My learning about the Reggio Emilia educational project began as I listened to a presentation by Leila Gandini, editor of The Hundred Languages of Children. Leila Gandini’s session challenged my (limited, then) view of how capable preschool children could be as thirsty knowledge seekers. She showed pedagogical contexts in Reggio Emilia preschools that expanded children’s explorations across different ‘languages’, fed their curiosity and encouraged dialogue with others. Of course, I went out and bought and quickly devoured the book she’d edited, The Hundred Languages of Children.

Image of the child

Later, I spent a morning in a Reggio-inspired early childhood centre in Santa Monica. What struck me as I sat among the children was their long and meaningful dialogues, working through issues with one another. So, what was the design of their teaching in this space that fostered this type of talk amongst children? I had seldom heard conversations like this in New Zealand settings and was intrigued. This starts with the image of the child as being truly competent as a problem solver. At the core of these educators’ pedagogical focus is ‘how am I learning’ not ‘what am I learning’. Malaguzzi, one of the founders and principal philosophers of the Reggio approach, pulled together key ideas from philosophies about learning and teaching from the likes of Froebel, Montessori, Dewey and Piaget. He spent much time talking with academics like Bruner and continued to develop these key ideas.

Continuous research

Reggio educators keep enhancing their practices through ongoing weekly research and documentation that assists their teaching. Their qualitative research on how humans – young and old – learn and grow their knowledge happily chimes with my own research on young children’s schema learning. They – old and young – expand their knowledge by everyone (children, teachers, and families) engaging in dialogic processes. In both theories, the arts support and make thinking visible. Reggio educators excel at enriching children’s learning through children’s ‘hundred languages’. Their approach to education is like New Zealand early years educators weaving a whāriki  (metaphor for woven mat); each is culturally relevant to their country’s families and community.

A statement about the Reggio approach by Carla Rinaldi and Peter Moss (2004) is a useful introduction to Reggio educators’ skepticism about certainties and linear progress. They said,

“Learning is not the transmission of a defined body of knowledge, what Malaguzzi refers to as a ‘small’ pedagogy. It is constructive, the subject [learner] constructing her or his own knowledge – but always in democratic relationships with others and being open to different ways of seeing since individual knowledge is always partial and provisional. From this perspective, learning is a process of constructing, testing and reconstructing theories, constantly creating new knowledge. Teachers as well as children, are learning. Learning itself is a subject for constant research, and as such must be made visible.” (Rinaldi & Moss, 2004: 2)[1]

Designing experiences to challenge children’s thinking and theories

Central to Reggio’s education practices are long, complex projects involving experiences designed to challenge groups of children to discuss, research and show others what they’d learned and how they had arrived at a solution or outcome. Serious dialogue by groups of children was what struck me during that first visit to a Reggio-inspired centre in Santa Monica.  Week by week, teachers document who learns what and how in a variety of ways. This documentation supports them to reflect on their teaching as well as the children’s learning. How children learn is also a focus and is where the ‘100 languages’ come to the fore. Documentation is also highly valued by parents and ratepayers who support ECE services in their city. Documentation also shows how the mandated 12 principles of Reggio’s educational project are addressed. I find myself studying these principles several times each year, e.g., children’s hundred languages, and the pedagogy of listening.[2]

Enabling systems

After visiting Reggio Emilia and reading numerous publications from Reggio Children, I found an answer to my query about how and why the construction of groups of children is the main way children learn in Reggio services. Careful thought about how the group is put together, for example, older and younger children, child experts with children with less knowledge or experience are deliberate design strategies to support challenge and learning.

A regular point made by Reggio educators across the years is the importance of documenting both children’s learning and how they learned new knowledge in order to better understand children’s thinking/meaning-making. I’ve often reflected on how hard it seems for many New Zealand educators to document and reflect on what was learned and how. Our strong focus on learning stories in Aotearoa New Zealand services dominates documentation. Learning stories excel at showing the child’s identity as a learner (strengthening their autobiographical memory), but often, there is minimal content on what is remembered or on how a child has learned it  despite Margaret Carr and Wendy Lee urging ‘co-authoring’ and ‘self-assessment’.[3]

You can’t ‘DO’ Reggio!

Reggio Emilia has come from the experience of Italy in World War 2, as well as local politics and dynamics in the City of Reggio Emilia. In New Zealand this cannot not be the same; our nationally mandated early childhood curriculum, Te Whāriki is bi-cultural and therefore, our work with children is strongly influenced by indigenous Māori ways of knowing and being. There are, however, many consistencies. For example, one of Te Whariki’s core principles is empowerment, which links well with Reggio Emilia’s image of the competent child.

Across the years, I have filled a large journal during Reggio professional learning and development in New Zealand and Italy. Reggio education has kept me thinking about impactful pedagogy well into my so-called retirement. Intrigued too? Try a study tour. Last year, Reggio Children’s stunning courses resumed after the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic was over. Why this year? 2024, is the 60th anniversary of the first municipal early childhood centre opening in the municipality of Reggio Emilia. It will be buzzing.


Some questions to spark your thinking:

  • What would happen for a week or a month if you stopped giving children answers straight away?
  • What would happen if you only documented children’s questions?
  • How could you use previous documentation to support your ongoing research, teaching and planning?

About the author

Dr Anne Meade, Co-Founder, of Daisies Early Childhood Education & Care Centre in urban New Zealand. Anne continues to serve the organization as Pedagogical Leader.

Anne’s video on YouTube, “Imagine a classroom without walls” (Storypark, 2017) inspires more teachers to provide curricula in nature. Anne is a Senior Fulbright scholar (1999), a semi-retired academic researcher, and is frequently called upon to keynote events. Her 1979 doctorate (Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington) was amongst the first in early childhood education in New Zealand.

In addition, Anne has a Trained Teachers Certificate for primary school teaching and a post-graduate diploma for teaching in early childhood education (Massey University). Anne has led government working groups to draft 10-year strategic plans for early childhood education policy in 1989 and in 2001. She was seconded to the State of Qatar in a similar role in 2006. She was an adviser to the writers of New Zealand early childhood curriculum, Te Whāriki (Ministry of Education, 2017).

Anne can be contacted at


[1]. Rinaldi, C. & Moss, P. (2004). What is reggio? In Children in Europe. March 2004.

[2] Indications; Preschools and infant-toddler centres of the Municipality of Reggio Emilia, a slim guidelines booklet for those working in their ECE services is available in English.

[3] Carr, M. & Lee, W. (2012). Learning Stories: Constructing Learning Identities in Early Education. Sage.

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