In recent years, the preschool programs of Reggio Emilia, Italy, have captured the imaginations of early childhood educators in the United States. These programs got their start shortly after World War II, under the leadership of Loris Malaguzzi. He was generally credited with being the founder and leading proponent of the Reggio Emilia approach prior to his death in 1994. Using what is referred to as a project approach because of the emphasis on in-depth investigations of topics of interest to children and teachers, the educational experiences these preschools provide are truly remarkable (Hendrick, 2004). With adult help, children in Reggio Emilia schools document their learning through insightful and detailed conversations, photographs, and artwork.

An exhibit that includes photographs and projects completed by children in the Reggio Emilia schools and titled “The Hundred Languages of Children” has been touring the United States for the past several years and provides many examples of experiences in the Reggio Emilia classroom.

Few walk away unmoved by its visual impact. They remember the carefully selected photographs, most often grouped in sequences, that serve as vibrant records of children’s experiences and explorations as they investigate various aspects of a particular theme. Even more beguiling are the extraordinary pictures and objects made by the children themselves. (Hendrick, 1997, p. 28)

What makes the Reggio Emilia model so remarkable? According to program founders, it is a combination of fundamental ideas that must all be present for the model to be successful (Gandini, 1993). Many of these components are present in other programs for young children. The difference may be in the intensity with which they are applied in Reggio schools (Bredekamp, 1993). The following sections describe the key elements of this unique program.

The Environment

The physical space in a Reggio Emilia school is designed to foster communication and relationships. Children are encouraged to learn from each other, the teacher, and parents in a setting that is discovery-oriented and attractive to them. The basic message teachers attempt to convey as they set up the environment is that learning is a pleasurable, social activity (Hendrick, 2004).

Reggio Emilia classrooms are full of children’s own work. Although this is true of many early childhood programs in the United States, the differences are in the breadth and depth of these representations by children of what they have learned. Paintings, collages, sculptures, drawings, mobiles, and photographs are present in every nook and cranny of the classroom. They are displayed so that parents, teachers, and other children can better understand the process of children’s thinking.

One special space found in Reggio classrooms is called the atelier. The teacher sets aside this special workshop area for recording in visual form what students learn as they engage in projects of their own choosing (Edwards, Gandini, & Forman, 1998). The atelier contains a wealth of tools and resource materials that children can use for their documentations. Under the direction of a trained specialist, children work cooperatively to construct summaries of their learning experiences.

Children, Parents, and Teachers

Reggio Emilia teachers view children as active, curious, and eager learners. When interesting materials and activities are present and when adults give children thoughtful guidance, children can engage in quality educational experiences.

Parents are considered essential in the Reggio Emilia approach and are expected to share responsibilities in educating children (Hendrick, 2004). Some parents participate regularly in the classroom, while others are involved in special events or engage in parent education activities. The Family Partnerships feature in this section describes some simple strategies for providing parents with the understandings they need to support child growth and development. Strong parental support and communication will help you better meet the needs and interests of the young children you teach.

Reggio Emilia teachers are partners with children and parents in the educational process. Careful observation and strong communication skills allow teachers to develop plans for assisting the learning experiences for each child in the classroom. In addition, teachers see themselves as learners and continue to grow in understanding along with children.