The Reggio Emilia Curriculum

History of the Reggio Emilia Approach

The unique origin of the Reggio Emilia philosophy produced a very different and innovative approach to early childhood education. In its founding, Reggio Emilia was deeply woven into the fabric of the local government, community, and people. It was first developed after the conclusion of World War II by psychologist Loris Malaguzzi and parents in the surrounding area of Reggio Emilia in Italy, where the philosophy gets its name. They believed that children would benefit from a new and progressive way of learning. Working under the assumption that children begin to form unique personalities during the early years of childhood development, and express their ideas and interests in a variety of ways (“a hundred languages”), this community-oriented style of learning was formed. This unique approach has grown over many decades to be recognized as one of the best educational programs for young children worldwide.

Due to the unique nature of the Reggio Emilia community in Italy, and how tightly woven the approach is in the fabric of the local government, community, and people, it is difficult to exactly replicate this approach in the United States. As a result, schools in the United States that follow the Reggio Emilia philosophy often call themselves Reggio-Inspired. To be Reggio Emilia- Inspired is to adopt the core values and beliefs of this approach and let them guide the evolution of the curriculum and development of the child.

Key Characteristics of the Reggio Emilia Curriculum

At The Compass School, we practice a Reggio-Inspired approach by adopting the core values of the Reggio Emilia philosophy. These guiding principles allow us to focus on the whole child, empowering their thoughts, questions, interests, and in turn hopefully fostering a lifelong love of learning.

The guiding principles of The Compass School are as follows:

The Image of the Child: The primary tenant of the philosophy is that all children are competent, curious, creative, and capable. Exploring their curiosities and interests can lead to a greater understanding and a greater desire to learn. Teachers are aware of each child’s potential, and it is their responsibility to help support and guide children throughout the journey of learning.

Emergent Curriculum: Emergent curriculum is a style of teaching and learning that is dependent on the teacher introducing questions and listening to the children’s ideas and discussions. Through careful observation of the classroom, teachers can introduce learning explorations, and develop long-term projects. In this sense, the curriculum ‘emerges’ from the students, allowing the learning process to become a spiraling progression rather than a linear process.

Project Work: Through emergent curriculum, teachers can facilitate project work that will allow children to explore their areas of interest in detail. Teachers introduce materials, concepts, and mediums that allow children to express their ideas and interests. Children develop an enthusiasm for knowledge that is enhanced by the ability to experience the many facets of project work in detail. Projects can last anywhere from a few days to several months at a time.

The Role of the Teacher: In a Reggio Emilia-inspired curriculum, teachers are viewed as more than just a partner in education. They play several different roles, in addition to that of a teacher. They are the guides that take children through the journey of learning. They are the scribes who listen, record and display classroom experiences. They are advocates for the children, and they work closely with colleagues and parents to foster an inviting, interesting, community-based learning environment.

The Role of the Environment: The environment of the school, classrooms, and common spaces play a critical role in the Reggio-Inspired approach. The environment is viewed as the third teacher and should be considered a reflection of not just the children, teachers, or parents but a reflection of the image of the child. The classrooms in a Reggio-inspired school should be viewed as a living organism and are thoughtfully arranged to foster creative exploration while encouraging interaction and communication. Reggio-Inspired classrooms are often open, inviting spaces filled with natural furnishings, real-life materials, mirrors, windows, and natural lighting. Classrooms should display project work, both completed and in-progress, to tell the story of those that share the space.

Parental Involvement: Through the Reggio-Inspired approach, learning doesn’t just take place within the school but also at home and in the community. Parents are encouraged to participate in their children’s education and daily life at school, and to extend and reinforce learning opportunities at home. Parental involvement through the Reggio-inspired approach in the U.S. is consistent with the fully immersive, community-based learning environment found in Reggio Emilia, Italy.

Documentation: Documentation in Reggio-inspired schools may come in a variety of different forms, including photography, videos, conversation transcripts, painting, drawing or other visual mediums like clay and wire. Documentation then serves to communicate learning, development, ideas, and interests and supports the next steps in the children’s educational journey.

See a Reggio-Inspired Program in Action!

Interested in learning more about the Reggio-inspired curriculum at The Compass School? Contact us today, or request a tour of the school closest to you. For more information about the differences between the Reggio-inspired approach and other educational philosophies, view our blog post exploring the differences between Reggio Emilia, Waldorf, and Montessori schools .