Introduction to the Fundamentals of Philosophy and Practice of the Reggio Emilia Approach

By — North American Reggio Emilia Alliance
Updated on May 15, 2009

Young children, their care and their education have long been a public concern at various levels of Italian society. What families have obtained was not easy to achieve; it came from a great deal of effort and political involvement. Workers, educators, and especially women were active and effective advocates of the legislation that established public preschools in 1968 and infant-toddler centers in 1971. The results of the effort by all these determined people are publicly-funded municipal as well as national programs for young children that combine the concept of social services with education. Both education and care are considered necessary to provide high quality, full-day experiences for young children.

In Italy now, preschools, whether municipal, national or private, serve about 95% of the children between 3 and 6. Infant-toddler programs have developed much less in quantity but the quality of these services in those municipalities that have invested seriously in them has been generally outstanding.

What, then, is so special about Reggio Emilia, a city of 140,000 inhabitants in northern Italy? First of all, the city-run educational system for young children originated there in schools started by parents; literally groups of parents built them with their own hands at the end of World War II. The first school was built with proceeds from the sale of a tank, some trucks, and a few horses left behind by the retreating German army. Such participation by parents has all along remained an essential part of the way of working on education in that city.

Secondly, right from the start Loris Malaguzzi, then a young teacher, guided and directed the energies of those parents, later preparing teachers and becoming an educational leader not just in his hometown but also on the national scene.

Thirdly, the tradition of cooperative work is firmly rooted in the Emilia Romagna region and is based on a sense of community and of solidarity. Through a strong sense of solidarity, people there are accustomed to construct and maintain the connections with the community. They typically respond to immediate, usually material needs, by forming cooperatives. Yet the spirit of cooperation that they engendered in such endeavors tends to transcend those needs to leave enduring marks upon the culture of their region.

What are the distinguishing features of the education of young children with regard to theory and practice that have made the Reggio Emilia approach so notable?

An examination of the features of this philosophy soon reveals that the educators have been serious readers of John Dewey, Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, David Hawkins, Jerome Bruner, Howard Gardner and other world renowned scientists and philosophers. In fact, Reggio Emilia educators have continued to keep abreast of the latest research in child development and education in other countries. At the same time, though, they continue to formulate new interpretations and new hypotheses and ideas about learning and teaching through their daily observations and practice of learning along with the children.

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