Being Reggio

Have you noticed that there are a ton of Pinterest and Facebook posts about 'doing Reggio' these days? In one way it's great that so many people are looking for inspiration, but I worry that the exquisite praxis we can see in the infant toddler centers and preschools in Reggio Emilia are being misinterpreted. Sometimes in talks educators from Reggio remind us to "look beyond the furniture", and I think that's good advice. At its root, the Reggio Emilia approach is a big old Ikea basket full of educational theory put into practice- put into beautiful, well considered and co-constructed practice, with lots of listening and the ethics that come from a deep respect for humankind backing it up. To me, the reason it's so worth looking to Reggio is that all of the beautiful work is carefully thought out and negotiated and presented so that it never, ever betrays the children.
Don't the practices and environments in all the beautiful photos of activities, tabletops and shelves lose their meaning if not accompanied by the careful thoughtfulness described in The Hundred Languages of Children? It seems to me that it's really all about ideas and relationships, rather than wood and wicker, fabric strips and bubble wrap. And no matter how many times I've arranged the materials in jars of rainbow colors, I know that they'll either stay up on the shelf in pristine sortedness, or get dumped out and mixed up, because that's what people do when they are looking for four matching bottle cap wheels for a cardboard batmobile.

How do you look for meaning in a learning experience?
I try to look for a big idea that can connect across time and subject area. Dewey's ideas about educative experiences (which connect) and mis-educative experiences (which are without context) can really help me. A mis-educative experience is one that doesn't connect the learner to the wider world. This lesson or experience might have some benefit for children (like practice with fine motor skills), might be "agreeable or exciting in itself" but doesn't lead to "richer experience in the future" (Dewey's words). By tying school experiences to relationships and big, universal ideas, the teachers in Reggio Emilia avoid banal, stifling mis-education. And so can all of us.

*(Praxis (process), the process by which a theory, lesson, or skill is enacted, practiced, embodied, or realized.) 


  1. Anna, your post is timely - I have one with the same working title in my documents :) There is something happening as the aesthetics become the theory. "Reggio", "Reggio-Inspired", "Reggio-Based" - it seems that the interest is growing exponentially, but the focus is solely on what it looks like on a table, not theory as a whole. Thanks for being part of this conversation!

  2. Yes! Thank you for describing this so well. It's been driving me crazy how many gorgeous pinterest photos there are of "Reggio-inspired" whatever: multiplication facts practice, phonics work, cutesy craft... it seems like the idea has trickled down to "if it's beautiful materials displayed in an inviting way, it is Reggio." Pinning your post instead...

    1. Lise, this response cracked me up! Multiplication facts, phonics and crafts!

  3. Reggio inspires us to think far more deeply than just light tables and pretty environments. My article in Jan/Feb 2008 Exchange some years ago tried to make this point and from your comments, Anna, it still seems pertinent. reggio&search_date_month_start=&search_date_year_start=&search_date_month_end=2&search_date_year_end=2016;

  4. Dear Anna, while I have just shared some of the thoughts that follow with your via email, I feel compelled to post this here (thought I can see from other comments that I will be preaching to the choir) to thank you so much, on behalf of myself, one of my current colleagues and ECE kindred spirit at the school where I work in SE Asia, and countless other innovative early childhood educators and co-constructors of knowledge in the US and around the world who really do get what lies at the core of the "exquisite praxis" in the municipal ECE centers in Reggio Emilia, for your thoughtful, thought-provoking and beautifully worded "Being Reggio" post earlier this month! It was just what my colleague and I needed to recharge, reset, reaffirm our own beliefs, and offer a rebuttal to teachers who are struggling to, even reluctant (sadly, some to the point of being passive-aggressive and oppositional), go beyond the glossy pretty layer of a beautifully prepared environment and stunning materials, so as to be more intentional and uncover and honors ("never, ever betray") children's thoughts, intentions and capabilities, AND trust in their own journey as practitioners which often begins with the willingness to be vulnerable, to be wrong and to not always know.

    As a once prolific Pinterest user, mostly for professional purposes, I have gone from being incredibly active on a daily basis, pinning and re-pinning images and links, to adding them instead to secret boards of my own as I alone know what my true intentionfor my saving a particular image was and what reflections it provoked in me. I rant all the time, to myself and with like-minded colleagues, about the countless mis-categorized mis-labeled and mis-interpreted images found of Pinterest and other social media sites that equate the wonder and beauty of Reggio-inspired practice to the use of river rocks to make dominos to "encourage" mathematical thinking or the inclusion of loose parts in a block construction area or the display of a rainbow of jars of colored water in a windowsill! It bastardized the thoughts and efforts of all those theorists and practitioners who came before us, whose work are part of the melting pot of ideas and practice that the Reggio Approach really is, and (as you wrote) loses its fundamental, central, and unifying elements of relationships and ethics without which none of the Reggiani's work would be possible. So, again, thank you for sharing your thoughts and your work here ....

  5. Anna, this is a very timely post for me - just last night I was casting a critical eye over my display shelves and wondering why on earth they don't stay Pinterest-worthy for long. My daughter is on the very young end (18 months) of Reggio applicability and I'm very much a newbie myself, and while I have know it's not all about the wicker baskets, I do catch myself wishing the set-up would stay beautiful for longer than five minutes. Right now I'm enjoying my daughter's pre-verbal experiences with the simple materials I set up, and I look forward to the time when I can use her questions as a jumping-off point for tying her experiences to "big, universal ideas."

  6. Yes! It's about ideas and relationships - and a vigorous fight against banality.
    Thanks for sharing!


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