Educators in Reggio Emilia believe that children have the right and the ability to express their thinking, theories, ideas, learning, and emotions in many ways. Therefore, Reggio educators provide children with a wide range of materials and media and welcome a diversity of experiences, so that children encounter many avenues for thinking, revising, constructing, negotiating, developing, and symbolically expressing their thoughts and feelings. In this way, teachers, parents, and children can better understand each other. These languages can include drawing, paint, clay, wire, natural and recycled materials, light and shadow, dramatic play, music, and dance. They can also include expression with words through metaphors, stories, or poems of the children’s interpretations and reflections about their experiences or through special design, such as maps and three-dimensional constructions. In fact, there is not a separation between what is considered traditionally artistic expression and academic education in the schools of Reggio Emilia. All are considered part of the one hundred and more languages of learning. Teachers in Reggio Emilia often encourage children to represent their ideas on a particular topic in multiple languages and find that the process of moving between languages supports children in their understanding and learning. To learn more about the role of languages in children’s learning and relationships, read Art and Creativity in Reggio Emilia: Exploring the Role and Potential of Ateliers in Early Childhood Education; Children, Art, Artists: The Expressive Languages of Children, The Artistic Language of Alburto Burri; REMIDA Day; The Languages of Food; The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Experience in Transformation; and In the Spirit of the Studio: Learning from the Atelier of Reggio Emilia.
The space of the atelier or studio was created in the infant-toddler centers and preschools in order to challenge the concept of “teachers” as the single, supportive reference point for children in schools. By purposefully adding the perspective and experiences of a teacher educated in the visual arts, a new kind of dialogue became possible. Not only did adults from different fields find ways to work in concert, children and adults found new windows for expression and learning. The atelier was particularly appointed to support the use of materials and media as languages for expression and learning by the children. Through time and with the inclusion of mini-atelier in each classroom, the work with many languages has been integrated into the entire school. The atelierista or studio teacher has formal education in the arts, typically in the visual arts, and works collaboratively with other educators in the infant-toddler centers and preschools to further the educational project and objectives of the school community. The atelier, like the classroom, also supports the process of documentation, of making the learning and relationships of children, teachers, and parents visible. This philosophical idea of exchange between fields, materials, experiences, and people is fundamental to this style of working. To learn more about the role of the atelier and the atelierista, read Art and Creativity in Reggio Emilia: Exploring the Role and Potential of Ateliers in Early Childhood Education; The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Experience in Transformation; and In the Spirit of the Studio: Learning from the Atelier of Reggio Emilia.
The environment plays a very strong role in the infant-toddler centers and preschools in Reggio Emilia. The environment is viewed as the third teacher, with the power to provoke curiosity and learning and encourage interaction. The elements of light, transparency, and natural materials are strongly valued. You will not find commercial posters and plastic furniture bought from catalogs. What you will find is documentation of the learning experiences and interactions of the children, teachers, and families as well as evidence of the identity of the community where the center or school is located. For more information on the role of the environment in the municipal infant-toddler centers and preschools of Reggio Emilia, read Children, Spaces, Relations: Metaproject for an Environment for Young Children; Dialogues with Places; The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Experience in Transformation. In addition, Reggio Children has produced a set of slides called Landscapes that includes images of the infant-toddler centers and preschools and the video Everyday Utopias: A Day in an Infant-Toddler Center and a Day in a Preschool.
The Reggio educators believe that children, teachers, and parents are partners in learning, and that children have the right and the ability to construct their own learning with the support and participation of teachers and parents. Reggio educators use the term progettazione to describe the evolution of learning that results from the processes of observation, interpretation, and documentation of the experiences of children, teachers, and parents together. At the basis of this process is the pedagogy of relationships and listening. In order for children and adults to construct learning together and find meaning in the world around them, reciprocal dialogue and interaction must be established and maintained throughout the school community. To learn more about progettazione and the processes of observation, interpretation and documentation, read In Dialogue with Reggio Emilia: Listening, Researching and Learning; Making Learning Visible: Children as Individual and Group Learners; The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Experience in Transformation; and Theater Curtain: The Ring of Transformation. Visit the Innovations Articles page to download articles by Reggio educators from back issues on this topic.
