“Once children develop certain skills and concepts such as empathy or critical thinking, that’s something that no one can take away.”

by Karen Hobson, The New York Times, April 15, 2020, “What are Reggio Emilia Schools?”

Reggio’s Main Components

Emergent Curriculum.  This means essentially that the curriculum for the classroom is a mashup of the children’s interests, their families’ communication, and the close observation and notes teachers take on their students’ growth and exploration.  Every child is an active participant in the learning process and is a valued member of our community.  Since children make meaning through everyday experiences and hands-on exploration, curriculum topics are derived from talking with children and their families, as well as from things that are known to be interesting to children (dinosaurs, art, languages, science experiments, and so on).  This allows them to test theories and make connections with their everyday environments.  Teachers partner with children and the exchange of theories are referred to as the Cycle of Inquiry.  Teachers use their interpretations, intentions, and goals (social, emotional, and academic) to make choices that they share with children.   Learning is seen not as a linear process but as a spiraling progression.

In-Depth Projects.  In Reggio Emilia, the learning is led by each child, and structured around projects.  Teachers often call these projects “adventures” and these might last a week or two – or extend the entire school year.  These projects are thorough studies of concepts and ideas based on the information gathered about children’s interests.  Teachers will help guide the children in choosing an area of research and following it to the project’s conclusion.  Thus, teachers act as advisors on these projects, helping children decide in which direction they would like to take their research, how they can represent what they learn, and what materials would be best suited for their representations.  What sets Reggio Emilia apart is its emphasis on student-led projects.  When students show interest in a topic, teachers create projects to encourage that interest.  They keep documentation in a portfolio for each child throughout the year, allowing them to track individual development.  Projects provide the backbone of the children’s and teachers’ learning experiences.  They are based on the strong convictions that learning by doing and discussing in group and to revisit ideas and experiences is the premier way of learning. 

Representational Development.  This principal takes into account Howard Gardner’s concept of multiple intelligences.  The Reggio Emilia approach invites children to present their ideas and learning in many forms:  print, art, drama, dance, music, puppetry, and so on.  A child may be more drawn to dancing to tell their stories than drawing, for example, and there is room in a Reggio approach to be excited about that and help them translate that strength into new areas.  Children can demonstrate their ideas in many different ways:  dance, paint, wire, clay, pencil, nature materials…other than just number and letter.  Giving the space for all of these efforts to flourish helps each child build confidence and excitement about their learning.

Collaboration.  The idea of collaboration is seen as necessary to further a child’s cognitive development.  In a Reggio-inspired classroom, teachers encourage groups to work together using dialogue, comparisons, negotiations and respect.  Groups both large and small are encouraged to work together to problem-solve using dialogue, comparisons, negotiations, and other important interpersonal skills.  Each child’s voice is heard in order to promote a balance between a sense of belonging to the group and a sense of self.  In this collaborative environment, children negotiate with teachers on which interests will be studied, which allows them to feel heard and respected, and encourages their sense of self-worth.

The Role of the Environment

The classroom is referred to as the “third teacher” in Reggio schools.  Much like the Montessori approach, great care is taken to construct an environment that allows for the easy exploration of various interests.  The documentation mentioned above is kept at children’s eye level so that they, too, can see how they are progressing over the year.  Items from home, such as real dishware, tablecloths, plants, and animals, contribute to a comforting, “homey” classroom environment.  Teachers intentionally organize, support and plan for various spaces for children.  The daily schedules are planned to ensure that there is a balance between individual, large and small group activities, child directed and teacher-initiated activity and inside as well as outside experiences.  No matter what resources Reggio-inspired teachers have to work with, they consider every element of the space thoughtfully to create an atmosphere where children can feel a sense of agency, creativity, and belonging.  Organic play in the classroom also leads to communication that fosters new ideas while supporting social and emotional growth.

The Role of the Teacher

Teachers play a dual role in the Reggio Emilia classroom.  Their primary role is to learn alongside children, becoming involved in group learning experiences as a guide and resource.  Teachers are fully hands-on and wholly present alongside children.  A Reggio Emilia teacher carefully observe and track the growth of children and the classroom community.  They will also take time to reflect on what they have learned about themselves and their teaching.

The Role of the Students

  • Co-constructors:  partners, guides, nurtures, solves problems, learns, hypothesizes;
  • Researchers:  learns, observes, revisits;
  • Documenters:  listens, records, displays, revisits;
  • Advocates for children:  involved in the community, politics relating to children, speaks for children and presents their work to other educators and community members.

Image of the Child

Children are viewed as competent, powerful, full of knowledge, and interested in connecting to the world around them.

The Role of Parents

Parents are important and valued partners in the learning process.  They are a child’s “first teacher” and an active part of their children’s learning experiences. 

Observation and Documentation

Documentation of the growth of both children and teachers is another important component of the Reggio Emilia approach.  Teachers use observation and documentation to identify strengths, ideas, and next steps to support learning for students.  This also helps teachers and parents learn more about what does and does not work for a child.  Documentation can be in the form of observations, photography, video, conversation transcripts and/or visual mediums like paint, wire, clay or drawing materials.  Teachers can then adjust the dynamics of their classrooms accordingly.  Reggio Emilia is a way of observing what children know, are curious about and what challenges them.  This allows teachers to reflect on developmentally appropriate ways to help children expand their academic and social potentials.  Long term projects connect core academic areas in and out of the classroom.

