Impressions of Reggio: Viva la Similarity!
By Jennifer Winters, Assistant Director
Visiting the acclaimed municipal preschool programs in Reggio Emilia, three colleagues and I were struck by fundamental parallels between the Italian school and Bing.
On the October study tour of the municipal preschool system in the city of Reggio Emilia, Nandini Bhattacharjya, Andrea Hart Rees, Sarah Wright, and I joined 200 early childhood educators from around the world to listen to the Italian educators describe their history and approach. We visited five of the 33 affiliated nursery schools: one for infant-toddlers (asili nido) and four for 3- to 6-year-olds (scuole dell’infanzia).
Reggio Emilia is a small, affluent city that launched a municipal nursery school system 40 years ago in response to a postwar sociopolitical movement to raise the standards of early childhood care and education. Today, the innovative system is widely regarded as one of the finest in the world.
Six concepts guide its philosophy:
• The child as protagonist, collaborator and communicator
• The teacher as partner, nurturer, guide and researcher
• Cooperation as the foundation of the educational system
• The environment as the “third teacher”
• The parent as partner
• Documentation as communication
Study group discussions and lectures shed light on this philosophy, but it was seeing the actual schools—above all, the interactions among teachers, children and parents—that really crystallized our understanding of the pedagogy.
Core similarities between Reggio and Bing were unmistakable. Launched concurrently, both schools were influenced by the same trio of educational thinkers: John Dewey, Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky. Respect for children and their ideas is paramount in both programs, with teachers viewed as co-constructors of knowledge. At Bing, we believe in “treating the child as an honored guest,” while in Reggio, it is said that “the child is worthy of being listened to.”
Both schools also share a thoughtfully set-up and aesthetically pleasing environment. The physical space of Bing was designed by renowned local architect Birge Clark (1893-1989), who worked closely with founding director Edith Dowley. Indoors and outdoors, the setting welcomes children to become engaged. Teachers think carefully about classroom materials: what to select, how to display it and how to create a provocation. Nature is woven seamlessly into the classrooms, with children moving freely between inside and out. Each classroom yard features a variety of trees and shrubs, carefully selected so that something is blooming all year long (see The Tree Project on page 12), and hills for rolling have been built to help enhance the child’s physical self.
In Reggio, the environmental setting functions as a “third teacher,” designed to encourage encounters, communication and relationships. Class materials and equipment have a fundamental order. Nature is integrated with the schools so that children can appreciate the physical environment. Classrooms are full of light, openness and transparency, as well as enticing smells wafting from the kitchen.
The essential element of time is central to both schools’ philosophies. Both believe that children need time to focus on an activity at a deep level. “We want to give back to children what modern society has taken away,” Dowley once said of Bing. In Reggio, the children we saw never seemed to be in a hurry. There, time is seen as a gift we need to give all children.
After many years of attending early childhood conferences and roundtables that discussed and examined the Reggio Emilia philosophy and culture, it was an opportunity of a lifetime to see and hear firsthand what makes the program so outstanding. I was inspired by its aesthetics and its commitment to children and families—and was constantly reminded that there are far more similarities than differences between our two cultures.