Learning from Reggio Emilia

Published: Wednesday 2 May 2012

During April I had the pleasure of a tour of the ‘Ray of Light’ at the Loris Malaguzzi International Centre in Reggio Emilia, Italy. Reggio Children, which is based at the Centre, is recognised as a world leader in infant education (0-6 years). This approach was borne out of the philosophies of the eminent Italian educator, Loris Menaguzzi and the circumstances of reconstruction of the Education system in the city of Reggio Emilia after World War 2.

Their global educational project, which is practiced in the Municipal Infant-toddler Centres and Preschools around the city of Reggio Emilia, has inspired schools all over the world. It is based on a number of distinctive characteristics: - the participation of families - the collegial work of all the personnel - the importance of the physical and psychological educational environment - the presence of the Atelier - the figure of the Atelierista (facilitator/guide/teacher) - the pedagogical coordinating/research team. It is comprised of the ateliers, the in-school kitchen, the exhibition space and the conference facilities.

Significant information regarding this history and the philosophy is available on www.reggiochildren.it The philosophy has now been extended such that Reggio Children has constructed a Primary School which has just commenced operation.

The Ray of Light within the Centre is one example of their approach to education developed through research. The exploration of light is effectively a tool for the atelierista to provide strategies for teachers to engage and inspire 0-6 year olds. But with its atelieristas, the Atelier is also available to the city’s Primary and Secondary Schools and Universities with a heavy diary of visitations over each year.

To quote the explanation on the wall as one enters the Atelier:

“The atelier space is designed for interactive inquiry and for individual and groups experimentation; a place where children and young people can explore different aspects of light. The atelier is organised around illuminatories; purposely conceived environments proposing issues for enquiry through tools and materials, sustaining the construction of hypotheses and theories in a dimension of exchange and comparison of viewpoints. Hypothesis and theories which embrace imagination, the fantastic and narrative as forms of interpretation and explanation, in interaction with more scientific and rational forms. The illuminatories do not orient us in a single direction or towards a single solution, but enable us to investigate the same concept from different point of views, manipulating light and its properties in different ways.”

The Illuminatories are then labelled through the Atelier: - Light Scenery - Compositions in Light and Colour - The Colours of Light - Rebounding Light - Interferences of Light - Drawings of Shy Light - Invisible Light - Dark Light Sub-groups of a maximum of 5 pre-schoolers (or other age group) in consort with their class mates (20-25 max) move through a series of spaces or zones (Illuminatories) assembled within the Atelier or studio. Each Illuminatory exposes the learner to specific experiences of light about which the experienced atelierista draw awareness from the learners about feelings, colour, shadows, reflection, refraction, waves, fluorescence, phosphorescence to name just some of the concepts. The skill of the atelierista is not to give answers of why certain things happen, but to inspire awareness of the learners of their surroundings and to engage them in debate within their group of 5.

The experience concludes after about 2 hours when the whole class meet up in another part of the studio. Here the day to day teachers of the group of pre-schoolers and the atelierista discuss observations further with the whole group. Teachers then take the burning questions that arose about why this or that happened/ was experienced, etc back to the class room for further exploration.

Other programmes developed at Reggio Emilia similarly focus on inspiring the child to gain self motivated awareness of their physical and emotional world. Children go out into the city with cameras and are asked to undertake activities such as photograph tall things, short things, bright things, moving things, etc. They return to their space where rich conversation, debate and learning ensues. Another experience saw the children go into the city to map its sounds. They listen, become aware of the variety of sounds, discuss the possible reasons and instigators of the sounds. Then back in their space they consider and decide on symbols to represent the sound and map the location of each of the sounds. The display of the children’s work in the exhibition space was delightful and amply demonstrated the vitality and breadth of growth in such young children. The strategies rapidly draw out their natural curiosity and ability for fast learning thus strengthening their base for learning for life.

Judith North NOWarchitecture.