The Reggio Emilia Approach
The educational philosophy of the Wonder school is based on and inspired by the world famous approach to early childhood education known as Reggio Emilia. No watershed moment in time can truly be understood without first examining the cultural, political, and historical context in which it occurred, and the development of the Reggio Emilia approach to education is no exception.
Emerging from the devastation of the Second World War in the city of Reggio Emilia in Northern Italy, a group of women gathered together with a plan to sell abandoned German tanks in order to finance the building of a preschool for their children. Upon learning of their mission, a young and charismatic teacher by the name of Loris Malaguzzi traveled by bicycle from a neighboring town to see the school for himself. He ended up staying for the rest of his life. With Malaguzzi as their leader, the men and women of Reggio Emilia worked tirelessly to create an education system where children could acquire skills of critical thinking and collaboration essential to rebuilding and ensuring a democratic society.
More than 60 years later, the Reggio approach continues to gain international recognition and popularity as an innovative educational philosophy, with its fundamental tenets remaining exactly the same. It is based on the principles of respect, responsibility, and community. Drawing on the work of Dewey, Piaget, Vygotsky and many others, the approach emphasizes exploration and discovery in a supportive and enriching environment, with the curriculum guided by the curiosity and interests of the children.
The Image of the Child
Every single aspect of the Reggio approach is shaped by a clear and powerful image of the child. They are viewed not as empty vessels that need to be filled up with facts and skills, but rather as competent learners who are already full of potential from the day they are born. As Malaguzzi explained it, children are imbued with the natural ability to build their own knowledge and construct their own experiences and must therefore be given ample space and opportunity to do so. At the Wonder School we devote a significant amount of time to observation and reflection. During this process we are guided by one overarching question – does what we are doing support our image of the child as strong, capable, and rich with wonder and curiosity?
The Rights of Children
Malaguzzi believed that children, as citizens of the society they live in, have certain individual, social, and legal rights. In an article he wrote in 1994 called A Bill of Three Rights, he states, “This means that children have the right to fulfill and also expand all of their potential, a process which can be accomplished by recognizing and valuing children’s capability to socialize, by giving them affection and trust, by satisfying their needs and desires to learn. It is equally important that children feel assured of an affective alliance with adults who are ready to give help and understanding which will favor more than the simple transition of knowledge and skills, but rather the development of their ability to research constructive strategies of thinking and action.” Reggio educators recognize their responsibility to provide children with endless opportunities to explore the world around them and to express themselves while doing it. The Reggio approach believes in the child’s right to have a voice in his learning, a right to be in beautiful environments, to work in small groups, and to use tools and materials of professional quality.
The Role of the Teacher
The teacher's role within the Reggio Emilia approach is complex. He/she is first and foremost meant to provide a safe and nurturing environment for young children to discover and interpret the world around them. As a learner partner rather than just an instructor, educators carefully listen, observe, and document children's work and the growth of community in their classroom. Teachers are there to provoke, co-construct, and stimulate thinking and children's collaboration with peers. They are also committed to ongoing reflection about their own teaching and learning. But Loris Malaguzzi added another layer to the role of teacher based on his powerful belief in the rights of all children. He viewed teachers as advocates for these young citizens who must take an active role in society and politics as it relates to children, speaking on their behalf and presenting work to other educators and community members. Learn more
In the Reggio approach, the environment is regarded as the third teacher - the space itself is designed specifically to inspire the children’s learning. Classrooms are filled with natural light and open space. They are purposely free from clutter, where every material is considered for its purpose, every corner is ever-evolving to encourage children to delve deeper and deeper into their interests. At The Wonder School you won’t find plastic toys and colorful murals of cartoon characters on the wall. Instead we have taken great care to provide children with authentic materials and tools in an environment that feels natural and home-like. The space encourages collaboration, communication, and exploration. As with every Reggio-inspired school, we have an atelier or studio space where children can experiment and create with many different types of media. The atelier is equipped with clay, wire, paint, pens, paper, beads, shells and a variety of recycled, natural materials used by the children in short- and long-term projects with the purpose of expressing the "hundred languages" of children.
Jewish Education and Reggio Emilia: A Convergence of Values
At first glance it would seem that a 65 year old Italian educational philosophy and the world’s first monotheistic religion have little in common. And yet in a side-by-side comparison of their respective values and precepts, it is easy to see why so many Jewish preschools around the world have adopted the Reggio approach. In both systems of thought we find special attention paid to the importance of reflection and inquiry, Judaism’s teaching of the sages closely mirroring Reggio’s approach to learning. We also find a shared emphasis on family and community as well as a similar notion of sacred time and space. Underlying both Judaism and the Reggio Emilia approach is a shared belief in the dignity and importance of human beings. Malauzzi expressed this through his image of the child as rich in potential and capability, Judaism through the notion that we are each created, “B’tzlelem Elohim,” in the image of God. It is these shared values that will guide us in the work we do, with the principles of the Reggio Emilia philosophy underscoring the Jewish component of our curriculum and vice versa.
It is important to understand that the only “official” Reggio Emilia schools are the 46 Infant and Toddler Centers located in the town of Reggio Emilia, Italy. While their approach to education has become popular all over the world, there is no fixed set of standards and methods, no certification that can be attained that enables a center to call itself Reggio. The Wonder School is what is known as Reggio-inspired taking the core values and ideals of the Reggio Emilia approach and melding them with the specific needs of the people, environment, and cultures present in our community.
Written by Rachel Fink