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Competent, Curious & Confident Children: What is the Reggio Emilia educational approach?

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Children as young as six stressed about tests. Little kids who do too much homework and memorising, and not enough playing.

More parents are concerned with the effects of rigid testing and academic expectations on their children too young and too soon. More have been opting for different educational approaches. One alternative early years teaching method that has appealed to parents is the Reggio Emilia approach. But what is it exactly?

• Reggio Emilia Who?

Ah, but it’s not a person! Reggio Emilia is actually an area in Northern Italy, where Loris Malaguzzi, a teacher, worked on a new approach for early childhood education. He believed that children were competent, curious and confident individuals, and able to thrive in a self-guided learning environment.

Okay, so what is the Reggio Emilia philosophy?

At the heart of this approach? A belief that young children are not empty memory banks, waiting to be filled with facts and figures!

The Reggio Emilia curriculum is a flexible one that grows from children’s thoughts, ideas and curiosities. It sees expressive arts playing a central role in learning. Importantly, there is a unique reciprocal learning relationship between teacher and child. There is also a very strong emphasis on the child’s social development. The children are taught to understand they are part of a community. They learn how to cultivate their relationships with other children, their family, and teachers.

Ultimately, the Reggio goal is to cultivate a lifelong passion for learning and exploration.

What exactly is ‘Expressive Arts’?

This philosophy believes that kids use many different ways – ‘One Hundred Languages’ – to express their understanding, thoughts and creativity. And because they have these different ways of expression, there will be plenty of drawing, sculpturing, pretend-play, drama, dance and movement, and music involved.

But what will the children base their learning on?

The children will see their own ideas, thoughts and observations shaping the Reggio Emilia curriculum. The curriculum is flexible and project-oriented. To cultivate a lifelong passion for learning and exploration, children are encouraged to be researchers. Many of the projects taken on by the children will be based on their own interests and curiosities, and they can actively participate, explore and question things. Through interactions with peers, educators, parents and the environment, every child grows into an independent and imaginative doer, thinker and learner.

• Projects? What kind of projects will they do?

The children will take part in open-ended and long-term projects in small groups. There will be a balance between what the teacher directs, and what the children initiates. For example, a project may be inspired by a child coming to school with new shoes. The project could involve a journey that finds out how shoes are made, perhaps by visiting a shoe-making workshop. The children would talk about form and design. If there’s a question on how pasta is made, the children may again go through an investigation about where it originates from, its ingredients, how it’s produced and any other questions that may arise. With these projects, children are indirectly introduced and exposed to culture, geography, biology, language and creativity. As projects grow from the children’s interests, the opportunities to learn are endless.

A student at the Odyssey learning about tea making and preparation.

Wait a minute, is there any actual observation involved? How will I know my child is learning?

In this early education approach, a lot of attention is actually given to detailed observation and documentation of learning. But the learning process takes firm priority over the final product.

What are the schools like? What will be my involvement? 

Reggio Emilia classrooms are designed to look and feel like home. There are no set lesson plans and the schools emphasise the importance of parents taking an active role in their child’s education. So be prepared to be quite involved!

One of the fundamental principles under the child-centric Reggio approach is also an emphasis of the environment as the ‘Third Teacher’. Here, the environment is seen as a living space where children are able to explore their learning through social interactions and experimentation. An Odyssey outdoor environment has various choices of creative learning extensions to enrich the child’s adventures outdoors.

Has this approach been proven to do well?

International recognition for the approach increased in 1991, when a panel of educational experts commissioned by Newsweek magazine identified Reggio Emilia preschools as one of the “best top ten schools in the world”. Several awards have also been bestowed on Reggio Emilia schools and its educators. In 1992, Malaguzzi was awarded the Danish LEGO Prize for his outstanding work in the field of early childhood education. A year later, Reggio schools were given an award by the Kohl Foundation in Chicago. In 1994, the Hans Christian Andersen Prize was also awarded to Reggio schools in recognition of their work.

Similarly, The Odyssey in Singapore has earned awards with the highest standard of accreditation by govern bodies. This includes SPARK, ECDA and the Singapore Environment Council School Green Award. Subsequently, in 2017, The Odyssey in Malaysia was awarded Best Preschool Curriculum, Best Integrated Education Centre and Best Outdoor Learning Experience award in the BabyTalk Readers’ Choice Award.

Where can I find a Reggio Emilia school in Malaysia for my child?

Odyssey, The Global Playschool offers an award-winning curriculum within a fully equipped Reggio Emilia inspired campus in Setia Eco Park. Specially designed for innovative and exploratory learning for children, Odyssey has offered the Reggio Emilia method of learning for Malaysian children since 2014. Unique facilities include a purpose-built atelier and a state-of-the-art music room with imported instruments. Each classroom is also equipped with a special corner known as the Ray of Light, a unique space for children to explore the function of lights.

Plenty of exposure to music and music-making at The Odyssey playschool.

What can parents expect from a school like Odyssey and a Reggio Emilia early years curriculum?

It is a curriculum designed with the developmental milestones and characteristics of children of this age group in mind. There are story-based experiences that integrate language and math, complemented by extensions into gross motor activities, Little Chef, Outdoor Learning Experiences (OLE) and Emotional Cultural Quotient (ECQ). There is also an amazing Art Odyssey, Chinese Language Immersion, and Letterland, among many others. Letterland is the learning of letter sounds and letters of the alphabet through visual, auditory and kinaesthetic experiences centred around Letterland characters.

Students learning Chinese characters at the Odyssey.

For more on the Odyssey, The Global Playschool, or the Reggio Emilia philosophy, please visit its website here or its Facebook site. The pre-school is an award winning preschool employing the Reggio-Emilia framework to meet the developmental needs of children aged 18 months to 6 years old. With more alternative approaches to early education that consider and respect children’s innate abilities, this can only be good news for more bright and bold kids who love lifelong learning.

By Nellie Liang

This is a sponsored post presented by Global Educare Sdn Bhd

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