" How We Started
The answer to why we are applying Reggio is simple. Our mission, that we were given when we were first established and that we have zealously held for over 30 years of existence, has been to stay at the cutting edge of early childhood developmental practice and to integrate it into our Judaically based program.
Over these years we have searched for and studied the latest developments and brought them into our system, whether it was Vivian Paley and The Erikson Instituteï¿½s Early Literacy program, the ï¿½Math Their Wayï¿½ concepts reflecting Piaget and later research by Kamaii and Devries, or whether it was Vigotskyï¿½s theories that are truly revolutionizing the actual way in which teacherï¿½s work with children. These new theories are not one fad replacing another. Rather, they each provide insights into different aspects of learning. Reggio is simply the latest in our ongoing, conscious attempt to be at the forefront in our field of early childhood.
Our mission is also to reach more and more young Jewish families and through our dynamic program bring them into a positive active Jewish identification. In the process of carrying out these two missions we have grown from our beginning with one class of 14, to five schools with a combined enrollment of over 525 children.
What Is Reggio Emilia?
In a northern Italian town, Reggio Emilia, after World War II, a group of mothers sold the horses and wagons left behind by the retreating German army and determined to use the funds to build a cooperative preschool for their children. Their concept began with the simple theory that the parents needed to be involved in their childrenï¿½s education and that it needed to be an education based on respect for the individuality of children. The parents met frequently, creating the ideas for, and actually building the school.
Fortunately, a young educator in another Italian city heard of this project, visited, became involved on a voluntary basis, and was eventually asked to become the head of the school. This man was Loris Malaguzzi, who just died this last year, and who was certainly a genius who ranks as one of the centuries leading innovative educators. Today there are 22 preschools and 14 infant-toddler schools in the town of Reggio Emilia, supported by the municipality, and it has become a mecca for the academic world of Early Childhood Educators from the most prestigious Universities in the United States. Newsweek magazine cited the schools of Reggio Emilia as the best early childhood education in the world, and it has been featured in two PBS series, Childhood and The Creative Spirit.
Reggio, as it is known, is not a new theory of learning, as was Piaget, or Vigotsky, but a system of learning that incorporates all of the best theories into a working whole. This system has been developing over 45 years, and therefore, the first thing that is always pointed out in any presentation by Reggio educators, is that they do not expect any school to be able to become a total system, as theirs is, and furthermore, since they believe that every system must be based on the culture of the people it serves, as theirs is, that that factor must be seen as paramount.
Why Reggio Is Unique and Appropriate
What is and should be universal, is the approach to children that Reggio advocates. The Reggio philosophy is based on the recognition that young children have many ways in which they can express themselves, and that we, as educators, must tap into those ways and engage the children in their learning. You might ask, how is this different from the ï¿½hands onï¿½ approach for Piaget? It goes much further. For example, teachers trained with a knowledge of Piaget principles would value the childrenï¿½s active involvement in building a synagogue, but the teachers would plan it completely as a craft project, that the children would follow. The Reggio approach has us operating in a totally different manner.
Sample Project -- Building a Synagogue
The Reggio approach has the children visiting the synagogue over and over again, each time focusing on the different aspects of the synagogue that they want to build, from the kind of walls, the different kind of windows, perhaps some stained glass windows, to how the Aron Kodesh, the Ner Tamid, the Shulchan, the Torah, and Menorah can be built. Each time they draw their concept of how the aspect they are focusing on could be built, drawing how they could create each of these important Judaic symbols. They discuss with the teachers their ideas of what materials they will need, what building processes and decorating methods they could use, to make their three dimensional creations look like what they are seeing in the synagogue. The teaching staff then determines how to get the materials, as much as possible involving the parents in finding the materials, and throughout, the children keep returning to the synagogue to check their concepts and to redraw in more detail their ï¿½blueprintsï¿½, which their drawings have really become.
This project illustrates how Malaguzzi carried the parents idea of respect for the individual child forward educationally, teaching that it is the respect for each childï¿½s ideas that is key to involving each child in group problem solving.
Through this process we have found that the childrenï¿½s ability to express themselves in both words and in pictures, and to solve problems by themselves and together, has increased and expanded dramatically. And finally, we have found that the childrenï¿½s identification with what they have absorbed themselves in over a long period of time, has deepened their Jewish identity in an unbelievably strong manner.
You have probably noted that we have mentioned the children drawing representationally. There are traveling exhibitions throughout the United States of the work of the children of Reggio Emilia. Preschool educators were at first stunned by the representational drawings and sculptures shown at these exhibits. It was traditional belief that three, four, and five year old children were not capable of representational drawing. It took a leap of faith for our teachers to begin to ask the children to draw what they were seeing in the synagogue, for example. There is no longer any doubt amongst our staff. We are only excitedly bringing in everybody to ï¿½see what our children are doingï¿½. We have come to realize that this drawing and sculpture are powerful languages of children, ways children communicate, and we are learning to use them as a means of communication between the children, and between the child and the teacher.
