Everything you wanted to know about Reggio Emilia

Everything you wanted to know about Reggio Emilia Cover Image

Interested in the Reggio Emilia philosophy of education? Here’s what I found out about the schools that follow them.

We all know that Bangalore is home to innumerable Montessori schools but in the last few years, the Reggio Emilia approach for preschools and primary education has been gaining momentum. Reggio is flexible, grants the child wonderful creative and intellectual licence and is preferred by many people who are moving back to India from countries abroad.

Reggio Atelier

Photo courtesy the Atelier School.

Where did Reggio Emilia begin?

After World War II, a small town in Italy named Reggio Emilia and its surrounding villages were affected by the war. A teacher, Loris Malaguzzi, had an idea – they would all group together and use whatever was available to them to educate their children.

“Reggio Emilia is a philosophy, a way of thinking, believing and being.”

In many ways, Reggio is a response to Montessori and its use of material. Says Anuradha Chadha from Jigyasa School, “Reggio does not insist on expensive material. You take material from all around you and focus more on materials derived from nature, such as stones, rocks and leaves, instead of relying only on man-made material. A major focus point of Reggio is that you create a bond for your child with his or her natural environment.”

Is there a certification required to teach Reggio?

Unlike Montessori, Reggio does not warrant a certification from an institute. Says Rythm Agarwal, co-founder of the Atelier Preschool, “The pedagogistas and educators of the schools in Reggio Emilia say that you cannot teach someone to “do” Reggio school. Reggio Emilia is a philosophy, a way of thinking, believing and being.”

Are there any Reggios in India that segue into higher grades?

Says Rythm, “As far as I am aware, I do not think that there any schools in the country yet which explore the Reggio inspiration explicitly in higher grades. However, I do see elements of the Reggio Philosophy implicitly driven into the culture and beliefs of alternative and autonomous schools. In fact, even at Reggio Emilia there is only one school at the Loris Malaguzzi International Centre where they are experimenting with the philosophy over the elementary school years. I do believe that since this approach is so much about a way of life and hence the delivery rather than the curriculum, it can easily be adopted within the backdrop of any board.”

Does Reggio have specific teaching philosophies?

Reggio is a very open-ended method; only activities are demonstrated as examples. There are, however, a few things that make Reggio unique

1. Emergent curriculum

In a Reggio-inspired school like Atelier, the teachers follow an emergent curriculum approach. There is no fixed curriculum and a classroom topic evolves from the child’s interest.

Sreeja Iyer from Sparkling Mindz says, “As part of the emergent curriculum we talked about sport with children and they arrived at the fact that in order to be a good sports-person you need “hand power, leg power, mind power and team power”. In fact we went ahead and asked them whether they would like to design a game for the 3/4 year old’s classroom and they were quite enthusiastic to do it. The process led to a game being designed by the children for the younger kids and being showcased as a special event on the sports day too!”

Says Smitha Shrihari from the Little Red Hen Playschool, “There is emphasis on learning through senses and first-hand experiences. We provide a lot of material for children to feel, touch and experience and then they come up with their own predictions and outcomes. Through role play and discussions, children learn to listen and speak as well.”

Reggio Atelier 3

2. Documentation

In many of the schools, I saw photos of the children working on their projects or with their families, visual or written documentation of the work that the children did, the progression of their thoughts and the different connections they made. Says Sharayu Thampi of Vivero International, “Documentation, pictures of children doing actual work in progress, reiterates that they are doing it. The image of the child is important in our school and that is the aspect of Reggio that we celebrate.”

According to Sreeja, “Documentation is a form of reflection for the teacher on a day to day basis. It is akin to stepping back to take learning forward with the children. When done regularly it increases the quality of learning children experience and the teacher also grows in the process.”

3. The environment is the third educator

According to Rythm Agarwal, Reggio identifies three educators for children and the child’s environment is the third educator, the first being other children and the second being the adult or guide. At Jigyasa School, children work on themes that enable them to connect with nature.

Says Anuradha, “We initially started with a theme involving rocks. We then took a walk to the nearby park, collected so many rocks that we had to call for the van to come and take us back to school. What did we do with the rocks? We put them in a soap water tub and washed them and they were ready for examination. For this we have our digital microscope.”

4. Parents form an important part of the Reggio process

The Reggio method began as a collaboration between parents to educate their children, so it is easy to see why parents form an important part of the process. The inclusion of parents is to get them to understand how the child is learning. The more the parents take interest, the better the child does. Says Anuradha, “You have to be interacting with parents all the time, make them understand what they are doing and how it can be reinforced at home.”

5. The 100 languages

A lot has been written about ‘The Hundred languages of Children,’ possibly the most celebrated aspect of the Reggio Emilia approach. Children are creative by nature and even derive expressions and metaphors from nature. They can reclaim language by using it afresh, free of biases.

6. Conversations with children on an equal footing

Says Rythm, “A child in our school spoke about dengue. He told us that he wants to make a clone of himself but that this clone won’t have DNA and won’t be able to feel pain.”

These conversations are important learning tools for children. “Conversations take it forward. The child who talked about cloning talks about it to his peers and takes it to other children, so they are teaching one another. Also, this boy’s parents were very involved and had many intellectual conversations with this boy, which was why he was passionate and articulate about the things he cared about.”

Reggio Children is a foundation which organises professional development workshops and study groups to deepen the understanding of the Reggio Emilia approach internationally. The workshops organised here are the closest to an authentic Reggio experience. Atelier will be opening a Reggio-inspired school in Sarjapur Road, Bangalore in August 2016.

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