The Reggio Emilia Approach in Action

January 23, 2010 at 3:11 pm Leave a comment

posted by Jim Clay ‘88, director of a Washington DC Quaker preschool

Just this past December, I was part of a study tour of the Municipal Infant Toddler Programs and Preschools of Reggio Emilia, Italy.  I was a part of a Bank Street College sponsored group.  In Italy I met Jane Racoosin (BSC ’92 & ’97), director, along with two of the teachers, Yolanda Ramos (BSC ’07) & Jeanne, from Beginnings, A Toddler Program located in Gramercy Park in Manhattan.  Yesterday I had an opportunity to tour Beginnings. There are five grads from Bank Street and one teacher currently there!

My first question “how much of the Reggio Emilia approach do you put in place in your school?” was answered within the first minutes of my visit.  It is clear that the environment at Beginnings is designed to be beautiful – I saw spools of threads arranged in gradated shades of red and pink.  I photographed Bell jars each half full of a colored liquid lined in a row for children to notice and observe.  The stair railings and benches were proof that children were exploring weaving – colored ribbons were interwoven everywhere.  This weaving project is one that clearly involved and continues to involve the children.  At least part of the beauty comes from the materials.  At Reggio, they say that children have a right to a beautiful and well-organized environment.  As in the Remedia recycling Center in Reggio, Beginnings has dedicated an entire floor of their building to collecting and sorting a vast array of recycled materials for use in the classroom.  Their calendar for the year gives “before” and “after” illustrations of how these colorful and bright materials are used by children in the school.

Upon further inspection, I began to see the small print, figuratively speaking – the documentation throughout the program.  Jane explained to me how teachers are encouraged to document based upon observations of children, artifacts of their work that teachers have collected (photos, copies of work, for example), and analysis of the two.  (This approach dovetails nicely with Bank Street’s focus on observation and documentation.)  The documentation need not illustrated a completed process, but show work in progress – documentation during the journey.  What are the children learning?  What do they want to learn?  How can we assist their exploration?

At Reggio you hear a lot about schools having a dialogue with the local area.  While at Beginnings, I saw how one group is exploring social life of the swans at Prospect Park, based upon a spark of an idea from a New York Times article.  Throughout the school the children go to the Green Market at Union Square to purchase food for their snacks, creating a relationship with some of the vendors.  In their atelier they even constructed a wagon to cart the food home each week!  I thought of Esther Rosenfeld’s class at Bank Street on curriculum supervision in which a group of us stood in the median of Broadway at 112th and devised a curriculum based upon what we could see from that vantage point.

None of this happens without a huge commitment to teacher education.  The director explained to me that for nearly 20 years, resources have been dedicated to extensive training of teachers in the Reggio philosophy and approach and how that can be translated into urban New York City.  I also noted that at least some of the teachers have a degree from Bank Street College as well.

It would be interesting to explore more about the interface between the Bank Street and the Reggio approaches.  Their literature acknowledges their debt to John Dewey.  That’s a start.

Jim Clay has been the director of School for Friends, a Quaker preschool in downtown Washington DC, since 1984. He regularly leads workshops on family diversity, administration, and staff development at the annual conference of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).  Jim is the Secretary for BSCAA’s Executive Committee.

Entry filed under: classrooms, collaboration, constructivism, curriculum, early childhood, integrated curricula, philosophy, professional development, social-emotional learning, the arts.

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