What is the Reggio Emilia approach?

You may have heard of the term the Reggio Emilia Approach or Reggio inspired and wondered what exactly it is. In this article I will explain what the Reggio approach means, in the simplest way I can.

What is Reggio?                                                                       

Reggio Emilia is a town in Italy in the Emilia Romagna Region.

The Reggio Emilia schools were built after the war by parents who wanted a better future for their children.

Loris Malaguzzi is a name you will often hear when referring to Reggio. Loris Malaguzzi* was a psychologist and a teacher and he is known as the founder of the Reggio Emilia approach as he was the pedagogical consultant to all the municipal schools who adopted his approach and theories of childhood education. 

What is the Reggio Approach?

The Reggio approach is a philosophy. Therefore in order to implement it into your home or classroom you need to understand the philosophy to adapt it to your situation.

There are no step-by-step instructions. Disappointing yes I know and yes, it would be easier if you could just follow a plan. But once you study and implement the approach you won’t be sorry.

Every school, class and country has different circumstances, rules, standards and level of parent involvement and so you will  have to find what works for you. 

While you might not be able to scrap weekly themes tomorrow and do whatever you want, there certainly are ways to incorporate parts of the Reggio philosophy in your classroom and even at home.

Reggio Emilia is also not the be all and end all regarding child development, it is important to know about all the philosophies and you can take what resonates with you and integrate a range of ideas into your pedagogy.

What are the Core Principles of the Reggio Philosophy?

The Image of the Child

As far as I am concerned this is the crux of the philosophy and if you take anything away from this article, I hope you take away how important the image of the child is.

The image of the child refers to how you as a parent/ teacher views the child. What do you believe children are capable or not capable of?

We all have views of the children from our own childhood, society etc but it is very important to take some time to reflect on your views and see if you still believe them to be true or can you change them?

As defined by Malaguzzi; the image of the child sees the child as ‘rich in potential, strong, powerful, competent, and most of all connected to adults and other children’ *

While taking into account developmentally and age appropriate practice. 

It means that your image of the child will affect how you teach/ parent and what you expect from the children and what type of activities you set out for them. For example, letting your children use ‘real’ china cups and plates. Pouring their own juice even if it spills. Dressing themselves, feeding themselves, discussing interesting topics such as how the brain works etc.  

Don’t get me wrong, we have to teach children how to use cups and plates and how to pour their own juice and give them opportunities to practice these skills. As difficult as it is, sometimes you have to trust them and step back and be there to support them. Perhaps take some time to reflect on your image of the child. 

You can use these questions to help you….

  1. What do you believe about children? Should they be seen and not heard, are they a blank slate waiting for you to give them all the information they need? Are they mini adults?
  2. What do you think children are capable of doing?
  3. Is there anything your child can do that you’re currently doing for them?
  4. Are there any beliefs you hold about children that you would like to let go of?

The Hundred Languages.

How can there be a hundred languages?

What Reggio refers to here is the way children express themselves. So perhaps, a hundred ways of expressing ourselves is another way to look at it.

Children can express themselves through construction, drawing, writing, dance, music, singing, clay, play etc. 

In early childhood it is important to let children express themselves in as many ways possible.

This means providing children with many different opportunities to explore different activities and media that they can use to express themselves.

The Environment as the Third Teacher

This will relate back to the image of the child, as your image of the child will determine what your environment is like.

The environment is not only the physical space but the people in the environment, the time table, the expectations etc.

Think about all the aspects that affect your environment and what messages they are sending to the children, are there any that can be changed?

Talking about the physical environment, Reggio classrooms tend to use many natural items and neutral tones and colours. The children bring the colour to the environment, in their spirits and their actual work that can be displayed around the rooms. 


Documentation is one aspect that sets Reggio apart from other educational practices.

It values the children’s thoughts and ideas and therefore relates back to the image of the child. Documentation is collecting drawings, videos, photographs and the children’s thoughts and conversation and use to guide their emergent curriculum. Instead of following weekly themes, Reggio schools work on long-term projects.

Long Term Projects and Emergent Curriculum

As mentioned above, the Reggio curriculum is emergent and does not follow weekly themes. In Reggio they follow the children’s interests.

How does one do that? You listen and observe the children, ask questions etc and find out what they are interested in or exploring.

In Reggio, projects can often last for a year. This does not mean they are working on the project every minute of every day. They will document the process and as teachers reflect on what the children are doing and saying, they then decide what provocations and questions they can pose to the children.

They will often revisit work with the children in order to restart their project so they can continue with it.

It can be complicated and takes time to get a handle on how to do a project and usually it helps to work as a team to share ideas and figure out a way forward.

Again there is no step-by-step project for you to copy from Reggio, it is more about the philosophy behind it and learning as you go.

While you might not be able to scrap weekly themes tomorrow and do whatever you want but there certainly are ways to incorporate parts of the Reggio philosophy in your classroom and even at home.

Reggio Emilia is also not the be all and end all regarding child development, it is important to know about all the philosophies and you can take what resonates with you and integrate a range of ideas into your pedagogy.

The Role of the Teacher 

In Reggio they use the term provocations to describe activities set out for the children as they are meant to provoke the children’s thinking.

Another way of looking at provocations is play invitations.

Provocations are inviting and interesting and the children can’t wait to get started.

Provocations are also open-ended meaning that they have no specific outcome but rather allow the children to be creative.

That is why in Reggio you will not find any crafts or worksheets. Crafts and worksheets are more about the adult than the child. How much can a child learn about themselves and the world around them by doing a predetermined craft or worksheet? What about the children that can’t complete the craft or worksheet properly, how will they end up feeling? Again this links back to the image of the child.

The Atelier and Atelierista

In Reggio they have Ateliers and mini Ateliers. Ateliers are a laboratory for learning, it is a place where children can work on projects, explore all different types of media and it is  a place for them to express themselves (the hundred languages).

The Atelier is most often run by an Atelierista, this is someone who has specialized knowledge in a particular field, such as art, photography etc. and they work with the children on their long term projects and teach the children how to use a variety of art media and techniques. 

I hope that you have enjoyed this article and check back on the blog for how you can implement the Reggio approach to your classroom or at home.



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