Children Can Guide Their Own Learning

“Children aren’t empty vessels who need to be filled,” said Gabriela Garcia, executive director of the Reggio-inspired Grant Park Cooperative Preschool in Atlanta.  Instead, the Reggio philosophy is that “children are competent, confident and capable beings from birth,” she said.  But that doesn’t mean that preschoolers are in charge or that the schedule is a free-for-all.  Instead, children follow their own interests within a framework of activities directed by the teachers.  “The ball is being passed back and forth,” said Jane Racoosin, director of the Reggio-inspired Beginnings Nursery School in Manhattan.

The Hundred Languages of Children

The term “hundred languages of children” refers to the many ways that children have of expressing themselves using art, language, physicality, experimentation, relationships and many other avenues as forms of communication and expression.  Reggio teachers provide children with different avenues for thinking, revising, constructing, negotiating, developing and symbolically expressing their thoughts and feelings.  Children are viewed as competent, curious, full of knowledge and potential, and interested in connecting to the world around them.  As children proceed in an investigation, generating and testing their hypotheses, they are encouraged to depict their understanding through one of many symbolic languages, including drawing, sculpture, dramatic play, and writing.  Teachers foster children’s involvement in the processes of exploration and evaluation, acknowledging the importance of their evolving products as vehicles for exchange.  In the classroom, the Art Studio is an intentional space containing materials and tools to pursue thinking and concepts.  What is done with the materials is not art per se, because in the view of Reggio educators the children’s use of media is not a separate part of the curriculum but an integral part of the whole cognitive symbolic expression process of learning.

No Way. The Hundred Is There.

The child

is made of one hundred.

The child has

a hundred languages

a hundred hands

a hundred thoughts

a hundred ways of thinking

of playing, of speaking.

A hundred always a hundred

ways of listening

of marveling of loving

a hundred joys

for singing and understanding

a hundred worlds

to discover

a hundred worlds

to invent

a hundred worlds

to dream.

The child has

a hundred languages

(and a hundred, hundred, hundred more)

but they steal ninety-nine.


The school and the culture

separate the head from the body.

They tell the child:

to think without hands

to do without head

to listen and not to speak

to understand without joy

to love and to marvel

only at Easter and Christmas.

They tell the child:

to discover the world already there

and of the hundred

they steal ninety-nine.

They tell the child:

that work and play

reality and fantasy

science and imagination

sky and earth

reason and dream

are things

that do not belong together.


And thus they tell the child

that the hundred is not there.

The child says:

No way. The hundred is there.

Loris Malaguzzi (translated by Lella Gandini)

History of Reggio Emilio Schools and Loris Malaguzzi

Loris Malaguzzi was very well respected throughout the world and revered by his colleagues.  Throughout his lifetime, he earned multiple awards, but his legacy is so much more than the awards he earned.   Loris Malaguzzi was the driving force behind all key-points of the Reggio Emilia approach.  Without his tireless efforts, it is unlikely that the Reggio Approach would exist as we understand it now.  After all, it was developed through his own trials and errors.  As he promised to the mothers who asked him to teach their children when he first rode his bicycle up to their school, “I’ll learn as we go along, and the children will learn everything I learn working with them.”  Seventy years later, we are still learning as we go, and the children are learning along with us.  After all, it’s the curiosity of children that encourage their love of learning.

What grew to be one of the most influential educational philosophies throughout the world started with very humble beginnings in the northern region of Italy, in a town called Villa Cella, a borough of Reggio Emilia.  Five days after the war ended, rumors began to circulate of a group of women who had decided to build a school from the rubble left after the Germans retreated from Italy.  The group of women sold an abandoned German tank, nine horses, and two military trucks and began to construct a school within the countryside with the intent to ensure the next generation of children would grow up intolerant to injustice or inequality.   Having heard the rumors, Malaguzzi’s interest was piqued, and he rode his bike to the town to see what the rumors were about.  After seeing and speaking to the mothers involved, Malaguzzi was so impressed that he stayed in Reggio to assist.  In Malaguzzi’s words, “It was the women’s first victory after the war because the decision was theirs.  The men might have used the money differently.”

This first school still exists just 20 minutes outside the city of Reggio Emilia, and it became a labor of love for all involved.  In the beginning, parents would contribute whatever they could to ensure the school could survive and continue running.  Over the course of the next 15 years, the philosophy behind the Reggio Emilia approach began to flourish with several new schools opening, though all struggled to survive; however, by responding to popular demand, the city of Reggio Emilia established the first municipal preschools in 1963, securing the future of Reggio Emilia in doing so.  As the first municipal schools were established, Malaguzzi took up the position of director, and he continued to develop the network of community-oriented nursery schools established in post-war Italy.  By 1967, most preschools were folded into this network, which then expanded again in 1971 to include the first infant-toddler centers.  Working alongside many other educators, Malaguzzi remained in his position as director until his retirement in 1985, though he remained heavily involved even in retirement.