The Reggio Emilia Approach: My 4 Initial Impressions

Since we moved to Reggio Emilia, I’ve dreamed of exploring the city’s renowned preschools. You can find the Reggio approach throughout the world, but it originated in the city of Reggio Emilia. (The first Reggio preschool opened in 1971.)

When the pandemic started, visits to the city’s preschools came to a grinding halt. Reggio preschools have remained closed to visitors this fall, but I’m hearing that they may reopen in the spring.

Outside of Reggio preschools, the best place in the world to learn about the Reggio Way is the Loris Malaguzzi International Center in Reggio Emilia. Loris Malaguzzi (1920-1994) an Italian pedagogist, is widely recognized as the forefather of the Reggio approach.

Last week, I visited the Malaguzzi Center with a group of educators from around Europe. I heard a presentation from Lorella Trancossi, a pedagogist. I, also, participated in a guided tour. According to our tour guide, we were among the first to visit since the pandemic began.

In this blog, I’ll share four of my initial impressions of the Reggio Way.

1. Inquiry is at the heart of the Reggio approach.

Loris Malaguzzi believed that the primary work of children and teachers is research. Lorella Trancossi shared this Malaguzzi quote with me:

“The art of research already exists in the hands of children acutely sensitive to the pleasure of surprise. The pleasure of learning, of knowing, of understanding is one of the first, fundamental sensations each human being expects from experiences faced alone or with others.”

Reggio is widely known as “the pedagogy of listening.” As children study the world through inquiry-based research, teachers study the children and their process of learning. Reggio teachers focus their attention on making observations and asking questions.

2. “100 Languages” is Reggio’s guiding metaphor.

Malaguzzi’s poem, “100 Languages,” encapsulates the Reggio approach. Here’s how it begins:

“No way. The hundred is there.

The child

is made of one hundred.

The child has

a hundred languages

a hundred hands

a hundred thoughts

a hundred ways of thinking

of playing, of speaking…”

The poem eloquently reminds us that children have numerous ways of expressing themselves. This poem, also, articulates a provocative, subversive message.

According to Malaguzzi, “the school and the culture” have drastically restricted the creativity of children. Metaphorically speaking, they’ve stolen 99 of their languages, leaving kids with just one.

Reggio classrooms seek to be places where children can freely express themselves, wielding their “100 languages.”

3. Reggio is a flexible approach, not a rigid methodology.

Malaguzzi insisted that the Reggio Way is an approach, not a set of methods.

I’ve learned that the Reggio classroom is a dynamic learning environment where children determine their learning outcomes through inquiry-based research. It beckons children to wonder and learn through exploration.

Reggio educators consider the classroom to be “the third teacher.” (Parents and teachers are the first two.)

Reggio teachers strive to make the learning environment welcoming and beautiful. They offer a variety of natural materials for children to create with. Teachers may leave examples of creations on the tables, but these are simply recognized as “possibilities” for the children to consider.

4. Reggio children serve the community.

Before visiting the Malaguzzi center, I strolled through downtown Reggio Emilia with my family and we noticed colorful banners, featuring drawings and precepts from Reggio preschoolers.

I had stumbled upon another key aspect of the Reggio approach: children engage in service learning.

Several years ago, Reggio officials started asking themselves, “What can the children do for our city?” Since asking this question, the city has intentionally involved Reggio preschools in different service projects.

I heard the following example from Lorella Trancossi at the Malaguzzi Center.

A few years ago, several groups of Reggio children (1.5-5 years old) and their teachers left the confines of their classrooms and ventured into the city for fieldwork. They visited public and private spaces, including libraries, museums, and shops.

One group of 5-year-olds visited a shoe shop. They interviewed the owner and recorded observations. When they returned to their classroom, they shared findings and began to draw conclusions about what they had seen.

The children identified a problem. They believed that there were very few people visiting the shoe shop. Many people had walked past the store, observed the children, but few had stepped inside.

The teachers asked the children what they might be able to give as a gift to the shop.

The 5-year-olds suggested that the shoe store needed something inviting that would attract more customers. So, over the school year, the children worked with their teachers to create an attractive platform leading to the shop’s entrance. The 5-year-olds, also, noticed that the store lacked a sign to advertise shoes. They designed a banner, which featured different types of footwear.

When I visited the Malaguzzi Center, I noticed another sign of service-learning: a stunning theater curtain, designed by Reggio 5-year-olds. A company produced the actual curtain for the theater, but the final draft and the original idea for the curtain were derived from the children.

Beginning the Journey

In summary, these are my initial impressions of the Reggio Way:

  1. Inquiry is at the heart of the Reggio approach.
  2. “100 Languages” is Reggio’s guiding metaphor.
  3. Reggio is a flexible approach, not a rigid methodology.
  4. Reggio children serve the community.

This is just the beginning of my journey to grasp the Reggio approach. If you’re intrigued by the Reggio Way, consider subscribing to this blog. I’m hoping to explore the city’s preschools as soon as possible.

Do you have any questions about or insights into the Reggio approach? I welcome you to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

***

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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18 Comments

  1. Tuula on November 17, 2021 at 2:38 pm

    Fascinating reading — hank you for bloggin on this! Cannot wait to read more.

