Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education makes a substantial emphasis on collaborative projects. Project work is something most students encounter at school or later at the university. However, nothing prevents you for taking on projects with your child much earlier. It could be a valuable way for kids to learn new things and present what they have already learned to their parents, teachers, and to each other. Children who are early engaged in project work show better command of creative tools and instruments used later in their studies. They easily proceed from exploration to representation, which has a positive impact on their development in late preschool years. Projects also effectively expand children’s vocabulary.
Project work, or ‘progettazione’ in Italian, is an integral part of the curriculum at Reggio Emilia schools for multi-age groups, starting as early as around two years. For preschoolers, it is an innovative and yet a well explored pedagogical method to learn about the world and the way how to express themselves. Let’s see what are the main features of the project framework.
Elements of Project Approach
The project framework at Reggio Emilia has a number of distinguishing features and elements based on the Reggio Emilia philosophy.
- Holistic approach. Learning and creativity come together, and most activities are play-based.
- Symbolic representations. Teachers encourage cognitive learning through drawing, modelling, building blocks and more.
- Guided exploration. Children explore themes and events relevant to them under teacher’s guidance.
- Long-term perspective. Some projects at Reggio Emilia preschools may last up to several months.
- Multi-modal learning. The Reggio Emilia method encourages multi-dimensional and multichannel interactions with the environment.
What are the most necessary elements of Reggio Emilia projects?
• Cherishing children’s interests
At any school, teachers lead their pupils on the road of knowledge and exploration. Anyway, it’s a bilateral process, and teachers learn from kids, too. All Reggio Emilia projects start from careful exploration of children’s interests, carried out by teachers. For example, younger kids may be interested in such topic as sensory exploration, colors or differences between them and other children.
• Organized documentation
In the Reggio Emilia approach, activities are systematically documented, both for memories and to track progress.
Teachers should pay attention to children’s ideas and reactions and take notes of them at all phases of project work. Returning to these notes, comparing them with earlier records reveals kid’s progress at learning and development.
• Asking questions
Inquiry is the most important element of self-learning, and Reggio preschool teachers believe that children have the right to ask their own questions to the world. At classes, children are free to raise a question that grabs them and work it through with means available to them. Teachers are still responsible for creating a specific aim for each class and following it together.
• Collaboration and reflection
Socializing is one of the key mission at Reggio Emilia preschools. It is achieved by working on projects together in a study group and collaborative discussions. Children learn to articulate similarities and differences between their approaches, and respect each other and their teachers.
Every project ends with a shared representation of what has been learned. The ability to produce a clear representation of another object or idea comes after 3 years, and, before it happened, smaller kids are taught to depict and compare their experiences in a way that is natural for them.
What are common steps of successful project work? Let’s look at them and highlight their specific features.
• Selecting the topic
At Reggio Emilia schools, projects begin with careful observation of the children and their interests. Then comes brainstorming, and after that, teachers create individualized project plans and instructions tailored to actual children’s needs.
• Preparation and exploration
When working with younger kids, teachers arrange materials themselves and create a friendly environment to provoke kid’s curiosity. Children explore opportunities through demonstration of unusual and unexpected approaches to the environment. Older kids are able to carry forward the project theme by themselves.
At this stage, Reggio preschool teachers help children find answers to their questions. The study process continues with modelling unique learning experiences that help kids find answers to their questions. It is very important to keep track of initial ideas and consequently develop the project over the period of several days or even weeks.
• Discussion and representation
At this stage, children share and discuss their ideas with the teacher. For example, after coming from field trips or excursions, the group may share observational drawings and notes. Young learners enjoy sharing products of their activities: it validates children’s self-esteem. Children represent their findings in a form of drawings, clay models, role playing etc. Younger kids use play dough and building blocks. Children who are already familiar with scissors and glue can use magazines, photographs and pictures to make collages and express their ideas.
The last stage of the project is summary. Teachers evaluate the results of kids’ explorations and their accomplishments, as well as themselves, from a non-competitive perspective. At Reggio Emilia, project work is seen as a spiraling process. It means that the cycle may be repeated, and its results will be compared to the previous cycle. It is also a bilateral process, so teachers are willing to learn something new from kids.
Reggio Emilia approach is oriented at raising children as creative thinkers and self-motivated explorers. Early introduced, project work helps them develop connections between primary activities, like playing, exploring and expressing oneselves. It encourages curiosity and active approach to learning. Children ponder meaningful questions about the big world and generate new ideas to answer them.
Teachers at Reggio Emilia see learning as an inspiring journey that lasts for a life. Children experience many important encounters at the beginning of this journey: they meet new people, both kids and adults, get acquainted with them and involve in natural and enriching communication. With smart guidance from their teachers, they grow respectful of their teachers and the environment.