Participation in the education of their children is considered by Reggio educators to be a right and a responsibility of parents and families. Beginning with the first contacts between the infant-toddler centers or preschools and the families, the focus is on establishing and sustaining strong and respectful relationships. Parents and families are invited to participate in every possible way in the life of the center or school, including decisions on center/school policies and organization, collaborating with teachers in understanding and interpreting children’s learning and interests in order to plan the course of their investigations, and working on projects for the environment. Children, teachers, and families have the possibility to stay together in the same class for up to three years in the infant-toddler centers and the preschools, which supports the development of relationships and meaningful participation. The participation of community members in the life of the center/school is also strongly encouraged and expected. Education is viewed as a public responsibility. To learn more about the role of the family and community in the municipal infant-toddler centers and preschools, read One City, Many Children: Reggio Emilia, A History of the Present; In Dialogue with Reggio Emilia: Listening, Researching and Learning; Reggio Tutta: A Guide to the City by the Children; REMIDA Day; Charter of the City and Childhood Councils; and The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Experience in Transformation. The video Not Just Anyplace, describes the role of community in the history and development of the municipal system of infant-toddler centers and preschools in Reggio Emilia. Visit the Innovations Articles page to download articles by Reggio educators from back issues on this topic.
Children with disabilities or “special rights,” as the Reggio educators prefer to say, are among the first to be accepted into the Reggio Emilia municipal infant-toddler centers and preschools, along with children from single parent homes and those with limited financial means, including the growing immigrant population in Reggio Emilia. In other words, these children are not placed on the waiting lists for attendance but are accepted immediately. In each classroom, there can be one child with “special rights” and every effort is made to support this child’s participation in all of the experiences and activities of the other children in the classroom. An additional supporting teacher joins the two co-teachers in classrooms that include a child with special rights. This supporting teacher works with all of the children in the class, not just with the child with special rights. To learn more about inclusion of children with special rights in the municipal infant-toddler centers and preschools of Reggio Emilia, read The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Experience in Transformation, Indications – Preschools and Infant-Toddler Centers of the Municipality of Reggio Emilia, and Innovations in Early Education: The International Reggio Emilia Exchange, Volume 5, No. 3 and Volume 13, No. 1.
In order to understand why comparative studies, such as the ones you describe, have not been done in Reggio Emilia, it is useful to understand more about the history, culture, and values of their educational project. One significant point to consider is the way in which “research” is viewed. Does research belong only to scientists? In the collaborative research project of Harvard Project Zero and the municipality of Reggio Emilia, described in the book Making Learning Visible: Children as Individual and Group Learners, the authors describe the point of view taken in presenting their findings:
Our book challenges traditional notions of research by viewing schools as places for documenting human learning and development … Our research is based on the notions that theory can result from, as well as contribute to, classroom practice and that documentation of learning processes is critical to the research enterprise, as is the presence of multiple perspectives and languages. Rather than prescriptions, we have tried to provide a set of educational points of reference or orientation. (pp. 22-23)
Holding paramount the responsibility of documenting learning processes and giving ongoing visibility to human learning and development, each and every citizen, including children, is given a more democratic opportunity to “analyze” the work taking place inside the infant-toddler centers and preschools of the community. Research, then, is yet another form of participation and ongoing interpretation is the high aim. As such, educational work in Reggio Emilia has been more about actualizing democracy—that is, locally determining the course of the education project—and less, or not at all, about comparing one school to the next.
If citizens in Reggio Emilia are fully welcome and fully participating, then the decisions about what to do in schools are more flexible and more inclusive of multiple points of view. The human intellectual attempt stays more connected to present time and present actions in a constant state of observation, analysis, reflection, and projection of action.
Further exploration of this topic can be found in Making Learning Visible: Children as Individual and Group Learners and Beyond Quality in Early Childhood Education and Care: Postmodern Perspectives.
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