Reggio Emilia is a medium-size city in the northern Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. Its population of 165,00 is among the fastest increasing of European cities. More than 12 percent of the municipal budget is earmarked for the support of more than 50 infant-toddler centers and preschools, and parent fees, paid on a sliding scale, comprise the rest of the system’s budget. As public education, all children of the municipality have access, and maintaining enough places for all children as the population increases remains a priority. The newest preschool opened in the International Center Loris Malaguzzi, and is the first preschool to be combined, conceptually and physically, with a new elementary school. The political and educational priorities and experiences of Reggio Emilia have captured the attention of educators and advocates throughout the world.
Ask leading early childhood education professionals of any country to describe the contributions of Reggio Emilia to the field. Each would offer a variation of Reggio Emilia as a highly acclaimed example of what can be achieved when a community gives credit to young children and views them as full citizens with rights. They might describe the degree to which the city of provides for the system of infant-toddler centers and preschools within its municipal budget. They might describe the longevity of the teachers and the reinvestment as mentors of retired educators. They might describe the ongoing attitude of research and experimentation that defines the approach. They might describe the productive relationship between schools and families, and the schools and the community. Without a doubt, they will describe the richness of the daily experiences of the children. Professionals the world over have been intrigued by the depth and complexity of the experiences and, more important, by the visibility of children’s capacities for insight, complex thought, problem-solving, peer relationship, joy, and expression.
FOUNDATIONAL PRINCIPLES taken from “Indications,” a 2010 publication of the municipality of Reggio Emilia, Italy:
- EDUCATION IS A RIGHT–Education is the right of all children, and as such is a responsibility of the community. Education is an opportunity for the growth and emancipation of the individual and the collective; it is a resource for gaining knowledge and for learning to live together; it is a meeting place where freedom, democracy, and solidarity are practiced and where the value of peace is promoted. Within the plurality of cultural, idealogical, political, and religious conceptions, education lives by listening, dialogue, and participation; it is based on mutual respect, valuing the diversity of identities, competencies, and knowledge held by each individual and is therefore qualified as securlar and open to exchange and cooperation.
- CHILDREN ARE ACTIVE PROTAGONISTS OF THEIR GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT PROCESSES–Children possess extraordinary potentials for learning and change, as well as extensive affective, relational, sensory, and intellectual resources that manifest in an ongoing exchange with the cultural and social context. Each child is the subject of rights, first and foremost possessing the right to be respected and valued in his or her own identity, uniqueness, difference, and in his or her own rhythms of growth and development. Each child, individually and in relation with the group, possesses an ecolgocial sensibilility towards others and towards the environment, and constructs experiences to which he or she is capable of giving sense and meaning.
- THE HUNDRED LANGUAGES–As human beings, children possess a hundred languages, a hundred ways of thinking, of expressing themselves, of understanding, and of encountering others, with a way of thinking that creates connections between the various dimensions of experience rather than separating them. The hundred languages are a metaphor for the extraordinary potentials of children, their knowledge-building and creative processes, the myriad forms with which life is manifested and knowledge is constructed. The hundred languages are understood as having the potential to be transformed and mulitplied in the cooperation and interaction between the languages, among the children, and between children and adults. It is the responsbility of the infant-toddler center and the preschool to give value and equal dignity to all the verbal and non-verbal languages.
- PARTICIPATION–Participation is the value and the strategy that defines the way in which the children, the educators, and the parents are stakeholders in the educational project; it is the educational strategy that is constructed and lived day-by-day in the encounter with others and in the interpersonal relationships. Participation gives value to and makes use of the hundred languages of children and of human beings, viewed as a plurality of points of view and of cultures; it requires and fosters forms of cultural mediation and develops in a multiplicity of occasions and initiatives for constructing dialogue and the sense of belonging to a community. Participation generates and nurtures the feelings and culture of solidarity, responsibility and inclusion; it produces change and new cultures that contend with the dimension of the contemporary world and globalization.
- LISTENING–In participated education, an active attitude of listening between adults, children, and the environment is the premise and context of every educational reslationship. Listening is an ongoing process that nurtures reflection, welcoming, and openness towards oneself and others; it is an indispensable condition for dialogue and change. The attitude of listening raises the threshold of attention and sensitivity toward the cultural, values-related, and political scenarios of the contemporary world. The infant-toddler centers and the preschools have the responsibiltity to foster and make visible these processes by means of the pedagogical documentation.
- LEARNING AS A PROCESS OF INDIVIDUAL AND GROUP CONSTRUCTION–Each child, like each human being, is an active constructor of knowledge, competencies, and autonomies, by means of original learning processes that take shape with methods and times that are unique and subjective in the relationship with peers, adults, and the environment. The learning process is fostered by strategies of research, comparison of ideas, and co-participation; it makes use of creativity, uncertainty, intuition, curiosity; it is generated in play and in the aesthetic, emotional, relational, and spiritual dimensions, which it interweaves and nurtures; it is based on the centrality of motivation and pleasure of learning.
- EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH–Research represents one of the essential dimensions of life of children and adults alike, a knowledge-building tension that must be recognized and valued. Shared research between adults and children is a priority practice of everyday life, an existential and ethical approach necessary for interpreting the complexity of the world, of phenomena, of systems of co-existence, and is a powerful instrument of renewal in education. The research made visible by means of the documentation builds learning, reformulates knowledge, underlies professional quality, and is proposed at the national and international levels as an element of pedagogical innovation.
