Reggio-Emilia is a popular educational philosophy that guides the teaching of many schools and nurseries around the globe. It was born and developed around 60 years ago in the village of Reggio-Emilia, Italy by pioneering teacher Loris Malaguzzi. Aware of dissatisfaction among parents with mainstream childcare and education, he sought to provide a different style of teaching and learning.
The innovative principles that guided teaching in his first school are still used today. You’ll find Reggio-Emilia-inspired nursery schools all over the world, often thought of as the best nursery schools in their area. Here, we look at what makes Reggio-Emilia nursery classrooms special and how they benefit their students.
What are the principles of Reggio-Emilia?
The design of a Reggio-Emilia classroom is guided by the main principles of this educational philosophy. They are:
● Child-led learning
Reggio-Emilia believes all children are naturally curious and should follow their own interests in their classroom learning. This means that children direct their own learning with the encouragement and support of the class teacher. By independently exploring the classroom environment, children make discoveries and increase their understanding of the world.
A child will be encouraged to immerse themselves in their learning and explore an interest fully: to research it, to understand it, to reflect on what they have learned and to create something inspired by it. They may produce artwork, writing or other media to demonstrate what they have learned. This way, children are developing the crucial critical thinking skills they’ll need throughout their lives.
● Teachers as observers, supporters and curators
The role of the teacher in the Reggio-Emilia nursery classroom is principally to support, encourage and observe their students in their learning. However, to ensure children are inspired by their surroundings, the teacher’s role as curator of the classroom is also absolutely vital.
Teachers must provide a stimulating environment that sparks children’s interests in a variety of subjects and inspires them to ask questions and get creative.
Here’s how they set up their Reggio-Emilia classroom to do just this.
The Reggio-Emilia Classroom
In the Reggio-Emilia approach, the classroom is absolutely central to the philosophy. In fact, the classroom is consistently viewed as the third teacher (after the child’s parents and class teacher). Just like the human teachers, the Reggio-Emilia classroom should inspire, encourage and guide but not dictate.
These are the ideas that guide Reggio-Emilia teachers when they design their classroom set up:
● Home from home
The nursery room needs to fulfill the following criteria: bright and airy, with lots of space. A Reggio-Emilia classroom should feel relaxed and calm, like a home away from home, so lots of natural light and room to move are essential in achieving this.
An overcrowded classroom can be noisy and overstimulating, so Reggio-Emilia teachers take care that their classrooms are tidy and uncluttered. This allows children to think freely and clearly and access the materials they need easily.
● A beautiful space
Reggio-Emilia nursery classrooms are never sterile. While they should be well-organized with easily accessible spaces for a variety of work and play, they should also be warm and inviting. Aesthetics are important as they help stimulate classroom creativity and put children at ease. So, comforting, homely touches such as indoor plants and thoughtfully displayed artwork are essential.
The outdoor classroom should also be inviting and encourage children to connect with nature. There will be carefully thought-out landscaping using natural materials that encourage children to use and explore the whole space. There will be a range of plants, too: flowers and herbs for color and scent, for example. Art and creativity are not limited to the indoors, so materials and objects that inspire and allow children to create should be outdoors as well.
● Carefully curated objects
A Reggio-Emilia teacher gives very careful thought to the range of objects available for use in the classroom. The key question they would ask is, “Can this item inspire creative, open-ended play?” For this reason, the item should be simple, so that the child can choose any number of creative ways to use it . It should also be inviting and appealing to the child.
Collections of natural objects like seashells, pine cones, smooth pebbles are frequently used in the Reggio-Emilia classroom because they are pretty and highly tactile. They are so inviting that children can’t resist picking them up. They’ll then begin, for example, sorting and organizing, counting, using them for imaginative play, or as part of artwork.
Everyday household items are also central to the Reggio-Emilia classroom. These include things like cotton reels, clothes pegs, and wooden spoons. Playing with these items can help improve gross and fine motor skills, as well as inspiring imaginative play and storytelling.
● Well-organized writing and art materials
In a Reggio-Emilia classroom, writing and art materials are never hidden away in a cupboard. Instead, they should be well-organized and invitingly arranged so that children can easily find what they need and are encouraged to use these items without reservation. Therefore, the arrangement of these materials should be attractive to a child’s eye and within easy reach for them.
The test of a well-arranged Reggio-Emilia nursery classroom is whether children are enjoying their environment, immersed in their learning and able to work independently. If they are, then they are in a classroom that is instilling a love for learning and nurturing the questioning and critical thinking skills they’ll need for life.
Ayesha Hoda is a marketing and communications specialist working at Step By Step Nursery Group in the UAE. She holds an MBA degree from a leading business school in Pakistan and has more than 13 years of experience in corporate communications and journalism. She has worked in both agency and client-side roles, designing communication strategies for multinational clients, nonprofits and small businesses in various industries, such as education and healthcare.