The Reggio Approach: A Choice for Childhood
By Shelly Humphrey, Teacher, Clarkston Community Schools, Early Childhood Center
Early childhood is a beautiful moment of time in a young child’s life that encompasses
the years from birth to age 8. The amazing growth, the intriguing experiences, the exciting
discoveries, and the joyful, playful learning that is intrinsic to a child’s optimal early
development happens during the first eight years.
Unfortunately, this dynamic time of growth and learning is often compromised when
children begin traditional, formal education with a focus on the acquisition of academic skills in
developmentally inappropriate ways. The beauty, the wonder, the marvel, and the play of
childhood are lost. Our children suffer when they are deprived of this gift of time and the playful
learning that takes place during their early years. It is our unique and most important
responsibility as parents and teachers to value, protect, and enrich these early childhood years for
our children. We must choose wisely when we consider their educational opportunities.
The families and educators of Reggio Emilia, Italy have provided us with a rich example
of educational excellence. For more than 50 years the teachers of Reggio Emilia, guided by their
founder Loris Malaguzzi, have carefully researched and meticulously documented the education
of their children. Their goal was to understand how children learn and how best to promote and
extend this learning. Their approach is based on exhaustive studies of the work of Howard
Gardner, Lev Vygotsky, Jerome Bruner and others. A Newsweek story listed the schools of
Reggio Emilia as the best early childhood programs in the world (“The Ten Best Schools in the
World, and What We Can Learn from Them,” December 2, 1991). NAEYC (the National
Association for the Education of Young Children) revised their descriptions of developmentally
appropriate best practices to include examples from the Reggio Approach. This world-renowned
approach has garnered the schools of Reggio Emilia the respect and admiration of Harvard’s
Project Zero who partnered with them to extend their “Making Learning Visible” research. The
Reggio Approach is a true mark of excellence and quality. It is a constructivist theory of
educating the whole child based upon research, documentation, collaboration, and reflection.
The Reggio Approach begins with an affirming belief in the image of the child as rich,
strong, and powerful. Children are seen as competent, curious, full of potential, and capable of
constructing their own knowledge. Curriculum emerges out of the children’s interests and
children collaborate with each other in small groups on inquiry-based projects developed from
their own questionings and wonderings. Children learn reading, writing, and math concepts as
necessary skills to solve problems within their project work. The environment is considered a
“third teacher” with space and materials beautifully designed to provoke thinking and hands-on
learning. Time is valued as an opportunity for children to become deeply involved in their
learning. Children are encouraged to express their ideas and their learning is made visible in a
multitude of ways. Reggio educators refer to this as the “100 languages.” It includes writing,
drawing, music, dance, clay, wire, light, drama, and more. Teachers are co-learners; researchers
who observe, record, study, and document each child’s thinking and learning. Detailed
documentation guides and extends the work of the children. Family involvement is vital to the
success of the Reggio Approach. The underlying principle is one of relationships: relationships
between families, teachers, school, and the community; between the child and other children;
between children and the environment, the materials and their work. And most importantly, the
relationship between the children and the research-based knowledge we have of who they are
and how they learn and the importance of hands-on explorations, socialization, and play.
What makes the Reggio Approach the best and only choice for early childhood
education? Why use this approach for preschool, kindergarten, and early elementary grades? It is
an informed decision we make due to our uncompromising responsibility to immerse our
children in rich educational experiences of curiosity, inquiry, and investigation while
continuously protecting their right to learn as children do—through play and discovery. It is a
choice we must make.
Yet, one additional reason must be considered: It is what our children would choose. It is an educational approach that honors who they are as brilliant learners; yet, still values them as young children. It respects the sanctity of childhood while encouraging the amazing potential within each one of them. Most importantly, it provides our children a voice—an opportunity to express what interests them, to discover who they are as learners, how they are smart, and how best to demonstrate their understandings.
The Reggio Approach is exactly what the early childhood years should look, feel, and
sound like for our children. In the words of Malaguzzi: "What we want to do is activate within children the desire and will and great pleasure that come from being the authors of their own learning" (p.55).
Malaguzzi,L. (1994). Your image of the child: Where teaching begins. Child Care Information Exchange, 96, 53-57.