7 Reasons Why We Moved to Reggio Emilia, Italy

In September 2021, we moved from Finland to the Italian province of Reggio Emilia. On our 5-day trip, we ferried across the Baltic sea, zipped along the German autobahn, and tunneled through the Swiss Alps.

The reality of our move finally hit us when we neared our new home.

Our weary minivan—saddled with two roof boxes, a jam-packed trunk, and all five of us—struggled to climb the steep mountain roads. Every hairpin turn, breathtaking view, and fearless motorbiker exhilarated us.

We were thousands of kilometers from Finland—and I felt that terrifying, thrilling realization that we had traveled too far to turn back now.

I admit that it may seem odd for us to have moved at this time.

We left Finland, the happiest country in the world for the fourth year in a row, during a pandemic. I surrendered my job as an English teacher and we removed our three children (4, 7, and 9) from a Finnish school.

What’s more, we decided to do something rare among Finnish families: homeschooling. On Instagram, one reader said what others are probably thinking too:

“Just curious…having read your book, it feels like you really enjoyed the Finnish educational system. So why the move to homeschooling in Italy? Is it a temporary thing due to Covid, and just the right timing for an adventure? Do you envision your kids eventually returning to the Finnish school system?”

In this post, I’ll share the seven reasons why we moved to Reggio Emilia, Italy.

  1. Perspective

For years, my wife and I have wrestled with the question of where to settle down. I’m American and she’s Finnish, so our hearts are always in two places.

Before moving to Helsinki in 2013, we lived in the Boston area. Ultimately, we relocated to Finland because it’s simply a great place to raise young children. (If you’re looking for universal health care, generous parental leaves, and affordable daycare, consider moving to the Land of a Thousand Lakes.)

Our eldest was just one when we moved to Finland. But now all our kids are of school-age, or close to it, and for their sake, we feel a sense of urgency about figuring out where to send down our roots.

By spending a sabbatical year in Italy and getting out of our comfort zone, we hope to gain a fresh perspective on life.

2. Adventure

Nothing beats an old-fashioned family adventure. In our case, adventure meant traveling to a distant land and homeschooling all our three kids when we’ve never done so before.

Honestly, our life in Finland was not adventurous, and that was perfectly fine. We didn’t look to Finland for adventure. We came for better work-life balance and, in that respect, Finland delivered.

  1. Teachlands

Over the last few years, I’ve written two books about Finnish education. As much as I’ve enjoyed studying Finland’s school system, I’ve wanted to learn more about other inspiring approaches to education.

In early 2020, I introduced Teachlands, my education startup, to the world. My mission for Teachlands: Explore best practices in schools around the globe and share insights with teachers and parents.

I hadn’t planned on COVID-19.

In March 2020, schools shut down everywhere. Suddenly, I found myself teaching remotely and teaming up with my wife to care for our kids at home. I quickly placed Teachlands on the backburner.

Italy has provided me with an exciting opportunity to finally carry out the original mission of Teachlands. This school year, I’m learning more about two fascinating Italian approaches to education.

  1. Reggio Emilia and Montessori

Since I started my teaching career in 2009, I’ve heard bits and pieces about Montessori and Reggio-Emilia. These Italian child-centered pedagogies have fascinated me.

Moving from Finland to Italy felt like a natural next step since similarities exist between Finnish education, Montessori, and Reggio-Emilia. This coming year I’m excited to see how these approaches compare to one another.

  1. Homeschooling

The pandemic pushed us to try homeschooling with our eldest, who’s in third grade this year. In many ways, he has thrived as a homeschooler.

For this school year, we thought it would be fun to homeschool all our children while living in Italy. We don’t see ourselves as a homeschooling family just yet, but we’re intrigued by this lifestyle.

Homeschooling offers us flexibility and freedom. During a year of travel and exploration, those ingredients are essential.

  1. Climate

What’s hardest about the weather in Finland is the darkness.

Consider this headline from 2020: “Many parts of Finland see zero hours of sunshine in December.”

Yes, you read that correctly. Zero hours of sunshine in December 2020. Can you imagine not seeing the sun for an entire month because of low-hanging clouds?

