Friday, March 1, 2013

A "Reggio-Approach" in Early Childhood

photo of: A Reggio Approach to Early Childhood Education at PreK+K Sharing

Reggio Emilia, Italy.
Hundred Languages of Children. 
Welcome to an overview of a "Reggio" approach to ECE.

Let me preface today's article of visual insight with a little background. My degree is in Fine Arts and Art Education. I've spent over 30 years devoted to my passion of integrating the Arts into education. 
I now travel the country (and the world) sharing with educators and students just how that can be accomplished through weaving together music, dancing, story-telling, movement, writing, laughter and picture books as a foundation. A foundation with a 'hundred languages.' At least. I have had the great good fortune of spending a couple of weeks in Italy. It was the opportunity of a lifetime to specifically tour across the province of Reggio Emilia, visiting, touring and performing in schools for the children there. It's a delight to share from this perspective. 

A quick check on Wikipedia can give you an overview of the Reggio Approach. It is a philosophy that emerged after WW2 in response to the critical needs felt by parents on behalf of their children. Parents and teachers together. Teachers and parents together. Respecting the child. Arts. Documentation. Environment. Long-term projects. Arts. Integration. REGGIO! 

photo of: Reggio Emilia Italy Childcare Center Foyer Devoted to Children's Art at PreK+K Sharing

From my personal scrapbook: that's the two story foyer of one of the new early childhood buildings in Reggio Emilia. A child's drawing has been ENLARGED by professional artists across the two story entrance to set a tone of child-friendly welcome as you join this new space. If you look closely in the large photo above, just below the large heart, to the right is the original child's drawing taped to the wall for comparison. What JOY!!!

Let me say that it has always been my understanding that it is the 'environment' that plays such a significant role in Reggio. Environment and Arts. These basics are one differentiation from a 'typical,' even outstanding  US educational classroom. This environment itself is considered the 'third teacher.' The classroom is designed as something of a 'studio.' 

In Italy there are often working artists involved in the program who have their actual studio space within the school setting. Arts are integrated at every opportunity. Children are not excluded from the 'professional' arts process, but available to it. Observing it in action. Integrated into it. Surrounded by it. Inspired by it and offering inspiration, too! The presentation of supplies, art supplies in particular, makes you feel like you are in an artist's studio. The materials are invitational in their organization. Beauty. Color. Light. Shadows. Holistic. Plants. Life. Sensory. Respect. Integrated. 

photo of: Reggio, Italy Signs within the Early Childcare Center via PreK+K Sharing
Atelier and Psicomotricita

The majority of photos today are from my recent Author-Illustrator school visit to the Childhood League Center in Columbus, OH. This is a private school devoted to serving young children with special needs. It is also the setting for the first ten years of my professional career. It is a site that has prioritized sending staff to Reggio Emilia, Italy to observe their approach to educating young children in action. The ultimate field trip. 


photo of: "Reggio" Classroom Set-Up of Materials via PreK+K Sharing

photo of: "Reggio" Classroom Set-Up of Materials via PreK+K Sharing

Yes. My own blog is entitled, "Rainbows Within Reach." The photos above are indeed rainbows that are truly within-the-reach of students. Aren't they glorious in their simplicity? In their organization? In their presentation? Don't you feel like something special is about to happen with these spectrum of 'mark-makers' at your disposal? There is an implied understanding that you will use these implements, these tools and then you will return them to their rightful spot. Color theory at work. KUDOS. 

Now take a look at a writing center set up in a corner of the cafeteria area of the building. Look how glorious are the materials surrounding the paper and pens. Shells. Nature. Glitter. Clipboards ready-to-go. Inspiration and implementation -- all in one spot. Please, let me participate! My eyes are so delighted with this desk-top. Let me show you what I think. 

photo of: "Reggio" Classroom Writing Center of Materials via PreK+K Sharing

photo of: "Reggio" Classroom Art Supplies via PreK+K Sharing

photo of: Reggio-Classroom using Clay via PreK+K Sharing

Documentation is an ENORMOUS component of a Reggio program. Documentation is to benefit everyone. Documentation is for the teacher's reference of the learning process. Documentation is for the parents who weren't able to participate in the process initially. Documentation is for the children to reflect upon the process. Documentation is for visitors to observe the process in absentia. 

