The Reggio Emilia Approach to Early Years Education
In educational terms the northern Italian town of Reggio Emilia has a firmly established worldwide reputation for forward thinking and excellence in its approach to early childhood education. It is a socio-constructivist model. That is, it is influenced by the theory of Lev Vygotsky, which states that children (and adults) co-construct their theories and knowledge through the relationships that they build with other people and the surrounding environment. It also draws on the work of others such as Jean Piaget, Howard Gardner and Jerome Bruner. It promotes an image of the child as a strong, capable protagonist in his or her own learning, and, importantly, as a subject of rights. It is distinguished by a deeply embedded commitment to the role of research in learning and teaching. It is an approach where the expressive arts play a central role in learning and where a unique reciprocal learning relationship exists between teacher and child. Much attention is given to detailed observation and documentation of learning and the learning process takes priority over the final product. It is a model that demonstrates a strong relationship between school and community and provides a remarkable programme for professional development. We must look back to the period immediately after the Second World War to understand the genesis of what has become known as the ‘Reggio Approach’. Two factors can be seen to have had a fundamental and far-reaching effect. It was the parents and citizens of Reggio Emilia who, in a show of collective responsibility and the desire to create a better society for their children, occupied a disused building that they turned into the first nursery school. This and the other schools that followed were quite literally built by the people. The effort and will of the parents was given direction through the extraordinary vision of Loris Malaguzzi, at the time a young teacher, who dedicated his life to the development of the philosophy now known as the Reggio Approach. In 1963 the local council or municipality opened the first municipal pre-school establishments for children of 3–6 years and in 1970 these were joined by the first infant-toddler centres for infants from three months to 3 years. In the late 1960s the original schools founded in the post-war period were integrated into the municipal system and given renewed impetus. From the start the municipal-run schools have been committed to progressive thinking and the advancement of an educational project that centres on the child. For these reasons the Reggio schools have attracted significant global interest and received international accolades.