Reggio Emilia Approach
When I first began homeschooling in 2001, there weren’t nearly enough books about homeschooling available at my local library (and the internet was still in it’s infancy and not a great place to turn for information). So I read everything they had about education in general, in addition to homeschooling-specific books.
I came across a very brief description of the Reggio Emilia approach in regards to preschools and primary schools, but nothing in regards to homeschooling, so I dismissed it. “The Well-Trained Mind,” which focuses on Classical education, struck a chord with me, so that was the direction in which I started off.
It wasn’t the best fit for my family, but I persevered for probably five years until I finally reached the point where I could wash my hands of it without feeling guilty. I’d been reading all that time, and the one philosophy that kept standing out to me was child-led learning and interest-led learning. Many educators like John Holt and John Taylor Gatto and Charlotte Mason and Louis Malaguzzi (founder of the Reggio Emilia approach) were basing their educational philosophies on that same idea.
It felt right, and it felt infinitely more enjoyable than what we had been struggling to accomplish, so we began incorporating more of those ideas into our homeschool. It brought back the joy to our homeschool!
Let’s look at the Reggio Emilia approach (also known as project-based homeschooling).
The History of the Reggio Emilia Approach to Education
Education was a hot topic all around the world in the years following WW2. Things were returning to normal and countries were prospering economically. When people aren’t struggling so much for their next bite of bread, they can focus more on things like studying child development and education.
Louis Malaguzzi, an Italian psychologist in the Reggio Emilia area of italy, developed the approach. It was made widely known to other educators worldwide, thanks to a touring exhibition, “A Child has 100 Languages. On Creative Pedagogy at Public Kindergartens in Reggio Emilia, Italy”, which opened in Stockholm, Sweden in 1981.
Meanwhile, organizations were formed in both Italy and the United States for the purpose of promoting the Reggio Emilia approach to education. While the principles will serve students well all through their educations, the Reggio Emilia approach is primarily used in preschools and primary schools. Schools following these principles outside of the Reggio Emilia region are called Reggio-inspired schools.
Many homeschools incorporate the ideas of the Reggio Emilia approach, but call it Project-Based Homeschooling, or PBH — same thing, different name.
What is the Reggio Emilia approach?
What is the Reggio Emilia Approach?
Reggio-inspired homeschools are project-based and interest-led. If a child shows interest in a certain subject and asks questions, the parent will support the child in learning the answers for himself. It is student-centered in that students learn in a self-directed, self-guided, experiential way, in collaboration with their parents.
Parents act as guides, working alongside a child to investigate his interests and ideas. Proponents of this educational approach laud its ability to inspire a lifelong love of learning.
The Reggio Emilia approach is an educational philosophy based on the idea that children are endowed with a “hundred languages” through with they express their ideas and feelings. The approach is based on teaching children how to use the arts to express themselves in everyday life.
Let’s talk about the different elements of the Reggio Emilia approach to education. Then we’ll talk about the ways in which this approach differs from Waldorf, Montessor and Charlotte Mason approaches.
Core Ideals of the Reggio Emilia Approach:
This approach is based on a few principles, and parents who are seeking to implement a Reggio-inspired homeschool can use these as a guideline:
1. Children are competent, curious, and interested in connecting to the world around them. Proponents of the Reggio Emilia approach agree that children are eager to initiate the learning process. They want to learn and make sense of their worlds. They are capable of understanding of how to learn on their own and should be treated as active collaborators in their education. In the beginning, you may need to stealthily augment their interests by strewing interesting books throughout your house or taking them fascinating places that get them asking questions. Make a habit of asking, “Do you want to learn more about this?” and providing support if they want it, or respecting a lack of interest. Some interests may peter out quickly while others become deep and abiding interests.
2. Children are natural collaborators and learn well through group projects. Projects are a big focus in Reggio-inspired homeschools and should primarily be initiated by students. The Reggio Emilia approach allows for close interaction between children and their parents as they collaborate on projects. Young children often work better in a community as opposed to independently. Instead of learning about one subject at a time, children are encouraged to incorporate multiple subjects within each project. A multi-sensory approach is also encouraged. Touching, listening, seeing, hearing and moving allow children to thoroughly understand.
