The Reggio Emilia Approach continues to be popular around the world. Many look to the city of Reggio Emilia with awe and wonder without much first hand or even second hand knowledge of how the Reggio Approach works. Many fall in love with it based on word of mouth, videos or pictures that aesthetically make Reggio look appealing, but as Howard Gardner highlights in the forward to The Hundred Languages of Children “It is tempting to romanticize Reggio Emilia. It looks so beautiful, it works so well. That would be a mistake.” Coupled with this idealising of an approach that many struggle to understand comes some misinterpretations of what Reggio is and how to ‘go Reggio’.
If you need a quick and easy description of the Reggio Emilia Approach then here it is;
“The Reggio system can be described succinctly as follows: it is a collection of schools for young children in which each child’s intellectual, emotional, social, and moral potentials are carefully cultivated and guided. The principal educational vehicle involves youngsters in long-term engrossing projects, which are carried out in a beautiful, healthy, love-filled setting.” (The Hundred Languages of Children)
Unfortunately for those of us (teachers & kindergartens) who try to emulate the successes this sounds great but it doesn’t help us turn our own context Reggio Inspired. As you probably know or have heard before no kindergarten, school or early childhood centre outside the city of Reggio Emilia can be a Reggio school. They can only be ‘inspired by’. Unlike the approaches of Montessori and Waldorf, which also emerged from the early to mid 20th century there are no Reggio teacher certifications. For those interested in becoming a Montessori or Waldorf teacher qualifications can be achieved in each but for those wishing to find certification in the Reggio approach will be left disappointed. Part of the reason why no certifications exist in Reggio is because its so ingrained in the culture of where it is and a way of being with children. Like Malaguzzi said “We think of a school for young children as an integral living organism, as a place of shared lives and relationships among many adults and many children. We think of school as a sort of construction in motion, continuously adjusting itself. Certainly we have to adjust our system from time to time while the organism travels on its life course…” Many educators who seek to learn the secrets of the approach try to find it in Reggio Emilia itself where they hold study groups, a museum and visitors Centre.
Even those who attend the centres can come away with more questions than answers.
“Even after these visits to Reggio, there are teachers who do not continue to go deeper with their work, and they ask me how “to do Reggio.” I explain every time to them that they are the ones who have to explain to me if, when, and how much they want to enter into a dialogue with the experience of Reggio, by first focusing on understanding and giving identity to their own context.” (Gambetti, the hundred languages of children)
As well as this people after often surprised by what they see when they visit Reggio schools. Unlike in many places, especially Asia, the schools of Reggio Emilia are locally run and supported, they have large teacher-student ratios (2-26) and limited funds for resources. Contrast this to many private or international kindergartens that have more teachers in a classroom and budgets for varied materials and resources. Many teachers that visit Reggio Emilia from a private school context can be underwhelmed at what can seem underfunded and chaotic.
Amelia Gambetti, who I quoted above, was an educator in Reggio schools for over 25 years and a contributor and editor to ‘The Hundred Languages of Children’, the closet guide to the Reggio Emilia Approach you can find. In the book she offers guidance to those who want to learn from Reggio and I think these can help you start your journey. Gambetti suggests taking an attitude of research, not simply trying to copy or transport, observe yourself, and observe your context. If Reggio is a serious route you want to go down then do so we an agreed upon decision by the leadership, teachers and families. If you are looking a quick and easy curriculum to show parents and put in the classroom then Reggio isn’t for you because;
“It has not (indeed, cannot) be thought of as any kind of quick fix, because quick fixes never work in education, and moreover, programs and models from overseas can never be transplanted wholesale from one cultural context to another without extensive change and adaptation.” (The Hundred Languages of Children)
By Joshua Barr