Reflections on the Reggio Approach and Italy.
The Italian city of Reggio Emilia birthed an education philosophy in the Post-War II era, a philosophy that continues to emphasize the capacity, competence, creativity, intelligence, and rights of every child and citizen, and as such represents a fitting entry point for research in to innovative and inspiring approaches to education.
THE INTERNATIONAL STUDY GROUP
There is so much to say about what has become known as the Reggio Approach; amongst other things participating in the week long International Study Group enabled us to:
- consider the context, the values and learning processes from which the educational ‘project’ that has become known as the Reggio Approach, emerged Post-War World II, and continues to develop today
- learn how the Municipality of Reggio Emilia is committed to early childhood services
- reflect on education being both a ‘right’ and the responsibility of the community
- have the opportunity to visit two infant toddler centres (for children aged 0 to 36 months), and five pre-schools (3-6 years); thinking especially about the built-environment as the ‘third teacher’
- visit Reggio’s primary school (for children aged 6-11), and think how to develop a child-centred, experiential, exploratory and expressive-rich curriculum, from guidelines set at national level
- consider the importance of small group work and learning in relation to others
- learn about the place of observation, note-taking, photography, diagrams / sketches, display boards, documentation, and so on, in creating a culture where children’s learning is made visible
- consider how the arts, for example – but not limited to – dance, literature, music, painting, and sculpture, enable children to make sense of the world and to express themselves
- participate in a photography ‘atelier’ – a way of expressing oneself that goes beyond words
- participate in an ‘atelier’ on the mosaics of graphics, mark making, materials and words
- consider the place of incorporating the latest technology in support of children’s learning
- reflect on the importance to social cohesion of inclusion for children with ‘special rights’
- think deeply how to design a ‘project’ where teachers are co-creating with the children
- eflect on the spaces schools provide – that welcome, that invite participation, that facilitate learning, expression, relationships, contemplation, research and creativity
Each of these topics (above) deserves careful consideration in its own right, but 3 areas impacted us deeply:
As a result of attending the International Study Group and having the opportunity to walk around Reggio Emilia, plus visit cities like Bologna and Venice, causes one to reflect and realise the importance of aesthetics; the value of finding the beautiful in all that exists. All it really requires is time, time to look beyond, to pause, to appreciate, to see life through a different lens, to notice what is, and search for what more there might be.
2. LIVING IN THE PRESENT
In experiencing and observing the Reggio Approach in its place of origin, one comes to appreciate how, for Reggio, the notion of ‘preparing for’ something better, else or next, is not a concept they encourage. Education, for children under 6 years at least, is not viewed as pre-paring a child or a group of children for school, and childhood education isn’t about preparing children to be adults. For Reggio, education is more than programs, teaching and testing, it is about a life-long ‘project’ that involves being totally present, and living, in the now. By working with where the children are ‘at’ and provoking them to move forward – oscillating between what is known and unknown – learning is viewed as part of a dynamic process, rather than a linear one.
Reggio encourages one to appreciate each and every child for the capable, creative, competent people they are.
‘Educators’ of children – whether they are leaders, class teachers, or the school chef – must learn to live in the present, and rather than moving on, rushing about or looking to the next thing, give time to alternate between knowns and unknowns; because this is how we all develop, in the context of our relationships with one another.
Around almost every corner of every community of each of the cities that were visited in Italy, there was a piazza, a square or central meeting place, that fosters connected relationships, by drawing people in, welcoming them, their ideas and their participation. Similarly, at the centre of each of the schools that were visited in Italy, there was a small ‘piazza’ where interaction between children, parents and staff is encouraged and nurtured. Wherever this sense of sharing and participation is welcomed, a real sense of belonging and ‘we’ will emerge.
“Nella nostra piazza nascono dei noi” “In our piazza what is created is ‘we’” (Cecilia, aged 3)
‘Piazzas’ are clearly an integral part of Italian life – every Italian child knows it, almost innately – piazzas are the places and spaces where democracy is most visibly and regularly encouraged, practiced and celebrated.
Thinking of South Africa, is there anything equivalent to the Italian Piazza? Do our children experience such cognitive, physical, socio-emotional and spiritual connectedness, democracy, participation, etc. from a young age or are they / we missing something so integral, so important, so vital, to the development of community?