perspective and confidence in the children’s drawings, paintings, 3D work; in their “hundred languages”.

(iv) The Teacher as Researcher

This is one of the areas of the Reggio philosophy that is so different to our old philosophies and, indeed, to the way in which we were brought up and certainly educated. So whilst the concept of teachers as partners, facilitators and researchers is very easy to embrace and is also very liberating, (because we no longer have to have all of the answers), it has also been the most difficult aspect to implement. It is quite hard to change from giving answers to questions, to becoming a co-constructor of knowledge with the children. If we can say: “Well what’s your idea? How do you think that it could happen?” “Let’s test your idea out”. “I wonder where we can find out?” – we are telling the children that their ideas are very valuable, that teachers (and adults) don’t necessarily have all of the answers, BUT they will work together to find out, explore experiment etc. We are also teaching them to be powerful, active learners; to hypothesize, test, formulate, evaluate, discuss, question and discover. Thus many more neurological pathways are developed than in the more traditional information giving model of education.

(v) Education based on Relationships

The philosophy emphasises the importance of focussing on each child, but not each child in isolation. We need to see them in relation to other children, their family, the staff the environment of the Pre School and the Community and wider society.

We need to gain as much information as possible about each child, the family and their lives away from Pre School. Because we know that families are co-constructors of children’s education, we need to give as much information about the child’s day as possible, to parents.

We have been working very hard on this aspect of the philosophy, through photos, diaries, portfolios, documentation of the children’s work and recordings of incidental conversations/discussions. We also provide “Sharing Sheets”, for parents to tell us things that the children have been doing or are interested in so that we can follow it up. Our families have been very positive in their feedback about this aspect of our program.

We encourage groups of children and staff to stay together from year to year. This is so that groups feel completely relaxed and familiar with each other and so that relationships don’t have to be re-established every year.

(vi) The Project Approach

Some of the children’s ideas and interests may be developed into projects. A project involves exploring an interest or an idea in great depth. A project may begin from an idea or an interest of one or more children or a provocation from an adult. For the children it involves the process of making meaning – asking questions – forming hypotheses – testing hypotheses – finding answers - collaboration – investigation – representation – (drawings, paintings, buildings, clay work etc) – reflection.

(vii) Documentation

Documentation is the RECORDING of what the children are doing, saying. making, thinking and understanding. We do this using various methods; audio taping, writing notes, photographing and (occasionally) videoing.

There is a very strong emphasis on the documentation being genuine and presented in an aesthetically pleasing way.

The value of documentation is many fold.

  • to ‘inform’ parents of children’s experiences and to maintain parent involvement.
  • to allow teachers to revisit experiences and to evaluate children’s and their own work, more closely, and to communicate with their peers about it.
  • to let children know that their work is valued and to provide them with a way to revisit their own work.
  • to provide an archive that traces the history of the school and the process of learning enjoyed by the whole Pre school community.

Whilst our journey into the Reggio Emilia philosophy has changed how we work with and value children, we have blended this with what we already knew and valued about the development of children.

We have become listeners, facilitators and documenters.

**”Things about children and for children can only be learnt from children.” 1

We encourage the children to test their theories and ideas.We help them to research, we provide materials, resources, scaffolding, provocations to help them to make sense of and build their own knowledge of the world around them.

By doing this, we are making children active learners and we are teaching them that their thoughts and ideas are valued. We encourage them to trust in their own abilities.

*”When ideas meet hands extraordinary things happen. Thoughts give shape to material re-models the thoughts and then the things we do grow along with our growing.” 2

1,2 Edwards Gandini Forman ‘The Hundred Languages of Children – The Reggio Emilia Approach—Advanced Reflections 2nd edition’

WEST ALBURY PRESCHOOL
864 Lamport Crescent, West Albury NSW 2640
PO Box 258, Albury
Tel: (02) 6021 7053   Email: admin@westalburypreschool.com.au