“Learning and teaching should not stand on opposite banks and just watch the river flow by;
instead, they should embark together on a journey down the water.
Through an active, reciprocal exchange, teaching can strengthen learning how to learn.”
– Loris Malaguzzi
The emergent curriculum and a project-based approach:
The Reggio approach emphasises an emergent curriculum that is child-led, emerges from the interests and ideas of the children, and developed through a process of ongoing negotiation with children, teachers and parents. Through the vehicle of discussion, project-based learning experiences, and the value of children’s ideas, opinions, experiences and funds of knowledge which they bring to discussions, children experience a rich variety of learning opportunities that are meaningful, purposeful, and relevant to them. Although the teacher’s role is to provide provocations to stimulate discussion and enrich these learning experiences, children are encouraged to lead their own learning and to follow their own interests, building on their funds of knowledge, strengths and preferred ways of learning, while being supported to extend their capacity and repertoire for learning. The value of ‘learning by doing’ is emphasised through a project-based approach to learning experiences in which children are given the time, space and materials they need to explore, investigate and develop their interests. As a vehicle for the emergent curriculum, this project approach encourages children to actively take ownership of the focus and process of their research and learning.
Social learning and relationships:
Learning is viewed as a complex, social process of co-construction based on relationships and connections (Rinaldi, 2006) . Through group social learning experiences, children’s learning is enriched as they collaborate, participate and contribute to each other’s learning, learning alongside, with and about each other, while constructing their own knowledge and developing their own working theories about their world. This relational approach builds a strong sense of community within the context of the centre by fostering a culture of respect for self, others, the environment and resources through trusting, respectful and reciprocal relationships. As each child is respected as an individual and their ideas, opinions, interpretations and choices are respected by adults and other children in their group and centre, they develop a greater sense of self and awareness and respect for others. They also develop a secure sense of place and belonging in their wider community through the relationships that are established with other places and people in their community. The active role of parents as valued contributors to children’s education and development also enriches the learning experiences of children and adults in and beyond the context of the centre by adding to the pool of resources from which children can draw and construct greater meaning and understanding.
Creativity – A holistic approach:
Creativity is at the heart of all learning experiences for children. It is “a way of thinking, knowing and making choices, and can be demonstrated in any aspect of learning” (Thornton & Brunton, 2014, p. 33). As creativity is at the heart of the Reggio approach, children are supported and encouraged to discover and experience a variety of ways to express their thoughts, ideas and creativity through their ‘hundred languages’. The enriching potential of this creative and holistic approach to learning shapes children’s self-awareness and sense of identity in positive ways through dignity and respect by recognising and appreciating children as individuals with preferred ways of learning and expression. The strong image of the child empowers children to see themselves as capable, creative, confident learners, communicators and contributors, rich in learning potential. A strong culture of respect supports children to have a voice and be heard. Children’s emotional development is also supported and nurtured as they are able to express their feelings and vulnerability in a safe place where they are respected and their rights are protected.
The learning environment as third teacher:
Learning spaces reflect the idea of the environment as third teacher. Inspired by this concept, learning environments in Reggio recognise the potential for the physical space to shape the learning and teaching process, as well as children’s sense of belonging, ownership and creative potential. Learning spaces such as the atelier or studio provide children with a place where they can experiment, explore and discover their creative potential through a range of mediums and materials, such as clay, wire, paint, and a variety of natural and recycled materials.
An environment with a culture of respectful relationships also empowers children to take ownership for their learning environment/space and resources. Providing children with quality resources, tools and materials fit for purpose and beautifully presented encourages this culture of value and respect for people, places and things. Through a rich variety of learning experiences in a supportive learning environment, young children are given time and space to develop their ideas and explore open-ended materials, opportunities to learn new skills, and the freedom to solve problems and try new things without the fear of failure. Children are empowered with a sense of wonder and joy in the natural world, as well as greater ownership and sense of responsibility for their world and the potential for change.
Documentation underpins Reggio’s approach to understanding young children’s learning and is an integral part of the learning and teaching process. Through a process of observing, interpreting and documenting the process of children’s learning, educators demonstrate a ‘pedagogy of listening’ to children and ways of respecting and supporting them as individuals as they make sense of their world. Rather than a product-focused pedagogy, the emphasis of documentation is placed upon the learning process and how children acquire, process, organise and construct knowledge. By documenting the mutual exchange of ideas and theories between children and their teachers, learning is made visible, and children are able to revisit their ideas and experiences and build on their previous working theories. Documentation also gives parents and families insights into their child’s learning and development and is a means of communication within the centre. It also provides opportunities for the wider community to understand more about the learning processes of children, and reinforces the concept of citizenship and relationships between the centre and the wider community.
Learning dispositions and skills:
Dispositions and skills for lifelong learning are fostered and developed alongside children’s working theories as they are supported to take greater ownership and responsibility for their learning. Children have the potential and support to develop resilience through problem solving, trial and error, and learning to approach and work through self-set or unanticipated challenges throughout the learning process. Children are also supported to manage risk and responsibility and to develop negotiation skills as they are given the freedom to pursue their interests, make choices, and change the direction of their learning. Creative, critical thinking skills, curiosity, reflection, self-awareness and autonomy are also fostered and nurtured along the way, enriching the learning and teaching process as children and adults share and negotiate the roles of learner and teacher. Not only is children’s learning enriched through this negotiated process, but the adults are also enriched in their own learning and their role as facilitators and guides. Children and adults develop a greater sense of wonder, joy and anticipation for the reciprocal learning process as they embark together on a learning journey where the destination is unknown but the potential and possibilities are rich.