The schools of Reggio Emilia, a town in Northern Italy, were first developed after World War II when the Italian government gave each town a small amount of money to use as they pleased in order to restore the sense of community lost during the war. While most towns created shared community spaces, the residents of Reggio Emilia decided to build a school for young children as an investment in the future. The project was joined by Loris Malaguzzi, who is known as the father of the Reggio Emilia approach. He set out to develop schools that reflected his view of young children as active and competent contributors to society.
Williamsburg Northside Schools are inspired by the Reggio Emilia Approach
Image of the Child
In our schools, we maintain a strong and positive image of the child. More specifically, we believe that all children are born as capable and competent, and have preferences, interests and opinions on the world and how it affects them. We know that our students have a great deal to offer our school community and classroom curriculum. We listen and encourage them to voice their ideas and suggestions, and know that their concerns and dislikes are valid.
Teacher as Researcher
Our teachers have the responsibility to observe and document the interests, ideas, questions, struggles, connections and insights that their students make on a daily basis. From that documentation, the environment is arranged, materials are gathered and the curriculum is built. Teachers ask provoking questions to gather prior knowledge and learn about curiosities. They present materials that they suspect will engage and elicit even further interest of the study.
Classroom Environment and Design
The classroom environment plays just as important a role as do the teacher and the students. The teachers arrange and rearrange the classroom with intent and respect. Materials are chosen that will stimulate, inspire, and challenge the children as they enter the room in the beginning of the school year. As the year progresses, specific needs arise, a community is built and project topics emerge; the environment will change as a result. For example, the dramatic play areas will become restaurants, taxi cabs, subway stations, post offices, and much more.
The classroom is also set up so that children may freely engage in activities, use materials and make choices with little adult intervention. They will be able to use art materials, select books and serve themselves snack because of the purposeful design of the environment. This respectful process lends itself to children as they learn independence and gain confidence in their abilities.
Project Work Approach
The Reggio Emilia approach uses an emergent curriculum that is developed and guided by the children’s interests. Children engage in long-term small group and large group projects, which involve hands-on investigation, finding the answers to questions, reading about a topic, visiting sites or places, talking to experts and visually representing their learning through a variety of media. Assemblies are held at specific times during the school day to allow children to plan their project ideas and to reflect and expand upon their work. Pre-academic and academic areas are integrated into the project whenever possible and when developmentally appropriate.
Teachers use observation and documentation techniques to capture children’s interests, learning and development. Documentation tools and techniques include written anecdotes, collected samples of children’s work, photographs, video recordings and written transcripts of children’s conversations. Documentation serves the purpose of encouraging children to make connections between ideas and reflect on their work. This then allows adults to reflect on children’s work and predict where their work with children might go. Families are enabled to experience the work and explorations of their children, document their growth over time, and communicate the shared respect for children and their accomplishments with the school and larger communities.
In Reggio Emilia schools, reference is often made to the Hundred Languages of Children. Reggio Emilia educators share the belief that children have many methods of communicating, including storytelling, music, art, movement, dramatic play and construction. All of these methods of communication are respected and encouraged in the schools by providing children with a variety of interesting and open-ended experiences and materials, including natural and recycled objects. When children represent their ideas with a variety of different media, they reinforce new knowledge, allow for the formation of new questions and predictions, learn to elaborate on their ideas, and strengthen their ability to communicate with others.