3. Children are natural communicators. Communication through arts (painting, sculpting, music, theater, etc…) is imperative in Reggio homeschools. These ideas are laid out in ”The Hundred Languages of Children, written by the founder of the Reggio Emilia approach, Loris Malaguzzi. The main premise of The Hundred Languages is that children are natural communicators, and should be encouraged to communicate through whatever means they can. In the Reggio approach, children are talked with, listened to and respected. They are encouraged to use language (including sounds, rhyme and rhythm) to explore.
4. The learning environment is critical. Natural light, order and high-quality materials are pillars of a Reggio homeschool. Learning spaces should be inviting and comfortable, encouraging your child to work on their projects. Your child must be able to easily access what they need, to feel secure in using the space, and not need to stress about making messes. Projects should be open ended rather than craft-based. Always let your children lead. Only make suggestions if they ask for help, and even then sometimes a question is much more effective than an answer. Create an environment where all questions and interests are honored. All projects should stem from your child’s true interests – not yours, and not from any sort of list of grade level standards. Let them make mistakes and messes! Share your own work, hobbies and goals with your children; tell your children how you work through your frustrations and celebrate your successes. Model the process of thinking out loud as you work through your own projects, in order to give them a process to emulate. Another part of the learning environment is rich experiences. Provide field trips, afternoons at the library, and interesting community experiences. These will generate fabulous questions from which to explore and build projects.
5. Emergent learning. Because parents are observing their children at work and play, with the goal of leading children to answer their own questions, projects are difficult to pre-plan. Parents are merely collaborators in the learning process, allowing projects to emerge based on the interests of the children.
6. Documentation is an integral part of the method. Parents should keep a detailed learning journal, noting accomplishments and recording interests and especially questions. The journals enable the parent and the child to reflect on past projects and show the child that his work is valuable.
What does a Reggio Emilia approach look like?
Your homeschool can be allproject-based, or projects could just be a portion. In my homeschool, we use a math curriculum (Saxon math) daily, but we frequently study other subjects through interdisciplinary projects that often take the form of unit-studies. I call our approach eclectic with a bent toward unschooling, but it definitely borrows some ideals from the Reggio Emilia approach.
After reading The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, a few of my children asked if we could visit a Japanese internment camp. Topaz is just a couple of hours from us, so no problem! There happened to be a salt mine not too far down the road, so we visited both. That led to more questions in need of answers, which required a project involving chemistry and geology to answer.
A couple of years ago my sister gave us their old TV. It worked fine, they’d just purchased a new one and felt sorry for my children that we didn’t have one. Little did she realize that we didn’t have a TV because I didn’t want a TV, so we just took their old TV apart to inspect the fresnel lens inside. I showed my kids how the lens could amplify heat, and we boiled water on our driveway on a cold, wintry (but sunny) day.
My kiddos were intrigued and built solar ovens in which they had a grand time baking pizza and cookies and s’mores and every other treat they could think up. Then they wanted to know how lenses worked, which led them to a study of prisms, which led to a grand project on light.
One time our dryer broke. I didn’t want to buy a new one, so I decided to fix it myself via YouTube tutorials. My kiddos helped me open it up and asked a ton of questions about the motor. What a lot of fun projects that led to!
While touring China last year we ran across entire forests of dying trees around Beijing, slept in ‘kang’ beds in Datong, climbed to monasteries hanging from cliffs and watched an ancient Chinese music demonstration in a Drum Tower. So many wonderful questions!
While I utterly fail at documenting progress, I do excel at keeping a running inventory of questions. We’d studied China in our homeschool before leaving, but we studied it more purposefully and joyfully after returning, because the questions had more meaning to my children.
When my children own the questions, they are happy to take charge of the learning, and I am relegated to the position of ‘provider of materials and time’. All I have to do is schedule plenty of project time and make sure my kids have whatever materials they need.
We talk about the process of goal-setting and trial and error as we go, so my kiddos are learning how to learn while they are learning. And they own that knowledge because they took all the responsibility for learning it! Self-directed learning is complex, layered and deep, with no coercion, discipline nor tears. That’s what Reggio Emilia looks like in my homeschool.
Whatever you do, whether implementing a little Reggio here or a lot there, it should feel natural to your family, and it should be enjoyable. There’s no right or wrong way to homeschool. The right way for your family is whatever works best.
