Teaching Methods: Loris Malaguzzi and the Reggio Emilia Method

Distinct from the Montessori and Waldorf methods of education, the Reggio Emilia method, standing similarly among the best methods in the world, only gives attention to early childhood development. Like the Waldorf method, the Reggio Emilia developed at a time in history when European countries had to recover and rebuild themselves following the World Wars of the 20th century. Knowing even less about the Reggio Emilia method, than about the Montessori and Waldorf methods, this article aims to look at the Reggio Emilia method. The article deals with its founding, guiding thinking, and the principles on which the method is built upon. Because methods of education are usually modified in the environments that they exist in in the present day, this article contends with what the Reggio Emilia method was initially intended to be. From this article, it’s clear why the Reggio Emilia method stands among the best methods in the world. Though it only focuses on early childhood development, its well-rounded approach to education, sets it apart from traditional methods.

Loris Malaguzzi.
Image Credit: http://www.reggiochildren.it

Loris Malaguzzi

Resembling more than a few European countries, at the end of the Second World War, Italy found itself confronted by the task of having to rebuild society, with the education system lying among the structures that had to be reorganized. Moved by the necessity for change in education, several parents in the northern city of Reggio Emilia, with the help and guidance of school teacher, Loris Malaguzzi, transformed an empty building into a school for early childhood development. The school employed the method that later came to be known as the Reggio Emilia method of education. The method, developed by Loris Malaguzzi, was informed by the work and ideas of psychologists like Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, Jerome Bruner, and Howard Gardner, amongst others. The method looked at early childhood development, emphasizing the role played by the environment that surrounded children as they learnt and developed. In time, the method moved beyond just this one school, going on to be employed in municipal schools across Reggio Emilia and later, across the country, and by 1991, schools that employed the Reggio Emilia method were ranked among the best early childhood development schools in the world.

Guiding Philosophy

The Reggio Emilia method embraced a positive image of children. Children were viewed as curious and imaginative human beings, eager to engage with and add to the world. The method held that children’s innate curiosity and imagination moved them to want to learn and explore. On account of that, children had to be given the space to express themselves and entrusted to take responsibility for their learning. The method also held that giving children the space to express themselves would display children’s power and potential to think and formulate guesses on complicated ideas. Accordingly, because children were believed to be active participants in the world, they were also believed to be subjects of rights. As opposed to seeing them as empty vessels that needed to be filled, the Reggio Emilia method viewed children as full human beings possessing unlimited potential. Owing to this positive image of children, the method believed that school had to be organised in a way that helped children fulfil their potential. Furthermore, viewing children as subjects of rights also meant that children were seen and respected as individuals, possessing multiple intelligences, as opposed to being treated as though they were the same.

Given that the method embraced a positive image of children, teachers then were viewed as learners. The method encouraged teachers to continually develop themselves by engaging in an ongoing practice of studying and understanding how children learned. Teachers were also encouraged to work together, discussing, assessing, and considering ways in which the process of learning could be bettered. Reggio Emilia teachers would not only work with one other teacher within a classroom but, teachers would also meet up with other teachers and talk over ways in which children’s education could be improved. Furthermore, teachers were also encouraged to talk to and learn from people working outside of their fields to hear different points of view about learning. Embracing a positive image of children and viewing teachers as learners, meant that, within Reggio Emilia schools, teachers were expected to develop and inspire children’s learning through working with their students, extending their knowledge and learning even as children learn. While teachers were primarily seen as learners, like children, they were also seen as researchers, called to observe, listen, and document students’ development.

Reggio Emilia Method

Similar to all methods of education, the Reggio Emilia method was founded upon quite a few principles. First, the method highlighted the importance of relationships, more specifically, children’s relationships with the people who surround them. The method held that the relationships in children’s lives were incredibly important as children learned through engaging with the people around them. Thus, because relationships were so important, from the earliest Reggio Emilia schools, parents and caregivers were always included in the planning of every facet of Reggio Emilia schools, even the governance of the schools. Second, the environment. The method held that together with the important role that relationships played in children lives, was the important role that the environment played in children’s lives. Children learned by engaging with their environment. The method viewed the environment as the third teacher, having the power to touch and affect children, all people, in deep and meaningful ways. As a result of this belief, a great deal of consideration was given to the appearance of Reggio Emilia schools for the schools were believed to be a central part of children’s education. Teachers were again encouraged to be thoughtful about how they used their spaces, hoping to only create spaces that were likely to inspire learning.

Third, the curriculum. There was no set curriculum in Reggio Emilia schools. In the place of a set curriculum, children worked on projects. Teachers were encouraged to observe, listen, and connect with children to discover their interests. After discovering children’s interests, teachers, with the help of their students, had to create several interesting topics for projects. The purpose of including children in these decisions was to give children some degree of power over their learning. Another way in which children were given power over their learning was through not having strict timetables for their projects. Reggio Emilia children were simply allowed to work at their own pace. Finally, the fourth principle was the 100 languages, the idea that children had 100 or multiple ways of expressing themselves. In Reggio Emilia schools, children were encouraged to express themselves through artwork which was generally used as a tool for development. Although the method only looked at early childhood development, it stood and still stands among the best methods of education in the world because of its well-rounded approach to children’s education. Embracing a positive view of children, treating children as individual full human beings, and recognising the importance of the relationships and environment that surrounds them is among the reasons why the Reggio Emilia method has been so successful.

References and Further Readings

Abbott, L. & Nutbrown, C. (2001). Experiencing Reggio Emilia: Implications for Pre-School Provision. Open University Press

Arseven, A. (2014). “The Reggio Emilia Approach and Curriculum Development Process”, International Journal of Academic Research, 6(1), pp. 166-171. [Online]. Available: http://www.researchgate.net

Hewett, V. M. (2001). “Examining the Reggio Emilia Approach to Early Childhood Education”, Early Childhood Education Journal, 29(2), pp. 95-100. [Online]. Available: http://www.researchgate.net

Keleman, G. (2013). The Reggio Emilia Method, a Modern Approach of Pre-School Education. Aurel Vlaicu University of Arad. [Online]. Available: http://www.researchgate.net

Moss, P. (2012). One City, Many Children: Reggio Emilia, a History of the Present. Reggio Children

Reggio Emilia Early Learning Centre. (2018). Reggio Emilia Approach. [Online]. Available: https://youtu.be/hcRgN0F-wik

Sprouts. (2019). Reggio Emilia Education. [Online]. Available: https://youtu.be/7n2hCebmT4c

Wien, C. A. (2008). Emergent Curriculum in the Primary Classroom: Interpreting the Reggio Emilia Approach in Schools. Teachers College Press

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