In the middle class city of
Reggio Emilia in northern , an educational concept that was created at the end of World War II has captured the minds and hearts of teachers everywhere. Italy
It's an approach that puts preschool children at the center of their own learning, allowing them to learn naturally and to develop a close relationship with their environment as they touch, move, listen, see and hear using a variety of materials.
Educational consultant Gary Stager has seen the Reggio Emilia approach up close and spent an afternoon talking about it to local educators attending the LHRIC's Technology Leadership Institute event last month.
This unique learning approach takes place at the
in Reggio Emilia. Loris Malaguzzi International Center
"Everything that's done in this city is done with children in mind," said Dr. Stager, referring to the mindset of city officials who refer to it as the "City of
" and see the school as an important component of the entire community. Children
Starting with the assumption that children are already competent when they enter the school, Dr. Stager said it's not unusual to see preschoolers setting tables for the family-style lunch, complete with table cloth and real china instead of paper cups that most American children would be given.
Because parents are a vital component to the successful running of the school and are viewed as partners, collaborators and advocates for their children, there's no need to formalize the relationship between school and caregiver, added Dr. Stager.
Learning is never rushed. In fact, it's not uncommon for children to spend weeks or months on inquiry. "Kids are solving authentic problems that are rooted in their inquiry and so, for example, teachers won't teach writing until a child expresses an interest in it."
In many ways, explained Dr. Stager, educators at Reggio Emelia consider the classroom to be the "third teacher," with students learning in an environment that is considered "whimsical, nurturing and inspiring thought."
Teachers often work on projects with small groups of children, while the rest engage in a wide variety of self-selected activities. The topic for much student work comes directly from the teacher observing spontaneous play and exploration, as opposed to following a designated theme or unit of learning.
Students' work is often on display in public buildings across the city, such as in the opera house where their colorful drawings were enlarged to decorate the theater curtain. Another large scale project included the "Amusement Park for Birds," an outdoor playground for birds that the children designed and built themselves. The park, located in their playground, includes fountains, waterwheels and a whole host of other equipment, some of which was donated by the city.
For Reggio Emelia teachers, the elements of a successful project include purpose, time, personal meaningfulness to the initiative, complexity and serendipity. "They just look at kids' work in a different way," said Dr. Stager. "Teachers there are constantly reflecting and documenting the students' progress."
For more information on this unique initiative, Dr. Stager suggested that educators read "The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Approach, Advanced Reflections" or visit www.reggiochildren.it