07 May 2010

the other Italian early childhood approach

Many Americans with young children arrive in Italy expecting to find Montessori preschools,  only to discover that in certain regions they can be quite difficult to locate.  In fact, in my province there is an abundance of excellent child care / preschool options, ranging from those run by the state, the commune, and the church, to the purely private facilities.  I think that one, yes, only one, (maybe two) of those in our province are considered Montessori, and Italians generally aren't very interested in that one way or another...at least the ones I've met.

Somehow, we've all heard of the Montessori method, developed by Italy's Maria Montessori, but outside of early childhood circles, not many  Americans know about another of Italy's lauded early childhood methods:  the Reggio Emilia approach.  The method, pioneered by Loris Malaguzzi, has developed in the the years following WWII in the child care facilities of the Northern Italian city of Reggio Emilia. The philosophy has been quite successful and has spread to other areas of the country and even outside of the country.  Its success has been studied by a host of education scholars like Harvard's much-respected Howard Gardner (multiple intelligences guru), who has declared that the preschools in Reggio Emilia are the most impressive that he has seen the world over.

What is it, you ask?  Want to know more?  I'm not expert, just a concerned mother who happens to be an educator of older children.  Check out the links I've collected:

The Innovative Teacher Project provides an excellent summary of the methodology.

Some other links:
Montessori vs Reggio Emilia
The Hundred Languages of Children by Edwards, Gandini and Forman (online book available through Google books)
Understanding Reggio Fundamentals
North American Reggio Emilia Alliance

My daughter has attended a private school that follows the tenets of the Reggio Emilia philosophy, for the most part. (There's always that pesky, pushy reading teacher, who we love so much, who has an approach all her own. Young One is experiencing reading success now, BTW.)  Selecting the school for her was a stroke of genius luck:  I had no idea of the philosophy of the school -- only that is was immaculately clean,  had great natural lighting with large windows, and came recommended by my Italian tutor.   The owners were extremely professional upon our first meeting and, like most things with moms and their kids, it just felt right.  The children were joyful. Well, and honestly, I was pretty desperate and quite determined to place her in an Italian setting.  Any school that changes all children into pj's for naptime can't be half bad, right?  Of course, the convenient location and liberal hours helped in making the decision.  (The cost, however, did not. This private facility is quite expensive.)  After a brief period of inserimento, I was hooked.

I later learned of the Reggio Emilia connection when I saw "Reggio Children" training certificates displayed in the offices.  I think I've honed my detective skills since living here, as I'm constantly looking for clues to help me to make sense of the culture, of my life in the culture.  I spend a bunch of time "trying to figure it out."  It is no easy task, but I insist on living outside of the bubble as much as I can. It ain't easy.

The Young One was just over a year old when she entered, and the term there is nearing its end.  In reading the articles in the links, much of what has been done and the way it has been done in the past five years makes sense.  They don't sell themselves with "We're a Reggio Emilia preschool; therefore, we are better than the rest of the world.  How could you not select us?"  None of that foolishness.

If I had to choose the childcare again, I would not change a thing.  Not a single thing.  Not one. (Well, maybe I would quit working & keep her home with me, but that's a different post AND would not have helped much in giving the gift of bilingualism. Is that a word?)

A poem from Malaguzzi --

The Hundred Languages

No way. The hundred is there.
The child
is made of one hundred.
The child has
a hundred languages
a hundred hands
a hundred thoughts
a hundred ways of thinking
of playing, of speaking.
A hundred always a hundred
ways of listening
of marveling, of loving
a hundred joys
for singing and understanding
a hundred worlds
to discover
a hundred worlds
to invent
a hundred worlds
to dream.
The child has
a hundred languages
(and a hundred hundred hundred more)
but they steal ninety-nine.
The school and the culture
separate the head from the body.
They tell the child:
to think without hands
to do without head
to listen and not to speak
to understand without joy
to love and to marvel
only at Easter and at Christmas.
They tell the child:
to discover the world already there
and of the hundred
they steal ninety-nine.
They tell the child:
that work and play
reality and fantasy
science and imagination
sky and earth
reason and dream
are things
that do not belong together.
And thus they tell the child
that the hundred is not there.
The child says:
No way. The hundred is there.
-Loris Malaguzzi (translated by Lella Gandini)
Founder of the Reggio Emilia Approach

Holy Crap!  I'm afraid that scuola elementare next year might be just a little bit different, just a little.
We are in for a ride beginning at the end of September. . . join us,  won't you?

Inserimento is the process by which children are acclimated to the new environment of the child care center,  usually in a small increments of time with a parent present.  Babies and toddlers are not allowed to just start on any given day. . . they are eased into it over a period of time.  Each child's inserimento rate is determined by the needs of the child.  Makes sense, doesn't it.   Why do we, as a rule, not do that in our country?  For her first week, I was with the kid every step of the day.  It also gave me incredible insight into the workings of the center.  Win. Win.

Scoula elementare has no inserimento. Yikes.


  1. Wow! I wish I would've read this post three years ago! What a great collection of links! Now...what do you know about schools in Japan?

  2. I love this poem and I wish that I had that approach for my oldest child who is very bright and inquisitive, but has had a very difficult time in the school setting. We even went to the lengths to have him tested for ADHD, but the phychologist said no it was the school setting that was the problem not the child. He is bright. When he is finished with his work they have wanted him to sit there for up to 10 minutes with nothing to do while the other children finished. Finally, he is now allowed to read a book, but this has not come without lots of tears.

  3. I have had a long time interest in the Reggio approach...we've never lived anywhere with a school, although they are becoming more popular in States, but I have tried to incorporate the ideas into our learning at home. So I was very disappointed to learn that there were no Reggio schools in Sicily...I e-mailed the international contact person before our move here. You and your daughter are so lucky that she is able to experience it. I hope it continues to spread...thanks for this post. Still eagerly awaiting the report on your upcoming school trip :)

  4. Wow! Very well said! We lived in the Veneto for 5 years, but moved to Puglia 3 years ago... just at the time my daughter was to start the first year of the asilo. I am American, and though my husband is Italian, we have always spoken English in the home. For me, starting school at 3 was for "the gift of bilingualism" too! I can't say that the preschools in this area are quite as neat as yours sounded, but I am happy to say that my daughter just started first grade and is doing great! It is an adventure, always, here as an expat... I love finding others who have braved this life as well!!!