In Northern Italy, we’ve enjoyed the sunnier weather.

  1. Cost of living

Before moving to Italy, we used to spend nearly a thousand Euros ($1200) on groceries every month! Granted, our kids eat like there’s no tomorrow, but still.

For months, we attempted to lower this sum through budgeting. We’ve even skimped on avocados and almonds. Despite our best efforts, we failed to spend significantly less on groceries.

In Finland, the price of consumer goods is 26% higher than the EU average.

Italy’s more affordable. Already, we’re seeing our grocery bill cut down by a third! The only problem is that we’re eating out more, so it’s become a zero-sum game.

Home is where the heart is

Recently, our middle child surprised my wife, Johanna, with this question: “Are we homeless?”

Not wanting to stress her out, Johanna quickly assured our daughter that we were not. She reminded her that we had a nice place to stay in Italy—our “home” for this season.

We know what’s behind our daughter’s question. She had a home in Finland. We all did. But we chose to move out. In one sense, we are homeless.

Our search for our next home continues, but for now—for all the above reasons—we’re savoring our time in Reggio Emilia, Italy.

***


Tim Walker is an American teacher, writer, and speaker based in Finland. He is the best-selling author of Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Strategies for Joyful Classrooms. Tim has written extensively about his experiences for Educational Leadership, Education Week Teacher, and The Atlantic. Inspired by his work in Finnish schools, he speaks internationally about play, trust, and joy in education.

Tim blogs about global educational practices at teachlands.com. Join the mailing list here and follow Teachlands on Instagram and Facebook.

Tim’s free 40-minute webinar (“The Finnish Way to Joyful Education”) is available here! Registration for his new online course, “The Finnish Education Insider, is now open (limited to 50 students)!

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8 Comments

  1. Sam on November 9, 2021 at 9:26 pm

    Oh I am beyond envious of your move to Italy, more importantly to Reggio Emilia. We have bern working and embracing the Reggio beliefs for 4 years now and I have never been happier in my teaching and nor have I seen such joyful children. I await any and all you can share with us now on this new adventure. All the best to you!

  2. Jan Miller-Fox on November 10, 2021 at 6:39 am

    While you are in Reggio Emilia it would be an amazing experience to enrol your daughter at the Loris Malaguzzi centre. Her experience in a Reggio inspired setting would be unforgettable. I attended school there for only a week as one of 149 Canadian teachers. I cannot compare it to any other educational professional development.

  3. Daniel waits on November 10, 2021 at 5:34 pm

    What a wonderful adventure – thanks for taking us along 😁

  4. Bernie1815 on November 10, 2021 at 8:45 pm

    Between the ages of 5 and 8 I attended 4 different primary schools. We emigrated to Canada and it did not work out. Fortunately for me my education did not seem to suffer – Cambridge and Harvard. My brother was not so lucky. He failed his 11+ and got second rate schooling until he left school at 16.
    I suspect that your dedication and ability to educate should stand your youngsters in good shape. Being able to converse in English, Finnish and Italian will be a rare set of language skills.
    Good luck.

  5. Linda on November 12, 2021 at 5:08 pm

    Green with envy! I studied the Reggio Emilia philosophy and way of life/education for 10 years as part of a grant group from Department of Education in Ohio. We worked closely with Italian educators from the child-centered Reggio infant/early childhood centers (they came to the US multiple times) and we visited many of the Italian schools together (we traveled as a grant group and worked in Reggio Emilia. Looking forward to following your family’s great adventure!

    • Tim Walker on November 17, 2021 at 12:15 pm

      Wow, phenomenal! Please contribute your insights along the way. 🙂

  6. Jane Jacobs on November 17, 2021 at 4:35 pm

    Wow, I was so surprised you moved to Italy! We have a Montessori elementary school here in Whitehorse and a preschool. The Director/Teacher he attended Maria Montessori’s school in Italy. I have studied Reggio Emilia preschools here in Whitehorse. There is no Reggio Emilia preschools here. What an exciting journey you and your family are on!! I’m looking forward to learning more about your journey!

    • Tim Walker on November 17, 2021 at 7:30 pm

      Thank you very much, Jane! Always great to hear from you. I appreciate your encouragement.

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