What does it mean to be a Reggio Emilia inspired early learning service?
You do not need to look hard to find early learning services aligning their programs and practices with the Reggio Emilia educational project. Early learning services often describe themselves as ‘Reggio inspired’ while others may recruit for educators that demonstrate an understanding of the ‘Reggio approach.’ It is easy to understand why people would want to replicate it. This is a model of pre-school education that invites us to consider deeply, the role of children, families, educators and community.
This approach to early learning is a breathing, pulsing social context. It gives us a model of participation that situates quality early learning as a community good. There is a real risk however that we are trying to replicate this approach rather than re-interpret it, to reflect our own cultural complexities. The Reggio Emilia education project cannot be bought.
This educational project exists in an environment far removed from ours, culturally, politically and geographically, and this is important to consider when we think about what is required of us to embed these important ideas and proposals in our own early learning environments.
This educational project is not about clay, light boxes, digital microscopes, artfully arranged autumn leaves, and pre-packaged journeys of documentation. Rather it is about the link between culture and place. The importance of culture in the educational experiences of their youngest citizens is at the heart of this approach. As the American Psychologist Howard Gardner says:
“The Reggio Approach in other parts of the world, outside Reggio Emilia only makes sense if we are capable of re-inventing it, if we are capable of understanding the context we work in, the values in which each culture believes, and then compare these with what Reggio has been capable of creating in its own specific context and with its own resources.” (Gardner, quoted in Rinaldi 2013: 11).
The view that all knowledge is constructed in a relational context is a defining feature of this approach. The experiences of the children and their teachers are coherent with the experiences of everyday life outside the centre boundaries. In our local context I am often struck by the paradox of early learning services claiming to view children as citizens, yet seldom seeing evidence of this in either program or practice and certainly limited visibility of them in the local community.
While there are many facets to this approach to early education, notably the ways it encourages us to actively listen, to collaborate and to view thinking, learning and teaching through the hundred languages of children, it is the idea of early learning spaces as places of research that for me, is its most defining feature and one that we should try to incorporate into our own interpretations. Other inherent attributes that might be visible in a service reflecting this approach might include:
- A communal, not individual, approach. This requires multiple informants and gazes on the work of children. Knowledge is constructed within relational contexts. This is an approach that is a continuous dialogue with children, with teachers, with parents, with architecture, with community.
- The service gives visible value to what the community considers to be valuable. The educational experiences of children are coherent with the experiences of their everyday life.
- Research is a daily attribute that becomes the source of new pedagogical ideas. Ongoing research, inquiry and dialogue between children and adults are a program and practice priority. The curiosity of children and educators is a launchpad for learning.
- Children are citizens with rights and potentials. This view of children sees them capable of big potentials and one that sees the emergence of identity inextricably linked to children’s relationships with others.
- There are deep links between documentation and assessment
We can take what this project means and apply our own contextual lens to it. The challenge is to not lose the complexity of our own important cultural footprints.
Rinaldi, C. (2013) Re-imagining Childhood. Adelaide: Government of South Australia.