I promised to share with you some experiences from my trip to Reggio Emilia last November. I traveled there as part of the Reggio International Study Group 2018 and over 6 days, was immersed in the theories, culture and beauty of the Reggio Emilia preschools and infant toddler centres. The week consisted of lectures from educators and artists, visits to three of their infant toddler and pre-school centres, an afternoon in the REmida, their Italian ReCreate and workshops within the Loris Malaguzzi Centre. Through my time there, I gained a greater understanding of their innovative and inspiring approach to early childhood education, which values the child as strong, capable and resilient; rich with wonder and knowledge.

You may not be familiar with the Reggio Emilia philosophy, so in this blog I’d like share with you how their preschools began and some insight into the beliefs and values that have embed the Reggio Emilia schools into the community.

Organised by Early Childhood Ireland, I departed early from Dublin, so my Reggio journey could begin later that day with a walking tour of the old part of the city. ‘First encounters with the town of Reggio Emilia’ began at the Valli Municipal Theatre and was facilitated by some of the volunteers from the Foundation of Reggio Children. This beautiful setting was an apt starting point.

As we began our tour, it became evident that the people of Reggio Emilia are enormously proud of their city and culture. The city, where the Italian tri-colour flag was first adopted, is also known for producing Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and balsamic vinegar so it was no surprise to learn that the Loris Malaguzzi Centre has its premises in the buildings, which for more than fifty years housed the “Locatelli” Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese warehouses.

Seen as an important part of your Reggio experience, the walking tour introduced us to ‘an educating city’, as stated by the President of Reggio Children the following morning. She pointed out that “education is a right of all, of all children and as such is the responsibility of the community”. It is therefore very important that the Reggio schools’ methodologies be imbedded within the community, encouraging continuous dialogue with parents and others within the city. As Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of Reggio Emilia’s educational philosophy, said himself “if you don’t understand the schools of Reggio Emilia, you don’t understand the city or community, this city is a learning community”.

To give us a greater understanding of the educational project of Reggio Emilia, Silvia Crociani, a pedagogista (a specialised teacher) within the Reggio education centres explained that it was in a nearby town, in 1947 that the first secular school was built and the foundations of the Reggio Emilia philosophy on education began. Schools had been closed throughout the second world war but when it ended, an abandoned tank and horses were found in a field close to Reggio Emilia. The people of the town wanted to sell their find, and with the money, the men suggested building a cinema. However, the women wanted to build a school, and you know who won! Understanding that children express their ideas and interests in a variety of ways (“a hundred languages”, Reggio Emilia) they believed that children would benefit from a new and progressive way of learning .

We built the walls of this school together, men and women because we want this school to be new and different for our children”.

Their community-oriented style of learning recognises that learning is a personal but also social act therefore, they wanted a school that would not exclude anyone and now sixty years later, the city of Reggio Emilia has over 100 nationalities living within their community with 47% of the children from 0-3 years attending the infant toddler centres and 90% of 3-6-year olds attending pre-schools.

Influenced by the writings of many such as Freud, Vygotsky, Dewey, Montessori and Bruner, Crociani went on to share their understanding that children are co-constructors of their learning and how we consider children dictates how we, as educators approach teaching and learning. Similar to our approach in our Heads Up and All Heads Together projects, she emphasised that children learn by doing and that learning is not a linier process, it does not follow in a straight line or come with a particular pattern. For this reason, art and creative processes are the medium by which the educators in Reggio Emilia encourage the children to communicate. To support this, they introduced the atelier, or art room into their preschools. Run by an atelierista (artist), it is an extension of the classroom, where children can explore their individual or collaborative interests in more detail. As artists rely on expressive methods, different materials and tools to create, they bring an aesthetic dimension into the schools that they believe is essential to learning and knowledge.

This learning environment is highly important and seen as the third teacher. As children engage in different ways, no space within the preschools is more important than the other. The elements within the environment are there to ‘trigger’ the imagination of the child, providing different options, different materials to support different ways of learning.

Crociani ended her talk by emphasising that with their daily engagements they ‘hope to show the right to education, beauty and the right to play’, as ’evidence shows that if you invest in high quality education we can engage communities’.

On the fourth day of my study trip, I witnessed this first-hand when I visited the Diana preschool and I will share some of this experience with you in our next blog, ‘Reggio Emilia, A Learning Environment’.

Until next time 🙂

Deirdre

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