Bitesize professional development – Reggio Emilia

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By Rosaleen JoyceEarly Years Outdoor Learning Consultant

An exclusive insight into the Reggio Emilia approach to learning


The Reggio Emilia approach

Rosaleen Joyce reflects on her study visit to the small town of Reggio Emilia, Italy, where their particular approach to learning places respect, equality and democracy at the heart of children’s learning and development

Reggio Emilia is a small town of 160,000 inhabitants in Northern Italy. It is always referred to in the literature and lectures as la citta – the city.

There are currently 13 infant-toddler centres (for children from birth to three years) and 24 pre-school centres (for children from three to six years), which follow the Reggio Emilia approach to learning. This is not an approach to learning that is adopted by all infant-toddler and pre-schools in Reggio Emilia – probably less than 50 per cent – nor does it seem to have influenced practice in the rest of Italy. The remaining infant-toddler centres are run by cooperatives, the Catholic Church and the state. Children in Italy officially start school at the age of six. These are predominantly state schools and Rome centralises their approach to learning. I am not aware of any research which illustrates how children who are taught using the Reggio Emilia approach, cope with the transition to the more traditional state school approach to learning.

Reggio - lining up

The historical background

This political approach to learning was a collective response to a new identity in Reggio Emilia at the end of the Second World War, after years of Fascist oppression.

Women involved in the Resistance Movement during the war (the United Italian Women, or UDI), fought to develop pre-schools for their children. They wanted schools that would encourage their children to think for themselves. They invited Malaguzzi, then a teacher, to coordinate the educational projects at these schools and develop a long-term view of possibilities for education.


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