  2. Natasha Fiket on November 17, 2021 at 2:55 pm

    I was a teacher on Vancouver Island between 1964 and 2004. My children’s’ favourite day was Friday because if all the necessary work was done and I knew I could entirely trust them, we all headed out of the classroom and into the community either walking or on the bus to explore further and further afield and next week’s learning was based on what we had discovered.
    With my Grade 2/3 classes (I taught Kindergarten to Grade 7s), the final field trip was to catch the ferry to Vancouver to discover how different life in the big city was from the smaller city of Nanaimo.
    Many of the children had never left the Island since it is an expensive trip for most families.
    We funded it by collecting refundable bottle and cans which in itself was a learning experience. We took only public transport in the big city. On trip was by bus, Skytrain and transfer to a second bus to visit The Burnaby Village Museum where docents showed us how people lived 100 years ago including blacksmithing (he made us a hook), printing and sitting in the desks of an old school.
    Another was a Skytrain trip to New Westminster Quay (that city was originally the capital) where we watched seals chase salmon up the Fraser River. The important part of the trip was making each child responsible for their own “transfer” and property so they would learn there will not always be a parent to do it for them.
    A very long bus ride on our Island took us to Courtenay where the museum staff took the children fossil hunting and they learned about our prehistory.

    I truly believe learning takes place more outside the classroom but follow up of course is vital. Learning in groups of different lifestyles and different learning styles is essential. After all activities we need to discuss, draw, write, come to conclusions, listen to others to learn that we all have contributions. One little fellow from a very poor family came up while we were waiting for the bus to the ferry and said with his eyes shining, “Mrs. Fiket, I counted 14 fountains downtown!”
    Now I have retired and live on the mainland, I always count fountains when I go downtown.
    I love what you have written. Please keep up the super work. It is certainly needed if we are to begin to improve the way schools are run and children are valued.

    • Tim Walker on November 17, 2021 at 3:23 pm

      Thank you for sharing, Natasha. I wish I had been a student in your classroom. I greatly admire the learning experiences that you offered your students.

    • Lori Fowler on November 17, 2021 at 4:23 pm

      I was teaching in a private preschool in Maine when the Reggio idea came to the United States. Our school had a similar philosophy but we incorporated the ideas of Reggio. When public preK became popular our school had to close. I now teach in a public preK. At a recent teachers meeting, one of the admin said, “we must use the curriculum with fidelity!” My response was, “We must teach the child with fidelity!” There is so much work to be done for children from our President on down. I look forward to reading more blogs from you.

      • Tim Walker on November 17, 2021 at 7:32 pm

        “We must teach the child with fidelity.” Wow, what a beautiful and profound response. I love that. Thanks, Lori!

  3. Simona on November 17, 2021 at 4:07 pm

    Many preschools in Italy use some of the ideas you wrote here. For example, at my son preschool, (for 3 to 5 years old), they had a farmers market next to it every Thursday, and they went to visit the farmers market more than once, carrying out different activities.
    Once in every season they bought a lot of different fruits and vegs (the farmers actually gave them for free), then discussed types, colors, and drew them, so in the class they hanged pictures of seasons and seasonal fruits and vegs.
    Another time they interviewed people about their purchases, and created nice diagrams (pictographs) with the results, and much more.
    Inspired educators are everywhere. Sometimes we are lucky and find them crossing our part. You are surely one of them!
    Enjoy your Italian experience!

    • Tim Walker on November 17, 2021 at 7:32 pm

      Thank you, Simona! We’ve really enjoyed our time in Italy so far. I am certainly inspired.

  4. Simona on November 17, 2021 at 4:10 pm

    I meant “crossing our path”!
    But my autocorrect has a life of its own. 🤷🏻‍♀️

  5. Rebecca Fosmo on November 17, 2021 at 5:06 pm

    What a wonderful beginning to your journey! I am currently a preschool teacher/owner of a small preschool with a Waldorf Inspired approach to learning. I appreciate all different types of learning and love many aspects of the Reggio Amelia approach. I’m so excited to hear more about your future discoveries!

  6. Linda D. Limbach on November 17, 2021 at 6:01 pm

    I love this–you’ve nailed the Reggio philosophy and its journey! Reggio classrooms are filled with joy, purpose and community and they are dynamic, living environments steeped in pedagogy. Beautifully written!

    • Tim Walker on November 17, 2021 at 7:29 pm

      Thank you, Linda! I really appreciate your perspective on Reggio.

  7. Elizabeth McMaine on November 17, 2021 at 9:25 pm

    One of my favorite quotes from Reggio is “Nothing without joy”. American has practically eliminated joy from our schools. I started on my Reggio journey around 2003 working with Head Start staff and children and the impact was amazing.
    I have enjoyed reading about your experiences in Finland, being involved with Reggio will also be inspirational.

    • Tim Walker on November 18, 2021 at 9:44 am

      “Nothing without joy.” That’s a new one for me. Love that. Thanks for sharing, Elizabeth. I appreciate your encouragement.

  8. mary bassett on November 17, 2021 at 11:58 pm

    Thank you for your posts from Finland and Reggio Emilia. We have shared quiet a bit about schooling in Finland to friends and parents from New York City Public School.

    If your travels take you to New York City I think you may find The Bank Street School of Education as well as City and Country in the West Village.

    Wishing you the best continued experience with progressive education.
    Mary Bassett retired early childhood teacher.

    • Tim Walker on November 18, 2021 at 9:45 am

      Thank you, Mary! I’ve heard nice things about Bank Street. I’d love to visit one day.

  9. Maria Jesus on November 18, 2021 at 3:56 pm

    Inquiry, community and real world problems, thats also the heart of project based learning.
    Great impressions! Thanks for sharing.

    From Chile,
    MJ

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