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The Director of the Ivanhoe Girls' Early Learning Centre recently visited Reggio Emilia, the Italian city famous for its approach to early education.

Reggio Emilia is a beautiful city in the north of Italy. It’s in an area famous for cheese and balsamic vinegar but also for an innovative early education approach. Reggio Emilia preschools emerged post-war, established by members of the community. After World War II, these communities had strong ideas about democracy, injustice and inequality and wanted schools to encourage children to hope and aspire to a better world. In the Reggio Emilia framework, children are viewed as having rights, not just needs, and being important members of their community. 

One of my university lecturers introduced me to Reggio Emilia almost 30 years ago and a visit has been high on my wish list ever since. The ideas and principles have always resonated with me and I knew that being able to visit in person would be very powerful. I was thrilled to be able to attend an intensive study tour in January 2020. I recently shared some of my experiences with the Early Learning Centre (ELC) team, some of our specialists and our Admissions team. We enjoyed some Italian food and music while I shared images from one of the workshops we were involved in. 

This visit has facilitated many conversations and reflections. It is not a method to be learnt and replicated but a way of thinking, a way of relating to children and considering the complex ways in which they learn.

The image of the child is one of the principles that has most informed our practice. Loris Malaguzzi, one of the founders of the Reggio Emilia approach said:

“A simple, liberating thought came to our aid, namely that things about children and for children are only learned from children”. — (Malaguzzi, 1998)

Each one of us has an image of the "child' that impacts how we connect, react and respond with them. At the Early Learning Centre, we believe that if we view children as competent and capable we will help build their independence, resilience, social skills and wellbeing. Helping children to see themselves as capable is one of the first goals we have for our students, and one of the many things we speak to parents about when their children start in the ELC. 

This goal can be realised in many different ways. It might be as simple as facilitating opportunities for children to become more independent, take responsibility for their belongings and actions or as complex as engaging the children in authentic problem solving. Early in the term, we noticed patterns in how the monkey bars were being used. The more confident children would climb to the top and sit for lengthy periods or explore a broader range of "tricks". This was great to see, but also meant there were some children who were missing out on the time and space to build their skills within their capabilities. It would have been easy for us as the educators to make the rules about how the girls use this area. Instead we met with the group and put the problem to them. Giving the girls a voice and some agency demonstrates our view of children being capable and competent. The ideas that emerged during our "Monkey bar meeting" demonstrated sensitivity, fairness and consideration; dispositions we may have missed if we fixed the problem ourselves.

Great things happen when we provide a safe environment for children to explore ideas without fear of failing and create a structure that ensures they have the tools to make informed choices.

This is just a tiny part of the image of the child principle and only one of the many principles of the Reggio Emilia approach that the ELC team will be exploring as part of our own research project this year.

Bernadette Gioia
Director of the Early Learning Centre