Introduction to the Fundamentals of Philosophy and Practice of the Reggio Emilia Approach (page 3)

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

The power of documentation. Transcriptions of children's remarks and discussions, photographs of their activity, and representations of their thinking and learning are traces that are carefully studied. These documents have several functions. The most important among them is to be tools for making hypotheses (to project) about the direction in which the work and experiences with the children will go. Once these documents are organized and displayed they help to make parents aware of their children's experience and maintain their involvement. They make it possible for teachers to understand the children better and to evaluate the teachers' own work, thus promoting their professional growth; they make children aware that their effort is valued; and furthermore, they create an archive that traces the history of the school.

The many languages of children. Atelierista and atelier. A teacher who is usually prepared in the visual arts works closely with the other teachers and the children in every preprimary school and visits the infant-toddler centers. This teacher, who works in a special workshop or studio known as an "atelier", is called an "atelierista". The atelier contains a great variety of tools and resource materials, along with records of past projects and experiences. What is done with materials and media is not regarded as art per se, because in the view of Reggio educators the children's use of many media is not a separate part of the curriculum but an inseparable, integral part of the whole cognitive/symbolic expression involved in the process of learning. Through time the materials and work of the “atelier” has entered into all the classrooms through the setting up of “mini-ateliers” and through the learning on the part of teachers and atelierista to work in very connected ways.

Projects. Projects provide the narrative and structure to the children's and teachers' learning experiences. They are based on the strong conviction that learning by doing is of great importance and that to discuss in groups and to revisit ideas and experiences is essential to gain better understanding and to learn. Projects may start either from a chance event, an idea or a problem posed by one or more children, or an experience initiated directly by teachers. They can last from a few days to several months.

Educators in Reggio Emilia have no intention of suggesting that their program should be looked at as a model to be copied in other countries; rather, they consider their work as an educational experience that consists of reflection on theory, practice, and further careful reflection in a program that is continuously renewed and re-adjusted. Considering the enormous interest that educators show in the work done in the Reggio schools, they suggest that teachers and parents in each school, any school, anywhere, could in their own context reflect on these ideas, keeping in focus always the relationships and learning that are in process locally to examine needs and strengths, thus finding possible ways to construct change.

*Earlier versions of this article appeared in L.Gandini (1993), Fundamentals of the Reggio Emilia Approach to Early Childhood Education, Young Children, 49(1), pp. 4-8, and L.Gandini (1997), The Story and Foundations of the Reggio Emilia Approach in Teaching and Learning: Collaborative Exploration of the Reggio Emilia Approach, edited by V.R. Fu, A.J. Stremmel and L.T. Hill (Upper Saddle River, New Jersey. Merrill/Prentice Hall).

For more information about the Reggio Emilia philosophy of education, log onto: Reggio Children: North American Reggio Emilia Alliance (NAREA):


Lella Gandini, Ed.D., Adjunct Professor, School of Education, University of Massachusetts, Amherst and Reggio Children Liaison in the U.S. for Dissemination of the Reggio Emilia Approach. © Lella Gandini (revision January 2008)

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