Differences between the Reggio Emilia, Montessori and Waldorf approaches:
The beauty of nearly all of the educational philosophies that have become popular for homeschool use is that they all focus on the education of the whole child. There are a few fundamental differences between them, however.
Academic subjects are not introduced until age 7 when using the Waldorf method because they are thought to be necessary but not especially enjoyable. Instead, the day in a Waldorf school is filled with imaginary play and arts. Montessori and Reggio Emilia methods both introduce academics much earlier.
While Waldorf is similar to Montessori and Reggio Emilia in terms of helping develop children, the educational style focuses more on creative play rather than a prepared environment learning style (Montessori) and a project-based free-form approach to children learning about what they are interested in as a group.
Reggio Emilia and Waldorf approaches both focus more on art and creativity than Montessori. In Waldorf, this is accomplished through imaginative play, drama, music, and story telling, while in Reggio, this is accomplished mainly through the fine arts, which allows kids to express themselves in many different ways.
Reggio Emilia Resources:
Want to learn more about the Reggio Emilia approach to homeschooling? Check your library, first, but Amazon (or thriftbooks.com) also offers used copies of the following books for cheaper than new.
Pickert brings the perspective of a Reggio Emilia expert turned homeschooling mom to her project-based homeschooling approach, which she describes through a weaving of learning foundation, concrete examples, and colorful suggestions. Project-based homeschooling combines children’s interests with long-term learning projects. This book is an introduction and guide to creating the circumstances under which children can teach themselves. The author gives parents advice for helping children do challenging, meaningful, self-chosen work and for mentoring independent, confident thinkers and learners.
This informative book is about the journey of an American teacher who traveled to Reggio Emilia, Italy, spent a year studying the approach and then returned to implement the principles in a group of American early childhood centers. It gives an excellent overview and I highly recommend it to anyone considering the Reggio approach in your homeschool.
This book, written by an American educator who worked in the world-famous schools, is full of practical, simple ways to bring the innovative practices of the schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy, into your classroom. She writes to classroom teachers, but her advice applies to homeschoolers as well. She suggests tools for organization, observation and questioning, attention to the learning environment, documentation of the projects and more. It’s more about ways to make the Reggio method work for you than it is about the Reggio philosophy.
Educators in Reggio Emilia, Italy, use a distinctive innovative approach that supports children’s well-being and fosters their intellectual development through a systematic focus on symbolic representation. From birth through age six, young children are encouraged to explore their environment and express their understanding through many modes of expression or “languages,” including verbal communication, movement, drawing, painting, sculpture, shadow play, collage, and music. This organic strategy has been shown to be highly effective, as the children in Reggio Emilia display surprising examples of symbolic skill and creativity. This book documents the Reggio Emilia approach, which utilized the “hundred languages of children” to foster intellectual development.
This practical, inspiring book introduces readers to the principles of the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education. It offers examples of how Reggio principles have enhanced classroom practices of a variety of child educators and how those involved with Reggio principles have enhanced their own classroom practices.
You’ll also find great information from other Reggio-inspired homeschools at the following sites:
10 Days of Project Based Learning by Our Journey Westward- a great introduction to the HOWS and WHYS of project-based learning.
PBH (Project-Based Homeschooling) Kids– 43 project ideas from project-based homeschoolers.
I hope that helps you better understand the Reggio Emilia approach to homeschooling, aka Project-Based Homeschooling!
Similarities and Differences Between Homeschooling Methods Comparison Chart
That’s a lot of information in uber tiny print. If it’s too difficult for you to read, feel free to download the Homeschooling Methods Chart pdf.
Which homeschooling method is right for my family?
The best possible advice you can receive from anyone who has been homeschooling for awhile is that you need to create your own unique approach to homeschooling. As you can see from the chart above, the various homeschooling methods have more similarities than they do differences.
Pick and choose the elements you like from each (the eclectic approach), or do something completely different. This is your homeschool. What’s your vision?
Would you like to know more about the other homeschooling methods?
Click the links to learn more about each of the following Homeschool Methods:
Reggio Emilia Approach(also known as project-based homeschooling)
Unit Studies Approach
Do you use the Reggio Emilia approach? How do you use projects in your homeschool? Please share in the comments below!