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This Q&A gives educators answers to questions about building optimal Reggio Emilia-inspired early childhood classrooms.

What is a Reggio Emilia-inspired classroom?

Reggio Emilia is a city in Italy that began an arts-based approach to early childhood education focused on valuing children as capable and creative learners. Now it has spread beyond Italy to many countries. We call it “Reggio Emilia-inspired” in the United States because we are inspired by the original schools in Reggio Emilia. Read about the variety of ways to educate young children, including the Reggio Emilia approach, in our Q&A: Approaches to Early Childhood Education.

A Reggio Emilia-inspired educator is a person who has adopted the approach and philosophy of Reggio Emilia. In a Reggio Emilia-inspired classroom, children are competent and active learners. The Reggio Emilia approach is flexible and can adapt to various local and cultural contexts. Learn more about the elements of the Reggio Emilia inspired classroom in Inspired by Reggio Emilia: Emergent Curriculum in Relationship-Driven Learning Environments.

What are key components of a Reggio Emilia-inspired classroom?

The key components of a Reggio Emilia-inspired classroom include: the 100 languages of children, the environment as the third teacher, and documentation and display.

In a Reggio Emilia inspired classroom, creativity is valued. In most American preschool classrooms, communication is mainly shown by speaking orally or in written formats. In Reggio Emilia-inspired classrooms, educators believe there are 100 languages to communicate, and many include the arts.  In most Reggio Emilia classrooms in Italy and in some Reggio Emilia-inspired classrooms in the U.S., there is an Atelier; this is a dedicated creative space where children can explore their 100 languages through a variety of media and art supplies. Read the poem about 100 Languages for more information.

The environment is the third teacher in the Reggio Emilia-inspired classroom. This means that children learn as much, if not more, from the classroom environment and materials, than from the teacher. This may sound curious, but in a Reggio Emilia-inspired classroom, children are encouraged to explore the classroom materials that the teachers have intentionally prepared based on the children’s interests and their class’ focus and study. In this way, children’s exploration and engagement with these materials and the classroom environment shows evidence of skill building and learning in a variety of domains. Educators preparing these materials for use in the classroom is a form of lesson planning.

Learning is made visible to parents and caregivers through the process of documentation. In a Reggio Emilia-inspired classroom, it is common to see large bulletin boards inside or outside of the classroom, displaying photos and dictation of an exploration that the children have recently completed, or that is in process. For example, if they have recently been studying butterflies, there may be: photos the children have taken of butterflies, sketches children have completed of butterflies, a written list of butterfly parts, and a dictated reflection from several students based on what they learned about butterfly migration and flight. Children’s work is put up for documentation and display of learning in process. This documents the process of learning, rather than only the final product.

For more information on the key components of Reggio Emilia, explore the resources in: The Reggio Emilia Approach.

How can teachers bring in Reggio Emilia ideas into their classrooms?

It is not enough to simply have the space and the creative materials available; the Reggio Emilia-inspired educator must be ready to build curriculum off of the children’s interests. This requires the teacher to observe the children carefully in the classroom and listen to what they have to say, so they can build and organize learning experiences that are challenging yet developmentally appropriate. It may all begin with a question, such as, “Where does the water in the sink come from?” This one question may spark a study for the class or for a small group.

A teacher in the Reggio Emilia-inspired classroom can play the role of the researcher at times. The teacher studies the children and tries to understand them and their learning process more fully. Teachers can bring Reggio Emilia into their classroom by adopting  a researcher’s disposition toward the children and their learning and progress. Note-taking and observational records are useful tools.

Teachers inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach may consider going into nature, visiting a museum, or reading a book or article. Teachers who demonstrate being inspired and open to ideas also help to inspire creativity and learning with the children.

Get more ideas on how to bring Reggio Emilia into your classroom in the article: An Approach for All Children: Reinterpreting the Reggio Emilia Approach in the USA

How can literacy be taught through the Reggio Emilia approach?

In the early childhood years, it is essential to learn how to communicate. And in a Reggio Emilia-inspired classroom using the idea of the 100 Languages and documentation, children’s communication skills are frequently practiced and refined. For example, if a class has been studying evergreen trees, some children and a teacher may sit together in a small group and discuss what they noticed on their recent winter nature walk. The teacher would write down everything each child says about the trees they saw. “The tree had needles.” “The tree did not lose its leaves.” These dictations become part of their documentation board.

The teacher could then use this time to have further conversation and debate about the topic, engaging higher-level thinking skills, with some questions like “Why do you think this tree didn’t lose its needles?” “I noticed the trees that kept their needles or leaves were all green. There were no orange or yellow or red leaves. I wonder why?” After a discussion, the teacher may encourage the children to ‘do further research’ by looking through some books that have been carefully curated by the teacher on the topic of trees.

You can learn more about how early literacy instruction was integrated in a lab school setting using the Reggio Emilia approach in our podcast episode: Building Literacy Through Reggio Emilia Inspiration.

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About this resource

Setting(s) for which the article is intended:
  • Family Child Care
  • Child Care Center
  • Preschool Program

Intended audience(s):
  • Teachers / Service providers

Age Levels (the age of the children to whom the article applies):
Reviewed: 2024