With this emphasis on choice, and the childï¿½s own understanding and ideas, it is not surprising that one of the biggest changes that has occurred throughout the schools has been in the art area. Art is no longer a craft that the teacher devises, but is a process of constant choice, choice of ideas and choice of materials. For example, mezuzot made by the children in a given class do not look all alike. Only the inside bracha is the same. The children examine all kinds of mezuzot, those collected by the teacher, those at home and those sent in by parents, those in the synagogue gift shop, and those seen on a Mezuzah hunt throughout the synagogue. Many of the different materials that they examined on the different mezuzot are provided for them to choose from, so that the mezuzah made by each individual child reflects his or her observations and real involvement in choosing and developing his or her own mezuzah.
Sample Project -- A Jewish Home
Another example of how Reggio principles has changed our approach is in the unit on the Jewish Home, for the three year olds. Traditionally it has been taught by the teacher bringing in examples of different Jewish artifacts that might be found in a Jewish home: learning about the Mezuzah that signifies that the home is Jewish and making a Mezuzah designed by the teacher, and perhaps playing in a large refrigerator box for a few days that has a Mezuzah attached to the doorpost.
With the Reggio approach, this unit has changed into one where three year old children learn how to build their own Jewish homes from large hollow blocks, to play whenever they want to build it throughout the year, and to make their own Mezuzot for the doorposts. They go on to work in small groups to make their own Jewish home ï¿½dollhouseï¿½ from materials as different as styrofoam, boxes, paper cups, tile and wood and to make them from the pictures that they have drawn and redrawn and discussed with each other, as they are building. The parents are involved in working with their children to either make symbols that reflect Jewish artifacts in their own home, or to find different materials in their home that could be used in the classroom to make the artifacts, which are either three dimensional for playing with inside their hollow block Jewish homes or in the Jewish home ï¿½dollhousesï¿½ or are two dimensional in order to go on the bulletin board Jewish home.
It is an important facet of Reggio that parents be involved. Reggio concepts have helped us to change the format of our newsletters to parents, and through this to have brought about a higher parentï¿½s interest in our daily work. Previously, teachers wrote a full account of each unit after the unit was over. Reggio, with its emphasis on parental involvement, has helped us to realize that our newsletters must tell what we are going to do, not what we have done, so that parents can be stimulated to involve themselves as much as possible in what we are doing, as it is being done, and to be able to engage their children in meaningful communication about the topic we are working on with their children.
Reggio has brought us to an understanding of the need for and value of documentation for the children, the teachers and the parents. Photographs of the process of the long term project as it moves along, with which the teachers make thoughtful, descriptive bulletin boards for the halls for the parents to see, is another important facet in enabling the parents to remain part of the process throughout. Tape recordings of project discussions help both the children and the teachers to reflect on where each child is in their thinking and to plan accordingly.
We have begun to learn how to take slides of our field trips, such as to the post office, in order that the children can ï¿½revisitï¿½ a post office through the slides as they are planning to build their own post office. You might ask why are we, a Jewish preschool, building a post office? This is a part of any secular preschool curriculum, which we always integrate into an overall Judaic theme. You might guess then, that the post office unit will come at the time of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when the discussions, stories and songs about our Jewish way of valuing and being considerate of our fellow man lead to our making Rosh Hashanah cards to mail to each other through the post office that we have made. Because of the Reggio approach, we hope that the children will now be making Rosh Hashanah cards that reflect each individual childï¿½s understanding of what it means to be a friend and to help others, rather than a teacher developed and designed Rosh Hashanah card.
We have been able to be in the vanguard of our field in integrating the Reggio approach with our Jewish pre-school curriculum for some very important reasons. Since our goal from the beginning was to integrate the latest knowledge in our field into our system, ehn knowledge of Reggio came on the educational scene we already had a system in place that had an attitude open to new innovations. We already had a system where the teachers are trained within. We already had a system wherein it is expected to be asked to change, change being equated with growth, studying and taking on new ideas.
As indicated in the examples, the other vital area of teacher development that is necessary in order to ï¿½do Reggioï¿½ as we like to call it, is for teachers to have moved from the teacher directed supervisory role to the teacher facilitating through involving herself with the children actively, in an ongoing manner, as they attempt to problem solve their way through to a new understanding. Reggio has based this approach on the writings of the Russian-Jewish psychologist, Lev Vigotsky. For the past 10 years, we have been incorporating Vigotskyï¿½s approach in our work with the children on socialization through social-dramatic play, so that when Reggio burst upon the educational scene here in the US we were already understanding and training our teachers in the Vigotsky principles.
Excerpted from the preschool's website