Paola Cagliari is director of Preschools and Infant Toddler Centres Istituzione in the municipality of Reggio Emilia.
Ivana Soncini is a psychologist and pedagogical coordinator of Preschools and Infant Toddler Centres Istituzione in the municipality of Reggio Emilia.
Heather Conroy is executive director of pedagogy at Etonhouse.
Chitra Venkatesh is a programme specialist at Odyssey, The Global Preschool.
WHAT IS REGGIO EMILIA?
This preschool approach originated from – and is named after – a town in Italy of the same name. It was founded by Loris Malaguzzi after World War II, when desire for change was running high. This, coupled with the town’s tradition for cooperative work, led Malaguzzi and the local residents to come together to rebuild schools and rethink education.
Fundamental to this approach is the belief that children are not empty vessels waiting to be filled with information. Rather, they are seen as competent individuals capable of guiding their own learning.
Supporting this belief are three main ideas: First is the teacher as a facilitator. Second is the right of the parents to be heavily involved in their child’s education. And last is the environment as the third teacher.
WHY ARE THERE NO TRUE REGGIO EMILIA SCHOOLS IN SINGAPORE?
PAOLA: Because this is Singapore, not Reggio Emilia in Italy. Schools located outside the town are not Reggio Emilia institutions. They can only be called Reggio Emilia-inspired. But that’s not to say location is the only factor that matters.
It’s also because the approach was borne out of the specific environment in Reggio Emilia. Outside this setting, the context is very different. The food is diverse and the air is varied. The culture, community and people are distinct.
This means the teaching approach can never be exactly the same as the schools in Reggio Emilia. It must be adapted and will have to be different.
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REGGIO EMILIA IS A FOREIGN APPROACH. HOW APPLICABLE IS IT IN SINGAPORE?
IVANA: It’s one of the questions many adopters of the approach outside of the town ask. The method is one that’s meant to be adapted and interpreted. I feel it’s always important for pedagogy to be in dialogue with other forms of knowledge, such as culture or philosophy.
That’s the same way scientists work. In fact, no matter what our specialisation is, we’re united in that we accumulate knowledge the same way – by referencing what people are doing in other areas and getting inspiration from them. Education should never function alone; it has to be influenced by the context it’s in.
PAOLA: Reggio Emilia may not be academically intense, but we’re equally interested in helping our children fulfil their full potential. Our goals are no different from those of the local education system; only the way we choose to achieve those goals is different.
HEATHER: If you’re talking about an academic requirement like learning to write, for example, we do support the skill of writing at Etonhouse. But we don’t develop it through the traditional way of copying and tracing
of letters. As part of an Earth Day activity, our N2 teacher invited each child to contribute a statement of his thoughts and feelings about saving the world. The children then co-authored with the teacher to put these statements into written form. The group report was then shared as a poem.
If a group of children is doing research on recycling, they may need to talk to kids of another class. They would then record the interview questions and responses.
WHY ARE MOTHERS ALWAYS HANGING AROUND THE SCHOOL?
CHITRA: Parents are an essential component. They play an active part, and are an essential resource in their children’s learning. Reggio Emilia-inspired programmes are community- and family-centred. It emphasises the importance of collaboration among everyone, and also of social relationships.
At Odyssey, the morning arrival period is particularly important. Parents are encouraged to bring their children in before curriculum hours, between 8am and 8.30am. This ensures that they have time to converse with other children, parents and the teachers.
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WHY DOES MY CHILD SPEND SO MANY HOURS OUTDOORS?
CHITRA: Reggio Emilia sees the environment as the third educator. A holistic curriculum does not limit learning experiences to the classroom. Children must go out into the real world. They must experience nature through visits to parks. They must encounter the arts through museum visits and watching performances.
Within the school, spaces must be provided for children to gather and socialise with others. At Odyssey, we have the Piazza – it’s a meeting place – alfresco dining area and Music Garden (where drums and xylophones have been installed on a patch of grass).
WHY ARE EDUCATORS IN REGGIO EMILIA-INSPIRED SCHOOLS NOT CONSIDERED TEACHERS?
CHITRA: In the Reggio Emilia approach, teachers are facilitators of the children’s learning experiences. They act as partners who listen to the kids, challenge their thinking and organise their learning.
Odyssey pupils start the day with class meetings. During these, the children are seated on a platform, which has different levels (similar to stairs), so every child is clearly visible to the teacher and recognised as a member of the classroom community. Most importantly, this platform seats the kids at the teacher’s eye level, which signifies that they are equals.
WHAT KIND OF QUALIFICATIONS SHOULD I LOOK FOR IN THE TEACHERS?
PAOLA: As mentioned, the Reggio Emilia approach isn’t a standard method that can be copied and applied in the same way in every context, country or school. As a result, we don’t have a standard training programme for teachers. Around the world, educators simply adapt what they find relevant.
If we believe that children should be involved in their own education, we should also believe that teachers can be involved in their education. Educators come together at yearly events such as this one with the spirit to share.
Perhaps what’s most important at events like this is that the teacher who’s learning in this way is not studying in isolation. She’s learning with people who may be outsiders to the context she’s in, or she could be sharing with someone who has a completely different background or a distinct set of knowledge. The exchange of ideas is very beneficial.
Reggio Emilia teachers think of themselves as always studying, along with the children. Learning is not something that ends with training. The value in our approach is that there isn’t a fixed method because we’re always researching.
WHY DON’T I SEE MORE PRESCHOOLS ADOPTING THE REGGIO EMILIA APPROACH?
HEATHER: I’m not sure I would say the approach has not been adopted. In Reggio Emilia, they would say: “Look at what we do (in Reggio Emilia) as a mirror to understand what you, in your context, can do for children – and not copy blindly.”
They do not encourage the adoption of the method per se. The approach takes commitment and a genuine desire to let go of some of the traditional teaching methods, such as rote learning and worksheet-based instruction. It means letting go of the traditional image of the teacher as a transmitter of knowledge and facts, and accepting her as a mentor and coach to the children’s learning.
I think many local preschools are now starting to work with greater understanding about authentic observation (the Reggio Emilia method of following a child’s progress through taking photos, recording the child’s thoughts, and perhaps even taking videos) as a means of assessing his learning. So I think the ripple effect of our colleagues in Reggio Emilia is present across the world.
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