The children can observe themselves in action in the photos and then be prompted to conversation about the activity. Remember. Reflect. {Many of the students in this particular program have language delays. Seeing themselves at work is a great motivator to conversation. Reggio works across the spectrum of children and their needs from the most typical-of-typicals to the most profoundly in need.} Documentation plays its own role in the process.

photo of: "Reggio-Art-Documentation" via RainbowsWithinReach

My photograph above is of three photos that are hanging on display in the school's hallway, documenting the children at work, immersed in their painting at the easel process. The hallways of the Center are a genuine Art Gallery of sorts. As important as examples of the finished product, happily on display below, is the shared celebration of the act of the process underway. 

photo of: Reggio-Art Project Preschool Painting via PreK+K Sharing

In addition to seeing so many photos of friends-at-work in the public spaces of the building, there are also numerous 'explanations' of what is happening, what is expected, what materials were used, what resource was used as the original prompt and inspiration. Documentation is everywhere. The parents are invited into the process even in their absence. 

Next up you'll see the completed 'project' that emerged from much process work. 
Marshmallows used as painting implements.
Marshmallow paint brushes! 
Blue paint. 
[*I LUV LUV LUV that there are some actual marshmallows as part of the final installation.]

Hanging right next to the completed collaboration above, is the documentation below. 
The teachers have created a four photo collage of children-at-work. 
There is a hand-written paragraph of the work together. 

Nature plays a big role in a Reggio approach. Natural materials are on hand at every juncture. How about a homework assignment that asks the family to go outside and gather some natural materials together and to send the gathered outcome back to school. THEN? The students spend time categorizing the collections. The natural materials themselves become a display initially and then will be used to augment projects, explorations and work. 

A Reggio setting is often distinguishable by its prominent use of living plants within the classroom. A 'home-like' environment is a model. Beauty. Design. Nature. 

One of my favorite things about Reggio approach is how often children are encouraged to think and investigate in three dimensions. Sculpture from a very early age. Blocks and building are central to Reggio, but other materials can also go three dimensional. Enjoy these marshmallow sculptures. I'm wild about the integration of so many materials in these explorations. Toothpicks. Pipe cleaners. Sequins. Straws. 

There is no one right answer. Explore. Investigate. Build. Document. 

Every quality children's program is filled with books. Every quality program has teachers 'extending' the picture book through direction of student response. I'm a big fan of seeing this 'display' that houses the picture book prompt right in the midst of the student's responses. The artist used fabric for illustrations. The students use fabric in their response. Delightful. 

Now let's leave the public hallway, art gallery and enter a classroom space. This group of children have been heavy-duty into creating their own rain forest in their room. Hanging from the ceiling are a forest of coffee filter trees in full leaf. Notice the integration of genuine branches. Hanging behind the trees is a waterfall created from shiny Mylar that reflects the light across the room and through the artful leaves. 

These hanging layers of jungle can be navigated and explored, winding ever closer to the waterfall -- which is closest to the classroom window. 

Look at how the Mylar bounces the classroom's artful colors through the 'falling water.' An ever-changing science experiment unfolding right before your eyes. What happens tomorrow when the sun comes out? On a rainy day? How does this waterfall change the classroom space? 

Subdividing the classroom space is a portable wall that has become part of the ever expanding Rain Forest. The torn paper leaves are supplied by young fingers developing fine motor skills to grasp paper. Other students are able to cut out appropriate photos from magazines of exotic locales and creatures beyond the asphalt outer-belt of their typical childhood experience. The collage continue to expand as the project is explored over time. 

To continue on the exploration theme, the binoculars are supplied to examine the Rain Forest as it continues to expand, inviting conversation along the way. Binoculars and magnifying glasses are such a pleasure in investigate further. Search for details. 

