An engaging learning landscape filled with play is the Reggio Emilia way.
Preschoolers engage in creative play to make connections between what they already understand and their surrounding environment. Simply said, play is the work of young children. The best preschools and daycares organize their day around the framework of play. Early childhood educators engage their students to develop and grow through enriching play experiences. Creative play also develops the necessary skills to be prepared for later learning. To enter a busy preschool classroom is to realize children thrive when their learning environment allows creative exploration. Who determines the direction and materials in the learning environment is what makes the Reggio Emilia approach to preschool education unique.
Most preschool and daycare programs organize around a prepared curriculum. Early childhood educators decide which activities should be introduced to their students organized around a school calendar year. Sometimes it appears we teach preschool from holiday to holiday. In a Reggio Emilia classroom, however, there is “not a pre-set curriculum, but a process of inviting and sustaining learning.”
The teacher serves as the facilitator by having resources at hand to enhance learning through play. The teacher is guided by a keen understanding of young children in general, but also uses careful observation and dialogue with each child. The Reggio Emilia theory suggests children are active participants who are assumed to have “an interest in constructing their learning.” This close relationship allows children to steer the direction of their learning.
Other key components are found in Reggio Emilia based programs. Children, parents and educators join together in the process of learning. “For children to learn their well-being has to be guaranteed. Such well-being is connected with the well being of parents and teachers.” Both indoor and outdoor environments are carefully arranged. The learning environment must offer a balance between large group, small group, child-directed and teacher facilitated activities.
The learning environment is referred to as the child’s “third teacher.” Each staff includes an atelierista, a teacher with a background in visual arts. A fully equipped arts studio is an integral part of learning environment. In the atelier, the children explore “the whole cognitive/symbolic expression involved in the process of learning.”
No need to rethink your classroom just yet. You may already be a Reggio Emilia theorist. A perfect example would be when you set out the blocks and trucks for creative play. But somehow, all the blocks end up in housekeeping. Together, the children design and build an elaborate castle using teamwork. When this type of cooperative engagement occurs in your classroom, you have just experienced a Reggio Emilia moment of pure play.