The Best Kept Secret This Side of Italy: Reggio Emilia Has Been an Italian Success Story since It Was Created More Than 50 Years Ago. Learn How It Can Improve Preschool Education in the United States

By Stager, Gary | District Administration, August 2002 | Go to article overview

The Best Kept Secret This Side of Italy: Reggio Emilia Has Been an Italian Success Story since It Was Created More Than 50 Years Ago. Learn How It Can Improve Preschool Education in the United States


Stager, Gary, District Administration


Imagine walking into a classroom and seeing a three-year-old wearing safety goggles and sawing wood or smashing tiles with a sledgehammer. Once you get over the surprise and realize that this isn't a mistake, you might start to see the benefits of such an experiment. Welcome to the world of Reggio Emilia.

Reggio Emilia is the name of an Italian city and the informal name for a revolutionary approach to early childhood education. Reggio education, created by Loris Malaguzzi after World War II, is heavily rooted in the ideas of John Dewey and authentic learning. The Reggio Emilia approach is notable in its longevity, and its lack of recognition in American schools.

The early childhood centers of Reggio Emilia focus on the learner, are material-rich and reliant on reflective practice--both on the part of children and their teachers. Children are encouraged to engage in personally meaningful projects, reflect on their learning, and then do it again. Teachers are thought of as researchers trusted with making decisions that benefit kids. Each classroom has two coequal teachers who model all of the cooperative behaviors that they want the children to emulate. Two specialists, the pedagogista and atelierista, support teachers.

The Reggio environment is filled with materials, which the children may explore and use to construct knowledge and explore their world. Reggio schools aim for transparency so kids can learn about the world by being immersed in an open safe subsection of it. Students are respected as capable human beings, not empty vessels to be filled.

Editor-At-Large Gary Stager spoke with three early childhood experts about Reggio education and how it could impact early education here. Lilian G. Katz is professor emerita of early childhood education at the University of Illinois [Urbana-Champaign], where she is also co-director of the ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary & Early Childhood Education. Douglas Clements is professor of education at the State University of New York, Buffalo. He is an author of numerous books and articles and an expert on how young children construct mathematical knowledge. Carolyn Pope Edwards is professor of family studies at the University of Kentucky. She is the co-editor of The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Approach--Advanced Reflections, (Ablex Publishing Corp., 1998) arguably the best book about Reggio education available in English.

How would you describe the current awareness level of Reggio education in America?

Douglas Clements: Unfortunately, it is quite low. American schools and teachers are, tragically, not given the time or culture to learn and reflect on different educational approaches, as they should.

While I realize that Reggio Emilia schools are not part of a franchise, are there Reggio schools here in the United States?

Carolyn Pope Edwards: There are many schools and programs in the U.S. inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach. In some cases, the influence is strong and observable, when educators have worked together to study the Reggio Emilia approach and considered how to use ideas in their program.

In other cases, the influence is more partial, when one or more educators mainly focus on one or a few aspects of the Reggio Emilia approach, and how they might be valuable to try to apply in their context. As this approach becomes more widely known here, and as early childhood education professors teach about it in their classes, then its influence has the potential to be long lasting and profound.

I share your fascination with Reggio schools and their educational philosophy. What should American educators know about Reggio Emilia?

DC: "Should" is a strong word, here. Accepting it, however, there is just so much to say. There is a unique intertwining of the culture of caring of the city and the schools that may be difficult to grasp, and more difficult to duplicate. …

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