Joshua Barr (M.A. M.Ed)
Three Important Questions About the Reggio Emilia Approach Answered…
Updated: Mar 31
So you're thinking about going Reggio or maybe you have tried but are struggling. Perhaps you have doubts or maybe you're thinking about the REA for your children. Let me answer three important questions beyond the basic descriptions of what the Reggio Emilia Approach is.
1. Does the Reggio Emilia Approach Actually Work?
"During this twenty year period, I have visited and worked with pre-primary educators on every continent many times over...But never had I seen before any provision for young children as good as those I have seen during my six previous visits to Reggio Emilia"
(Lilian Katz, Images from the World)
It's a good question and one that should be asked. We should never walk blindly into doing things without seeing the evidence, without knowing the impact this way of doing things has already had.
We know Reggio works for a number of reasons. The first is its long history. For over half a century the infant toddler centers and preschools of Reggio Emilia have been successful in becoming a hub for early education excellence.
This excellence has led to numerous exhibitions around the world (the hundred languages of children), study tours, and collaborations. Experts in the field of developmental psychology and early childhood education have studied the REA in depth and praised the values, processes, and results of the approach. Harvard University's 'Project Zero' is one notable study which resulted in the book 'Making Learning Visible'.
RE values and practices have also been adopted by many countries which has led to the inclusion of similar beliefs, languages and practices in ECE programs around the world. The importance of documentation being the biggest take away, becoming a vital practice and requirement for many schools and teachers assessment crtieria. Here is one review of the REA from Scotland.
2. Why is the Reggio Emilia Approach so Difficult to Adopt/Adapt?
We know the REA does works and experts have spent decades investigating the why and how it has been successful. The problem for many schools, educators and families comes in the attempts to adopt and adapt the approach in a different context outside of Reggio Emilia. There is no one reason and there are many books and essays on the topic of this difficulty towards helping educators understand and adopt the approach.
The first problem comes from our desire for a "quick fix", that going Reggio is somehow a simple issue of changing the classroom environment and using terms like 'atelier' instead of art room. This assumption has been exacerbated from the rise of social media, that on the one hand has helped educators around the world in sharing ideas but with that comes fads, click bait to attract views that focus on style over substance. Hashtags of #reggioinspired and similar can create the assumption that making the classroom and activities beautiful equals to being a REA school.
The REA requires a lot of effort and change in mindset and practice. Fundamentally it requires educators who truly enjoy spending their days with young children. Not educators who simply like teaching young children, like teaching a particular age group or subject but have an interest in children, their ideas and the way they see the world. Teaching and learning are different concepts and so are jobs and vocations.
This approach also needs the support of all stakeholders including admin, teachers, families and government. If the expectations for young children set up by the government don't align with the values and principles of RE then there will be obvious conflicts. The same is true for the parents, teachers and admin.
Another difficulty educators find in trying to adopt or adapt the REA is when the school already has set systems or curriculums in place it is not willing to part with. For example, the school follows a set phonics program, a math program as well as multiple special classes (Music, Drama, PE, Art, STEM, Cooking etc.). These set parts of the school curriculum make trying to fit the REA into the school impossible and reduce the approach to being a "Reggio class" that happens once a day. These special classes are not bad in of themselves but the way they function is to essentially move children through them at set times per week instead of allowing the skills of these disciplines to flow through the children at the right time for varying lengths. To follow the REA requires time for all those involved to focus on the children, planning, reflection, discussion and then action. Then do it all again.
3. What is Needed to Begin the Journey into Reggio Inspired Practice?
Before even beginning to think about how to develop a project, set up the third teacher, or creating the atelier etc. the first focus should be on having teachers who are "present" in mind and body. It is not an easy road to follow, although I would say it gets easier the longer you walk it. You need adults who want to be there, who are interested in children and the things children are interested in.
Patience is also needed. It won't happen over one night, one week, one month or one year. The transition towards a similar type of practice as the REA requires time and an understanding there will be many bumps along the way.
It also requires a shift in thinking. It is not about asking the question 'how can I teach children the Reggio way?; but what and how children can learn from a certain situation. There is no one right answer or way and this change in mindset is one of the most difficult the change.