How to Implement Reggio Emilia Philosophy in the Classroom

If you're in the education field, or a mom who has been browsing preschools, you're probably heard of 'Reggio Emilia.' Unlike what you may have thought, though, Reggio Emilia is not a person; it is a town in Italy; following World War II, psychologist Loris Malaguzzi and his parents believed that children would benefit from a new and progressive way of learning. Thus, they created a community-based style of learning, which was deeply woven into the fabric of Reggio Emilia's local government, community, and its people. The unique approach to education has grown over time and is recognized as one of the best educational approaches for children all over the world.

Because Reggio Emilia was formed in the Italian city and a part of the small society itself, the approach cannot exactly be replicated in other locations. Here in America, the schools that follow the Reggio Emilia philosophy are known to be Reggio-Inspired; schools that adopt this approach adopt the core values and beliefs of Reggio Emilia and let them guide the progression of the curriculum and the development of the child.

While working toward my teaching license, I had the opportunity to complete my practicum in a first grade classroom in the Lakota School District in Cincinnati, Ohio. One of the other first grade teachers, Asha Ruiz, had adopted the Emilia Reggio approach in her classroom, and now, years later, I was interested in knowing more. The images of her classroom had always stuck with me; her room was so different from all the others I had seen, and still remains very unique. Additionally, her students were some of the best behaved I've ever seen in a classroom before. Clearly Asha was doing something very special in her classroom....

I was so thankful when Asha agreed to an interview about Reggio Emilia and how she fosters this approach in her classroom! I hope you enjoy learning more about Reggio Emilia as I did!

Kapeesh Kaposh (KK): How many years have you been teaching? What grades have you taught?

Asha Ruiz (AR): This is my 17th year of teaching. I have taught 1st, 2nd, and 4th grade. In addition, I have also worked as a literacy specialist/academic coach. I currently teach 1st grade.

KK: Have you always used the Reggio Emilia approach in your classroom?

AR: I haven't always taught in a Reggio-inspired way. The beginning of my career I was much more of a traditional teacher with some of the Reggio-ish principles within my philosophy without even realizing it. Several years ago, when I was working as a literacy specialist in a K/1 building, I had the chance to go to Reggio Emilia with a study group from Ohio. I was in Reggio Emilia, Italy for about ten days with three other colleagues from my school. I would say that experience really shaped who I am as a teacher now and has been for the last nine years. I currently work in a traditional public school. With that said, we are a very progressive district. My district is very supportive of me creating a Reggio-inspired classroom, which includes attention to environment, and inquiry/project-based learning.

KK: In your own words, how would you describe Reggio Emilia as an educational approach for someone who has never heard of it?

AR: The "Reggio Emilia" approach originated in Northern Italy right at the end of World War II. It was created by the innovative, Loris Malaguzzi, a teacher who lived in the area. His mission was to create preschools where children have some control over the direction of their learning. In addition, he wanted an experience for children in which they have endless ways and opportunities to express themselves. The Reggio approach is built on the foundation in its unique view of the child: to foster education in the youngest learners among their "100 languages." Within this approach is the belief that children are active constructors of their knowledge.

KK: How do you implement Reggio Emilia in your classroom and what does it look like in action?

Asha's Reggio-inspired classroom in action
AR: I would consider my classroom a "Reggio-inspired" space. I honor student voice in all aspects of the day. The classroom belongs for the most part to the children. One of the hallmarks of a Reggio classroom is the view of the environment as the third teacher. In my classroom, the environment is created collaboratively, coupled with natural light and aesthetically pleasing accents. Students are free to move about the space and have ample time throughout the day to engage in experiences or "provocations" to provoke wonder. Long-term investigations are also a part of our classroom. Students work as "researchers" throughout the year to investigate topics, usually of interest to them. They ask questions, read, and make models to represent their thinking. These projects include real-life problem-solving techniques amongst peers, as well as opportunities for creative thinking and exploration.

KK: How would someone go about creating a Reggio-inspired classroom?

AR: I think by seeing it in action. I loved (and still love) visiting area classrooms that dabbled in the Reggio Approach. I also would recommend picking up a book to read about the approach. One of the books that got me thinking about this work was a book called Working in the Reggio Way: A Beginners Guide for American Teachers by Julianne P. Wurm. My last bit of advice would be to create or join a network of other colleagues who want to learn about this work. It is so helpful to collaborate with others around you.

KK: What classroom management techniques do you use? Is there a specific approach integrated into Reggio Emilia?

AR: I follow the "Responsive Classroom" approach for management. I find it fosters many of the beliefs of Reggio, as it is based upon the belief that integrated academic and social-emotional skills creates an environment where students can do their best learning. I love that it recognizes how we work together collectively to create joy is a important as our individual contribution or competence. You can find more about Responsive Classroom here.

KK: What are some things you have learned over the years about Reggio Emilia as you have put it into practice in your classroom?

AR: One of the biggest takeaways from my time in Reggio Emilia was the idea of "nothing without joy!" This adopted mantra is something that sticks with me every day as a teacher. Play is an important part of early childhood but also an important part of learning! Malaguzzi said very clearly that nothing in the school should happen without joy. In my opinion, we can never separate play and learning.

Asha is truly an inspiring teacher, and I hope you have learned some things from her about Reggio Emilia. I know that I already have Working in the Reggio Way on my Amazon wishlist! Something that stuck with me after interviewing Asha was the mantra, Nothing without joy. Being a mom and teacher it's so easy to get wrapped up in what needs to be done and/or taught, and it's sometimes hard to step back and remember that these little people that we are influencing are just children and they need to have as much joy in their lives as possible! So that was a huge take-away for me. If you have experience visiting Reggio Emilia, or if you have a Reggio-inspired classroom, please share your experiences in the comments below!

Asha Ruiz is a first grade teacher in the Lakota Local School District. She and her husband have two beautiful and talented daughters, and live in Cincinnati. All pictures included in this post were taken by Asha in her classroom.