The 'extra' Mylar has found a home in the sensory table, with Rain Forest surprises mixed in the shiny, crinkly material. Oh what fun to go excavating! Fingers on the move. Lots of sensory input. Lots of enthusiasm! 

Across the hall from the Rain Forest, is another classroom of its own unique design and individual flair. A "castle" with exotic tapers? Fairy land perhaps? A place for all sorts of imagination to be nurtured. 

This next photo is one taken in Ohio. The open-ended "process" work is augmented with photographs of the painting being created. How brilliant is this documentation? The photographs merge with the paint in a delightful array of process and energy. Now scroll on down beyond this rich magenta. The "landscape" process photo beyond, I took in Italy!!!!

In the Italian landscape (complete with curtains) below, you can see the very same 'concept' of merging photographs of process within the finished outcome. If you look VERY closely at the photos, you'll see that the artists in this instance are toddlers. They have done handprint paintings of blue paint on the white length of 'table paper.' On a separate piece of white paper they have engaged in paint-upon-feet!!! The adults in the equation have cut and merged the two fun pieces into the finished landscape. 

I'm betting that my buddies will let me stop-in, guitar-in-hand, and take another slew of photos for your inspiration. LUV LUV LUV sharing with you such amazing, simple ideas!

Italy. Ohio. Toddlers. Preschoolers with special needs. See how we can learn from each other. 
Reggio Emilia Italy Toddler Painted "Open-Ended" Media Exploration Transformed into Display Product via RainbowsWithinReach
Documentation within an Open-Ended Mural by Italian Toddlers

*****Back over at my blog I have a TON more photos of my all too short Reggio tour.  They are all chronicled in this link.

*****If you can only take the time to read one quick 'article' -- I'm confident you'd be interested in the photos that document the Italian "Laboratory of the Senses." 

photo of: Process vs. Product in Children's Art at PreK+K Sharing
Process vs. Product
*****Did you see that the #2 article here at our collaboration is the one that I wrote on the differences between Process and Product in Art. 

"It's Never too Early to Start Art" Young Child at Easel Painting via RainbowsWithinReach
It's Never too Early to StART!

photo of: Child's Easel with Quote on Creativity via RainbowsWithinReach

-- Debbie -- 

photo of: Early Education Emporium for PreK+K Sharing (Resources Under One Umbrella)

Debbie Clement is the polka-dotted music-lady, writing this morning from Nashville, TN. Momentarily making a school visit to inner-city children to spread the joy of music, singing and writing. She's written over 100 original songs for children. Slowly but surely she's turning them into Mp3's for instant download. Come visit our collaborative, super-cyber-store: the EARLY EDUCATION EMPORIUM -- where we all share our resources under one big umbrella. Yes. Debbie took that photo in ITALY, on the Mediterranean, the morning after she toured Reggio. Memories!


  1. So many incredible, motivating, creative ideas...I was a pinning madwoman! Debbie Clement, can I please tell you how much I love and admire you??!! You make me want to run right now and open my preschool! My mind is reeling with ideas!

    Carla M

    1. Oh, Carla. Your comment means the world to me! Sometimes I wonder if anyone's 'reading along.' Thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking the time to let me know! I LUV LUV LUV sharing but it's oh-so-much-more-meaningful if someone is receptive!


    2. This is so fantastic to see! Thank you for sharing. It brings back all the memories of my visit to Reggio in 2010. One of the best experiences of my life! Never saw something more inspiring. .. I'm gonna follow you for sure. ..

    3. Thanks so much for your support "joke" (makes me smile just knowing that's your 'name.') I know how much I treasured my time there. Wish we could compare memory cards. I bet you have tons of images that inspire, too!!


  2. Great site, thanks for sharing. I own a small child care center in Vanuatu and am very inspired by the Reggio approach. My goal this year is to make learning visible. :)

  3. So many wonderful ideas. I particularly love the jungle!


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