What is Reggio Emilia and Nature-based early childhood education, and why do we use it?

Reggio Emilia is a philosophy of early childhood education based out of Italy. The term “emergent curriculum” comes from this pedagogy. It follows the questions and ideas of children by creating an environment that supports their learning by providing the materials and time spent to accumulate children’s thoughts and answers to their questions. Fundamental to this approach are a) the rights of the child, b) community engagement, c)emergent curriculum and d) beauty.

At the end of World War II, families in the city of Reggio Emilia built schools for young children using funds they acquired after selling off a German tank, horses and trucks left by retreating forces. As their theory grew and spread, community participation and solidarity in supporting high quality early childhood education became hallmarks of the Reggio Emilia schools. The philosophy leans on the theories of John Dewey, Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, David Hawkins, Jerome Bruner and Howard Gardner as its foundation. It continues to build on new peer-reviewed scientific understanding of how young children grow and learn through time and children and teachers are partners in the learning process. 

Reggio believes that children are active, contributing citizens in their local communities, with their own inalienable rights. Parents, guardians, and family members are essential and active members of the education team. In this type of education system, we as teachers see the environment as the third teacher. It is set up to entice a child’s learning and interest, be safe yet challenging, engaging yet calm. The space is meant to foster encounters with peers and teachers and allows them time and space to practice communication and social emotional skills. Every teacher has their own way of designing their space to meet children’s needs. In addition, teachers meet to discuss their observations as well as the challenges they face.

The curriculum is not pre-set. It allows for the flow of children’s ideas to take learning to new and exciting places of exploration. Children’s work is collected in samples, it is shared perhaps in a play or art show, and beauty is pointed out.

 Here at Neck of the Woods, we draw inspiration from the Reggio model, and go further to incorporate nature-based learning. Nature-based learning takes many forms, from natural materials in the classroom to lots of outside play, gardening, and walks. Even further than that, nature-based education is a way of knowing and belonging to the place in which we live and work. In Vermont this is defined by the rhythm of the seasons and the things we do in them like garden, swim, ski, tap or play in mud. It may mean noticing the first birds back in the spring, the change of a bird’s winter song, the first buds on trees, the change in the sunlight, wild edible plants, a winter owl or differences in types of snow. It is about knowing how we fit in with all these wonderful wild aspects around us. When combined with Reggio-style programming, this means that natural elements are a consistent part of our teaching and learning, woven throughout projects, state standards, play objects and materials given to children to inspire curiosity and learning.

Together, as a community, with all our local partners, children, teachers and families, we are all using our inspiration to build meaningful memories, strong academic foundations, and a rich world of wonder for the children we serve. We invite you to help us build this vision with your own gifts and talents.