The Reggio Emilia Approach

I recently read an article on the Reggio Emilia approach. I had heard of this learning model before, but was inspired by this article from The Atlantic titled, Reggio Emilia: From Postwar Italy to NYC’s Toniest Preschools. The article stated “A teaching approach meant to perk up the children of war is popular at a handful of posh American schools.” and begged the question “Wouldn’t it make more sense to use it with underprivileged kids?”. As I learned more I wondered if this approach may be effective with inner city schools in West Michigan.

Wikipedia describes the Reggio Emilia philosophy as being based upon the following set of principles:

  • Children have some control over the direction of their learning;
  • Children must be able to learn through experiences of touching, moving, listening, and observing;
  • Children have a relationship with other children and with material items in the world that children must be allowed to explore;
  • Children must have endless ways and opportunities to express themselves.

The Reggio Emilia approach is an educational philosophy developed by a psychologist Loris Malaguzzi, and parents in the villages around Reggio Emilia in Italy. Following World War II, the people believed that children were in need of a new way of learning. The assumption of Malaguzzi and the parents was that people form their own personality during early years of development and that children are endowed with “a hundred languages” through which they can express their ideas. The aim of this approach is teaching how to use these symbolic languages (eg., painting, sculpting, drama) in everyday life. The program is based on the principles of respect, responsibility, and community through exploration and discovery in a supportive and enriching environment based on the interests of the children through a self-guided curriculum.

According to the article in The Atlantic – “This approach has detractors. Some critics of Reggio say it doesn’t teach foundational skills that children need to learn before primary school. Also, like Montessori education, Reggio has an accrediting body that controls its name and method, it’s hard to claim the title of “Reggio school” without having at least some teachers go through extensive (and often expensive) training.

Expensive private schools are best able to afford to send their teachers to be trained in Italy. For these reasons, as often happens with alternative schooling programs, critics have objected that a Reggio-inspired curriculum can’t work in low-resource settings. That may be true of the type of name-brand Reggio popular on the Upper East Side in New York City.

But Reggio also has one big advantage: Because it’s an approach to children and teaching rather than a rigid curriculum or set of exercises, lessons learned from Reggio can be applied in many schools. And if there were a way to broadly apply Reggio philosophy to public school teaching while bringing some associated costs down, its emphasis on beauty and creativity might do wonders for underprivileged kids. A few public school systems — like the New York and D.C. public schools already do offer limited “Reggio inspired” programming.

There’s a reason that the most neglected, highest-crime neighborhoods in the U.S. are often described as war zones. As morose as the comparison might seem, taking cues from a method designed for children of war might help teachers get through to kids from rough neighborhoods and low-enrichment backgrounds.”

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