Tapestries mono orange

What is Reggio Emilia? A Q&A with Leslie Gleim

An international exhibit at UH West Oahu opened this week on the Reggio Emilia educational philosophy. We spoke with Leslie Gleim, Mid-Pacific Elementary's pedogogista, to learn more.

Interview Education
Hawaii Independent Staff

1. Where does the Reggio philosophy come from? Why was it developed?

Its early roots rise out of the end of World War II. The people of Italy had experienced the terror of war first hand, much like here in Hawai‘i. In a small village in Italy Loris Malaguzzi was a young teacher at the time when he came upon a group of women and families who were combing the remains of their city. They shared with him that they were going to build a school. They literally began with a tank, a few trucks and horses and salvaged the remains from bombed houses in order to start anew. This was Malaguzzi’s first school. Later he moved to the town of Reggio Emilia where he began his work with the state-run municipal schools for young children.

2. What’s unique about the approach?

When we peel away at the many contextual differences at the core – or perhaps the core – the difference is the image of the child. How does one view children? Are children empty vessels that need to be filled with knowledge or are do they come to us competent, rich, vibrant and full of wonder? The Reggio approach looks at children as filled with knowledge and capable of framing their own learning. In doing so the children’s questions and interest becomes the curriculum.

In a Reggio or Reggio-inspired school there isn’t a set “curriculum,” lessons, or themes, instead the heart of the children’s learning comes from their interactions and work within an intentionally planned environment along with project work. Project work is very different from themes and lessons in that project work is framed around the children’s questions, theories and hypotheses. Pedagogically the Reggio philosophy centers on what is known as social constructivism. It believes that children construct and create their own learning, but unlike the Montessori philosophy the Reggio approach believes that children learn best from each other. This is why large and small group work is valued.

The Reggio approach also values the hundreds of languages of children. Children have a hundred ways of knowing and working. The atelier is unique to the Reggio approach. The word atelier means studio or artist workshop, however in Reggio and Reggio-inspired schools the atelier is viewed not only as space were children encounter multimedia – clay, wire, paper, drawing, natural materials – but it is a space that nurtures the processes of learning. Each atelier has an Atelierista, a trained artist who works alongside the teachers in the project work of the schools, and nurturing the “hundreds of languages.”

One important value is something I alluded to briefly about the environment. The Reggio approach strongly values the classroom environment; the environment is the “third teacher.” The classroom environment is thoughtfully “designed” in how it is set up and “seeded” with materials for the children to work on. Often what is set up is around the childrens’ interests and work.

Another thing that is unique about the approach is the use of documentation. The teachers carefully document the work that happens daily in the classroom, through the use of video, audio and digital cameras. When I use the word “work” - this has broad connotations - what is documented is conversations and actual work/play in the classroom. The teachers then look at and analyze the documentation closely and it becomes what I like to think of as a fluid and ever changing curriculum, based on children’s thinking and wonder.