The Reggio Emilia Approach to Education

The Sunshine Shack’s learning environment is one that is modeled after the schools of Reggio Emilia, Italy. The Reggio approach to education is committed to creating conditions for learning that will enhance and facilitate the construction of a child’s knowledge through the expression of “languages”, which take the multiple forms of representation such as drawing, clay, wire, various paint mediums, music, storytelling, construction, film, and collage.

The core of the approach is rooted in social constructivism. This progressive method of education allows for children to create their own theories and construct knowledge from peers, teachers, and their environment by being supported through a series of practices such as pedagogy of listening and observing, collaboration, and documentation. Theorists that greatly contributed to this method of education are Dewey, Piaget, Vygotsky, and Brunner. In particular, Lev Vygotsky, whose sociocultural theory supports many of the values that we deem important to implement the Reggio approach.

Vygotsky’s theory focuses on how the values and skills of a social group (our group being our school community) through social interaction and cooperative dialogue with more knowledgeable peers and adults, is necessary for children to acquire ways of thinking to master skills and activities. We work to achieve this at school by creating an environment of modeling, scaffolding skills, and using dialogue to ask important questions instead of traditional instruction. This openness to the child’s own theories and knowledge allows for the child to build upon their own thinking strategies and to construct knowledge with problem solving and critical thinking.

Our educational program has core values that are integral to these theories and principles of the Reggio approach. We are inspired to work together as teachers, children, and parents to implement this way of learning.

Here are some of the methods that we implement:

The Image of the Child: Our image of the children is strong, capable, and competent. This image is at the forefront of all we do because we believe children have preparedness, endless potential, curiosity, and the ability and interest to construct their knowledge. Children are capable co-constructors with adults and are able to negotiate everything their environments set out for them. Children, teachers, and parents are central to the education process.

The Child as Collaborator: We value that education has to focus on each child in relation to other children, teachers, community, and the environment rather than educating them in isolation. There is an emphasis of children being educated in the context of a group. This practice is based on the social constructivist model which supports the idea that we form ourselves through the interaction of peers, adults, things, and symbols in the world.

Languages as Expressive Communication: This approach fosters the children’s intellectual development through an organized systematic structure of symbolic representation that includes spoken language, drawing, music, dance, painting, construction, clay work, wire, collage, film, storytelling, and much more. All of these mediums build the children’s level of communication, symbolic skills, and creativity to an incredible level.

The Environment as the Third Teacher: The environment is rich with materials that are organized in an intentional way and design, helping to encourage relationships, interactions, and communication. There is an emphasis that the environment should have order and beauty to it. This ties into our image of the child and how we value that the children deserve to have beautiful and intentional spaces in their school.

The Role of the Teacher: The role of the teacher is to be a researcher and co-constructor with the children. They must be a learner alongside the children and collaborate with them. Teachers must learn to listen, observe, provoke, document, and scaffold the children’s collaboration with peers. Teachers are continually asked to reflect upon their observations through collaborations with other teachers, documentation, and dialogue opportunities with parents.

Role of the Parent: The participation of the parent is essential to this approach to education and parents play an active role in their child’s learning experiences at school as well that of their child’s peers. Parents and teachers act as collaborators and work together to use their specific skills to enhance the community of each class and the school as a whole.

Documentation: Careful consideration among the collaboration of the teachers as to the content and presentation of the children’s work is highly valued. Documentation is more than the presentation or display of the work, but a well thought out panel including the process, photos, and theory behind their investigations and experiences. The documentation serves many purposes and is used as a tool in the learning process. Documentation shows that the children’s work is valued, it helps the teachers to reflect and evaluate their own process and betters their understanding of the children, and it allows for parents to be aware of the children’s experiences while educating them in the process of the approach.

Group Collaboration: Children working in groups (small or the collective of the class) often times based on but not limited to the children’s interests, happens daily at school and is necessary to support cognitive, creative, and social learning. Many essential skills are learned through the collaboration of the group including problem solving, safe conflict resolution, perspective taking, and negotiation, that all promote a sense of belonging to a group and develop a sense of self.