Investigating the best approach to pre school teaching - Reggio Emilia

The Reggio Emilia approach was hailed in Newsweek magazine (1991) as the best Early Childhood Education model in the world. Reggio Emilia has been described as “an international role model” “pioneering” and “an outstanding model”. So what is this Italian city doing differently? How have they created a world-renowned system of preschool and what are the principles behind it? 

Reggio Emilia

St Mary’s School In Johannesburg, has brought the Reggio Emilia approach to South Africa by establishing the Reggio Emilia Alliance. Its goal is to spread the philosophy that every child has unlimited capacity to achieve. In addition to mentoring & training programmes, St Mary's hosts an annual Reggio Conference which I attended along with 500 delegates from 12 countries hoping to gain further insight into this ‘world renowned approach’. 

Building on their core belief that, 'every child is full of potential and possibilities', learning is viewed as building upon previous experiences from nature, people (children, teachers and family) and creating their OWN connections and thoughts between ideas and the environment.  

The conference hosted 'Tiziana Filippini', Director of Documentation, Research, and Professional Development, Reggio Emilia Italy. She places emphasis on the theory rather than simply copying the application. Reggio approach thus challenges us ALL to go back to basic’s asking simple questions: 

  • How do I view a child? 
  • What does it mean to educate? 
  • How do children learn? 
  • How can we make children’s thinking, theorising and learning more visible? 

A Particular question for us as parents

What kind of person do we hope our children will become aged 30?

I was challenged once again to rethink my interaction with children; the pre conceived ideas / judgements I make about how a child should or shouldn’t behave, what they should or shouldn’t be doing at any developmental milestone, the questions and conversations I choose to have with children. If we shift our view of children everything changes.  On an individual level how do we talk to them, how do we set up our homes or their play spaces?   As a society how can we in Joburg value our children’s possibilities, potential, capabilities and competencies? 

In summary Reggio emphasises:   

  • The Child as a protagonist, collaborator, and communicator 
  • The Teacher as an enabler, facilitator, partner, guide and fellow researcher
  • The Environment as the “third teacher’ 
  • The importance of self-awareness and a personalised learning approach through careful, insightful documentation, which makes each child’s learning visible and adds to the strong and capable image of child. 
  • Project work - children set the agenda and each child’s voice is always heard and listened to. The children engage in explorations of their world making choices, together with their classmates, on what they will investigate and then together with teachers, parents and peers gain educational outcomes.    
  • Links to theory of Social Constructivism - encouraging children to talk through their ideas with one another, to debate, argue an opinion, develop persuasion skills, and use language as a demonstration of their independent thoughts. This type of learning “promotes retention and in-depth processing associated with the cognitive manipulation of information” (ref: wikipedia) 

In an African context, I can't think of a better educational theory as it mirrors the Ubuntu concept:

‘I am because you are’.
— Ubuntu

  It values the role we each play in bringing out the best in each other.  It sees school as part of a bigger community, which plays just one part in teaching our children. It tells us a child is not simply a product of their immediate family values and culture, but rather an African citizen who is growing up debating, discussing, valuing and respecting others.    

What am i going to do differently as a parent: 

  • Observe and document my child (Evernote notebook, noticing the thinking rather than purely what they are doing, and simply say ‘I see you’ 
  • Be ok with my child struggling - don’t do for a child what they can do for themselves.
  • Discussion around the dinner table, actively having conversations the children can access and be a part of.  
  • Environment - Play Room and Bedrooms - are the toys accessible to allow my children to select and choose what they wish to play with. 

These are good for now but I will probably write another whole post once I have had more time to think and reflect upon what I have learnt. 

Links to Further Info and Reggio Schools to see the approach in action: 

Ted Talks

-  Kids can teach themselves:
- Ken Robinson

St Mary’s School - Little Saints 
Joburgs' Leading Reggio Pre School - Small World 

- Reggio Interest Group - Facebook 

- Reggio Alliance - Facebook 


More information Reggio