At the beginning of the year I spent a week with other Reggio Emilia network partners to engage in continuous professional development. It was an opportunity to activate a journey with the Reggio Children Network and discuss some plans towards 2020. Reggio Emilia is a term used often to describe curriculum approaches in Early Childhood Care & Education in Ireland and worldwide. But, it is essential to understand how deeply contextual the Reggio Emilia approach is, as Tiziana Filippini says; ‘it is an approach that is too often betrayed.’
“The Reggio Emilia approach is not a recipe. It doesn’t tell you what to do. It’s an educational approach rooted in Reggio Emilia, one that asks you to be respectful and mindful of your context and community – to be aware of questions like where your children come from, where they live, what their days are like, what they miss or want, to be able to welcome the children and their culture. To think that it is a model to implement (that is, to do it in any other way) is to betray the approach.” – Tiziana Filippini
So, what is the Reggio Emilia approach? Reggio Emilia is a city in Northern Italy, and the Reggio Emilia Approach was formed by the place, by the people who live there, by history and the future that they are creating together. When World War 2 ended, Reggio Emilia had been devastated by the bombing. This is important to appreciate. After fascism, the community in Reggio Emilia wanted to ensure that their children would have an education and that they would not endure discrimination, repression, and inequality. The system of education has the power to foster democracy, values of diversity and integration. Parental involvement and collaboration were central to the settings and continues to inform the approach. While families were happy to run these settings in the 1960s, the local government started to fund and oversee the settings. The Reggio Emilia approach is profoundly democratic and based on children’s rights, it places importance on relationships and social connection, and the value of society.
Loris Malaguzzi was the principal founder, and he was influenced by and drew from theorists such as Montessori, Piaget, Vygotsky, and Dewy. But it was his own theories, the ability of settings to marry theory and practice, and the educational community of parents, teachers, and children working together, that put these settings on the map. The principles of the Reggio Emilia approach – are intimately interconnected and interwoven, it is a highly connected system, each supports the other. Each principle has an overarching principle.
“As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Personally, it is the ‘image of the child’ within the approach, that for me was the light bulb moment. Children are holders of rights, not needs, they are not empty vessels that need to be filled. They are human beings, strong, rich in potential, curious and competent; intelligent and resourceful. They deserve respect, to be heard, and to have their ideas, theories, and creations valued. The approach is rooted in processes and not products, this requires treating children like adults. Seeing them and recognising who they are, not what they can do, but how they can do it. Every day in a setting teachers, families, and children welcome and draw on connecting stories, these stories are intertwined together strengthening relationships and learning. Education is a way in which cultural, economic, political and social value can be created.
Reggio Emilia has the power to change lives – for children who experience it, for their families, for educators and team members in settings, but, also the local community. It is deeply inspiring to spend time in Reggio Emilia and to be influenced and challenged philosophically and practically. It is equally inspiring to respect the origins, history and constant renewal and evaluation of the approach. We can’t make theory more important than when we are seeing and experiencing it. On each visit to Reggio Emilia, you learn something new. In the network people have been visiting for decades, still understanding and being influenced, and in turn, changing their professional practice. While we can’t have the Reggio Emilia approach; it belongs to the place, children, families, and community that it was born, what we can do is learn from the approach and make our settings into places that are capable of building and constructing new politics and policies for childhood.
Milica Atanackovic is a Research & Professional Learning Manager with Early Childhood Ireland. Her background in the sector of Early Years is rooted within a passionate interest in Creative Arts and Child Participation. Milica originally studied Design Communication before moving into Early Childhood Care and Education in Australia. Considering training and mentoring as a key element of quality in the Early Learning & Care, Milica has worked as an educator, service manager and trainer. She also combines experience from a range of creative disciplines to her work.