'Absolutely the Most Exciting Thing' That's How Many Local Educators Feel about the Reggio Emilia Approach to Early Childhood Education

By Renee Stovsky Of The Post-Dispatch | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), November 5, 1996 | Go to article overview

'Absolutely the Most Exciting Thing' That's How Many Local Educators Feel about the Reggio Emilia Approach to Early Childhood Education


Renee Stovsky Of The Post-Dispatch, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


At The Clayton Schools' Family Center, a group of toddlers, fascinated by two hermit crabs that inhabited a terrarium in the classroom, were encouraged by their teachers to study them more closely.

The children watched how the crabs crawled in the sand. They observed them in an aquatic environment. They squirted them with water bottles to see how the crabs emerged from their shells. The months-long project helped to support language, social development and even cognitive concepts like size differentiation and relationships in children as young as 18 to 24 months.

Meanwhile, at The St. Michael School, several 4- and 5-year-olds observed that their school, located at St. Michael and St. George Episcopal Church, looked like a castle. That conversation launched an investigation into knights, dungeons, dragons, gargoyles and the like. When one child expressed a desire to build a castle, it turned into a long-term, clay-and-wire class project guided by a visual arts teacher, or atelierista. And when a group of preschoolers at The College School in Webster Groves expressed fanciful theories about weather changes, it resulted in in-depth, hands-on research. The children studied cloud formations. They took walks on rainy days, examining puddles through magnifying glasses. hpt These examples represent a radical departure from the it's-November-so-let's-draw-Thanksgiving-turkeys type of classroom planning that most of us grew up with. Experiences like these are one of the hallmarks of Reggio Emilia, an approach that is generating more interest among early childhood educators than anything since the Montessori method early in this century. Reggio Emilia - named for the northern Italian city in which it took root 33 years ago under educator/psychologist Loris Malaguzzi - has been studied and emulated internationally for years, particularly in the Scandinavian countries. But it is a relatively new phenomenon in the United States. And St. Louis is in the forefront of looking at ways to adapt it, American-style. Why? It all began five years ago when Webster University and the St. Louis Association for the Education of Young Children (AEYC) co-sponsored a traveling exhibit, "The Hundred Languages of Children," from the Reggio Emilia schools.a Brenda Fyfe, now acting dean at Webster University's School of Education, had seen an adaptation of the Reggio Emilia approach in action during a visit to Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1988. Impressed by the children's project work there - and the depth of knowledge it conveyed - she resolved to learn more, and in 1990 took her first trip to Reggio Emilia, a city of 130,000 about 40 miles northwest of Bologna. p She discussed her experience with AEYC members, and accompanied several of them to Washington, D.C., to see the exhibit there. Lori Geismar-Ryan, then president of the St. Louis AEYC, remembered it being "absolutely THE most exciting thing we'd seen in a long, long time." By 1995, three schools - The College School, The St. Michael's School and The Clayton Schools' Family Center - were selected by Reggio Emilia educators to work toward the designation of "reference points" - schools that have made significant progress in adapting the approach and worthy of observation by other educators. Since then the schools have cooperated closely to perfect their practices here, consulting with Amelia Gambetti, a veteran teacher and official liaison from Reggio Emilia, working with The Model Early Learning Center, a Head Start center in Washington that is certified in the Reggio approach, and sending staffers to study at the Italian schools. Their work is beginning to gain recognition, both through presentations and publications. So what is all the excitement about the Reggio approach about? Just ask Melanie Redler, mother of two young sons who attend The College School. "I was not searching for Reggio when I went to observe the preschool. …

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