- EDUCATIONAL DOCUMENTATION–Documentation is an integral and structuring part of the educational theories and teaching practices, as it gives value to and makes explicit, visible, and assessable the nature of the individual and group learning processes of both the children and the adults, processes which are identifed by means of observation and which become the common wealth. The educational experience that unfolds in the infant-toddler centers and preschools assumes its fullest meaning when the documentation produced in progress is revisited, reconstructed, re-signified, and assessed; that is, intepreted in the exchange and with the contribution of different points of view. Viewed as a “public place,” documentation substantiates the idea of the preschool and infant-toddler center as a forum in which a culture of childhood and of education is elaborated by means of a democratic process.
- PROGETTAZIONE–The educational action takes shape by means of progettazione, which is the process of planning and designing the teaching and learning activities, the environment, the opportunities for participation, and the professional develoment of the personnel, and not by means of applying predefined curricula. Progettazione is a strategy of thought and action that is respectful and supportive of the learning processes of the children and the adults; it accepts doubt uncertainity, and error as resources, and is capable of being modified in relation to the evolution of the contexts. It is carried out by means of the processes of observation, documentation, and interpretation in a recursive relationship, and through a close synergy between the organization of the work and the educational research.
- ORGANIZATION–The organization of the work, the spaces, and the time of the children and the adults is a structural part of the values and choices of the educational project. The organization constructs a network of choices and the assumption of shared responsibility at the administrative, political, and pedagogical levels; choices that contribute to guaranteeing identity, stability, and security to the children and to the educational service, connoting it in its potentialities, quality, and praxis. The administrative, political, and pedagogical levels also bear shared responsibility for a constant and systematic assessment of the consistency between the prinicples of the educational project and the organizational choices made. Particular importance is given to the working conditions and the contractual forms that foster stability, continuity, and a sense of belonging.
- ENVIRONMENT, SPACES, AND RELATIONS–The interior and exterior spaces of the infant-toddler centers and preschools are designed and organized in interconnected forms that foster interaction, autonomy, exploration, curiosity, and communication, and are offered as places for the children and for the adults to research and to live together. The environment interacts with, is modified by, and takes shape in relation to the projects and learning experiences of the chidlren and of the adults in a constant dialgouge between architecture and pedagogy. Care of the furniture, the objects, and the activity spaces by the children and the adults is an educational act that generates psychological well-being, a sense of familiarity and belonging, aesthetics and the pleasure of inhabiting a space, which are also primary premises and conditions for the safety of the environments. Safety is therefore a quality that is generated by the dialogue and the shared elaboration between the different professionals who are engaged and concerned with this aspect, and who must likewise assess both risk prevention and the richness and quality of the opportunities offered.
- PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT–Professional development is characterized as a process aimed at building understanding and awareness of the meanings and methods of education, the central qualifying points of the educational project, and the specific competencies of the various professional roles. Ongoing professional development is both the right and duty of each individual and of the group, and is included and taken into considertion in the work schedule and organized collectively in terms of its contents, forms, and the methods of participation of each individual. Professional development is given priority within the daily activity of the centers and schools through the reflective practices of observation and documentation, with the weekly staff meeting being the primary occassion for in-depth study and sharing. Professional development takes place synergistically between the staff meetings of the single preschools and infant-toddler centers, the system-wide professional development program of the education services, and the educational and cultural opportunities provided at the local, national, and international levels.
- ASSESSMENT–Assessment, being an action aimed at the continuous attribution of meaning and of value, is a structuring process of the educational and administrative experience. The assessment process is part of the totality of the aspects of scholastic life, including the children’s learning, the professionalism of the personnel, the organization and quality of the service; it is understood and proposed as an opportunity to recognize and to negotiate the meanings and intentionalities of the educational project and is configured as a public action of dialogue and interpretation. To this end, the infant-toddler centers and the preschools make use of specific in instruments (for example: the Community Early Childhood Councils, the pedagogical coordinating team, the work group, and the co-presence and co-responsibility of teachers) and practices (for example: documentation, the participation of the families and of the surrounding community, and participation in the integrated public system.)
PROJECT INFINITY’S GUIDING INTERPRETATIONS OF THE REGGIO APPROACH
- Substantive collaboration between schools is essential for advancing quality in education. Educating is a public act whereby good ideas, multiple perspectives, and shared responsibility must move unencumbered between contexts.
- Teachers are researchers in strong, reciprocal relationships with colleagues. Rather than being private spaces, classrooms are public spaces that facilitate transparency and participation.
- The learning and living processes of children are systematically and innovatively documented. Learning is not reduced or disected into discrete disciplines for testing purposes, but retains its fullness in order for the public to observe processes by which children think and learn, the myriad ways children interpret experiences, and the parallel processes of teachers and parents.
- Parents are active participants in the life of the school. Parents are not kept outside the school, but are valued for their unique perspectives and contributions, which enable all adults to construct a wider interpretive lens.
- Schools and classrooms are well-designed and thoughtfully organized. The power of the environment to interact with children’s learning is recognized and spaces are arranged to inspire, provoke, and engage learners.
- Children participate in long-term and short-term experiences that engage their perspectives and actions. Involvement with interesting, ordinary topics sustains children’s natural curiosities and meaning-making behaviors.
- Children are not objects, but retain rights to an autonomous, subjective, original life.