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With the multitude of educational approaches to choose from, it is hard to decipher one from another.

This lesson reviews the Reggio Emilia Approach, including the principles and examples of methods.

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Reggio Emilia Approach History

Imagine there has been a major war that has torn your city apart. Imagine you are surrounded by children whose lives are devastated and whose parents are financially ravaged by the circumstances of war.

Now, add to this image the presence of an over-bearing religious rule that governed much of everyday life. Would your final image be the same as it was for a small group of people in the Italian city of Reggio Emilia? Post-WWII, this group of women decided to make a difference by breaking from the Catholic Church to start a progressive, child-led, play-based learning environment for young children (preschool-aged).The approach was then formally developed by psychologist Loris Malaguzzi. The Reggio Emilia Approach was an early childhood education method that was practiced in Reggio Emilia, Italy, from just after WWII. In 1991, it became world renowned after a preschool in Reggio Emilia was listed as one of the top 10 schools internationally. The world took notice of the educational approach in practice in the city and began to try to replicate it.

The Approach Itself

The Reggio Emilia Approach is purely used for early childhood education.

It is experienced-based, play-based, and child-led learning. Experience-based refers to a focus on creating experiences for students to learn through doing something active rather than learning through listening or watching.Play-based education means that the educational environment is staged to ensure children are exposed to a multitude of learning opportunities as they choose their own play activities. There is little structure or forced learning; just an encouragement to explore and play with all the available materials. Child-led learning is an important aspect of the Reggio Emilia Approach because in this approach, the child decides what to learn about, when to learn about it and for how long they’ll focus on it. The approach believes that children choosing their own educational paths will remain actively engaged in the learning process longer than when they are forcibly guided to learn topics.

There are a few foundational principles included in every school that follows a Reggio Emilia Inspired Approach:

  • Documentation of student’s thoughts is paramount to show progress and learning.
  • Children maintain a large amount of control over their educational process and choose their educational targets.
  • Relationships are to be supported: relationships between students, with teachers and with the environment.
  • The learning process should include active investigation with stimulation for multiple senses included.

  • Children should be given many methods for self-expression.
  • Adult leaders are there to gently guide and help students find their own interests.

Reggio Emilia Approach Benefits

Research has shown that, especially in early childhood, child-led learning keeps children engaged in the learning process longer and results in deeper processing than traditional passive learning techniques. The greatest benefit of the Reggio Emilia Approach to early childhood education is its child-led educational foundation. Children are exposed to a great number of interesting curriculum-based concepts, but are given the freedom to choose their own interests and explore them while the interest lasts.

From an organizational point of view, the benefit of the Reggio Emilia Approach is its flexibility. The approach is not regimented; programs tend to be labeled ‘inspired by Reggio Emilia Approach’ instead of claiming to follow that approach precisely, as is the case with Steiner and Montessori-styled schools. Remember that the original Reggio Emilia preschools were born out of the devastation of post-WWII times in a city in Italy. Their cultural and societal circumstances are not the same as anywhere else in the world.

Their specific results can’t be replicated because the circumstances are unique to them, to that time and place. The flexibility of the approach allows each preschool to adapt the principles to meet the needs of their own community and students.There are no certifications or permissions needed to run a Reggio Emilia Inspired Approach preschool. Teachers and adult leaders do not need any certifications or training to facilitate the approach.

Examples in Practice

If science is a desired target for students, the teacher might set up a table in the play yard with bottles of varying shapes containing many different colors of liquid. If a student asks for guidance, a teacher might respond ‘What do you think you could do with those different liquids?’ In this way, the teacher gently leads the child to come to the conclusion that the liquids can be mixed to create new colors.If the sense of hearing is on the schedule of learning, teachers might place musical instruments around the play space to be found and investigated through the day. Or, they might set up a music table and lead students to compare the different sounds and why each instrument makes the sounds they make.An example of an organic learning experience is seen when a child is playing outdoors and notices a bug. The child may bring the bug to the attention of the teacher. Then the teacher would ask the child what they notice about the bug.

After the child responds, the teacher parrots what they have heard from the child and prompts them for more information, such as ‘what else do you notice.’ Finally, when the child is unable to continue to add new information, the teacher might suggest an activity related to the bug, like using craft material to build a bug, writing a story about the bug, or drawing a picture of the bug.In each of these three examples, teachers should observe carefully and then document the thought process each child took in their explorations.

Lesson Summary

The Reggio Emilia Approach to education is an early childhood educational method that was practiced in Reggio Emilia, Italy, from just after WWII.

It was developed after WWII and influenced by the devastation that conflict caused.The approach emphasizes experienced-based learning, or a focus on creating experiences for students to learn through doing something active rather than learn through listening or watching; play-based learning, in which the educational environment is staged to ensure children are exposed to a multitude of learning opportunities as they choose their own play activities; child-led learning, in which the child decides what to learn about, when to learn about it, and for how long they’ll focus on it. It ‘s flexible in that there is no specific training required, and centers following this method tend to be inspired by the method instead of prescribing directly to any regimen.

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