What is the Reggio Emilia Approach?

Updated: Oct 11, 2021

Written by Malia Renee Rowe, M.Ed

October 3, 2021

exploring light and projection
exploring light and projection

Reggio Emilia is an educational philosophy that was founded in Reggio Emilia, Italy after World War II. The community had little left after the war, but they decided to build a school with what they had. The school was meant to be a meeting place for all the people of Reggio Emilia - the men, women and children. A place where children could learn, and a place to gather and exchange ideas. From there it grew and the people of Reggio Emilia knew one thing - they believed that all children deserve the right to a quality education.

From there, Loris Malaguzzi, an educational philosopher, helped to shape the approach into what it is today. “Stand aside for a while and leave room for learning, observe carefully what children do, and then, if you have understood well, perhaps teaching will be different from before”(Malaguzzi).

The major parts of the approach include: the image of the child, 100 languages, the environment (the third teacher), the parents and community, the teachers as co-learners, documentation and the educational project.

The Reggio Emilia philosophy believes all children are curious and capable individuals who are able to lead their own learning based on their interests. Children learn by using their hands and through exploration. The 100 languages is a key principle of the approach and was formed focusing on the way children learn; through a 100 ways of sharing their ideas and thinking about the world around them children are able to truly explore larger concepts and identify new ones.

Another key element of the approach is the environment. The environment is known as “the third teacher”. If an environment is reflective of the children's learning processes and projects, then it helps children to reflect and develop. It is also a functional working part of the learning where children are able to explore larger concepts in their own time. The environment uses open-ended and natural materials to catch the eye and spark creativity. Loris Malaguzzi says, “[t]he environment should act as an aquarium which reflects the ideas, ethics, attitudes and culture of the people who live in it. This is what we are working towards.” This is evident in Reggio-inspired environments as they truly ignite learning.

While the children lead their learning and navigate through the project, the teachers are co-learners. They are working alongside the children observing and understanding their learning processes. They offer guidance and support to the children and learn more and more about the way they learn everyday. This, in turn, helps with concept and project development.

Additionally, documentation plays a critical role in the approach. It is a collection of artwork, students words and dialogues, pictures of students working and details of the project journey and evolution. Documentation benefits the children, teachers, parents and school community by making their learning visible.

"Documentation serves different purposes during different stages of learning. The criteria for what counts as quality documentation depend on the context. What seems to remain constant is that quality documentation focuses on some aspect of learning-not just “what we did” -and it prompts questions and promotes conversations among children and adults that deepen and extend learning." (Making Learning Visible Project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education)