Theorist in the Spotlight: The Reggio Emilia Approach - Sticks & Stones Education

Theorist in the Spotlight: The Reggio Emilia Approach

Theorist in the Spotlight: The Reggio Emilia Approach

The Origins of the Reggio Emilia Approach

The Reggio Emilia approach was based on Loris Malaguzzi’s methodology of teaching.  It was established during the post World War II era in Italy in which the country had the strong desire to bring about change through economic and social development, especially in the field of education. 

Schools were opened across the countryside to support children in overcoming the trauma of war.  In fact, the approach is named for the region of Italy where the schools began: Reggio Emilia. This movement was driven by parents and community members with a strong desire to better the world for the children of their community. 

Loris Malaguzzi

Malaguzzi’s background was eclectic to say the least and it can be used to explain his theoretical approaches to education, particularly in early childhood. He was a teacher, journalist, and later a psychologist. His interests lay in the theatre, cinema, art, sport, education as well as politics. It only seems natural that he would pen the poem The Hundred Languages of Children when he himself had a hundred languages in which he expressed himself. 

What is the Reggio Emilia Approach in Early Childhood Education?

The Reggio Emilia approach is an educational philosophy and pedagogy with a strong focus on the early years. This approach is child centred and a constructivist self-guided curriculum.

It encourages students to use their independence and direct their own learning through trial and error and experimenting. The Reggio Emilia Approach has strong foundations through the relationships that are formed through the teaching and learning proces. The programme is based on the principles of respect, responsibility and community through exploration, discovery, and play.

Loris Malaguzzi quote

At the core of this philosophy is the assumption that children develop their own personality within the early years and that they can express themselves and their ideas though ‘a hundred languages'. The underlying purpose of the Reggio approach is to encourage children to freely express themselves and use symbolic languages such as painting, sculpting and drama in context of their everyday lives.  

The Reggio Emilia approach is based upon the following set of principles:

  • Children must have some control over the direction of their learning;
  • Children must be able to learn through experiences of touching, moving, listening, and observing;
  • Children have a relationship with other children and with material items in the world that they must be allowed to explore;
  • Children must have endless ways and opportunities to express themselves.

There is a strong focus that the close relationships that children share with the environment and how they develop their natural abilities through learning is at the heart of the Reggio Emilia Approach.

Within this approach it is believed that children have rights and should be encouraged to develop and explore their own potential, ambitions and desires - instead of being viewed as the passive target of the instruction, children are an active constructor of knowledge.

Children are given an active role within their learning and development by undertaking projects within the classroom, in which they can explore, observe, hypothesise, and post questions.

Children are viewed as social beings and a focus is placed upon the relationships children have with other children, their families, teachers and the broader community. 

loris malaguzzi quote

Teachers within the Reggio Emilia Approach are considered co-learners and collaborators with children and are not viewed as an instructor. Teachers are encouraged to facilitate children’s learning through carefully planned lessons that are based on the children’s interests. Instead of passively observing the child, teachers actively encourage children to further engage in their own learning journey through asking questions to further develop their understanding of the world in which they reside. Sound familiar? This is the foundation of the phrase "Intentional Teaching".

Malaguzzi believed that the environment was a vital part in children’s learning and considered it to be 'the third teacher’. In fact the phrase "the third teacher" is a large part of contemporary Australian early childhood education. Yup. In fact this is one of the key quality elements of the National Quality Standard.

The importance of the environment lies within the belief that children can best create meaning of their world through their environment. This further supports their evolving relationships, not only within the classroom space, but with people, their experiences and expressing their ideas. 

Further Reading on Reggio Emilia Approach and Loris Malaguzzi:

Want to learn more about theorists, theories and thought leaders that have shaped the landscape of early childhood education in Australia and the world? We have a blog of Almost 100 Theorists, Theories and Thought Leaders for Early Childhood Educators. 


Reggio Children: The Reggio Emilia Approach® is an educational philosophy based on the image of a child with strong potentialities for development and a subject with rights, who learns through the hundred languages belonging to all human beings, and grows in relations with others.

Wikipedia: Reggio Emilia Approach

The Reggio Emilia Australia Information Exchange (REAIE) is a national reference organisation for the educational project of Reggio Emilia in Australia, and an invited member of the Reggio Children International Network.

Written by Elise Waghorn &  Gabrielle Flavin


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