One of the child-guided learning philosophies that has grown in popularity in recent years is the Reggio Emilia approach to learning. There are limitless Reggio Emilia activities. Some core components of the Reggio Emilia approach are that:
- Children are capable and interested in learning.
- Children are natural scientists, researchers, and artists.
- Parents, the community, and the environment work in unison to enhance children’s learning.
- The process of learning is just as important as the final product.
- Observing what children already know can be more beneficial than directly instructing the child.
- Encouraging wonder and self-discovery promotes the desire to explore.
Adult-led vs. Child-led Learning
This abstract concept can be difficult to visualize, since many of us grew up under an adult-led learning approach. In adult-led learning approaches, parents and teachers typically guide children. We may ask the questions, and modify the way children think about the answer to match our own thoughts. We may give “cookie-cutter” like activities to our children, where the outcome looks almost identical to another child’s work. Adult-led approaches can have benefits. These approaches can help children learn to follow directions and help adults identify some areas of difficulties a child is experiencing.
In contrast, the Reggio Emilia approach highlights individuality and the uniqueness of the child. It creates confident and engaged learners. Let’s start with five ways to incorporate Reggio Emilia inspiration into home activities.
Exploration and Collection-gathering Activities
Nature is a huge component of Reggio Emilia. The approach believes the child’s environment is critical in the learning process. Spending time in nature and collecting elements is a starting point for much of the philosophy. You can store twigs, rocks, leaves, acorns, pinecones, and other items of nature to use in art work and learning activities. The pride that children take in their collections can be motivating for the creative process. This is different from the traditional adult-led approaches with adult purchased items.
Nature, Loose Parts, and Children’s Choice into Artwork
When we think about working on art with children, we may think about a standard paper and crayon activity. In Reggio Emilia you can inspire children to use pieces of nature from their collections as part of their work. For example, maybe spring is coming up in conversation and in bedtime stories. Then you might pose spring as an inspiration for art time.
However, instead of drawing your own spring picture with your child, you might suggest creating some spring artwork with items for our nature collection, or anything else the child may want to use. Children are able to mix and match their materials as well, perhaps using some water color and some items from nature. A child’s interpretation of spring may be completely different than what you imagined, and that’s great! Your child’s output might surprise you. Pictures can be taken of artwork that uses loose parts and used to decorate around the home, or the art could be on display on a mantle, desk, or coffee table.
Nature, Loose Parts, and Children’s Choice into Learning Experiences
Your child’s outdoor collection can be used in learning experiences in countless ways! Instead of your child practicing letter form with a paper and pencil, you can inspire your child to use his or her collection to write his or her name. For example, your child could use twigs for the straight parts in letters and rocks for curved letters, or any other way they imagine.
Nature collections can also be an interesting way to learn about patterns. A fun question to pose is, “what kinds of patterns could we make with our collection?” Nature collections can be an asset in foundational math. The child could practice one to one correspondence in counting, skip-counting, addition and subtraction, or word problems with the elements of their collection. While these are only a few examples, there are many other ways to use these loose parts in learning experiences.
Encouraging children to wonder opens up a world of exploration. Adults can inspire children to do this by showing children their own wonders. For example, if you are reading a book about outer space with a child you may say, “wow, Mars seems really different from our planet. I wonder if it is even possible for humans to live there?” The child might even ask if you could research that together!
Reinforcing children’s natural desire to learn can have a positive impact on his or her academic future. Using a white board, a chalkboard, or even sticky notes in a designated area of the home can be a great place to keep track of our wonders in order to research later. Everyone in the family could write the questions that they have on the wall to look into when possible. All children are researchers and scientists at heart! I have been truly amazed by the wonders, perspectives, and discovery that has been documented on wonder walls with young children.
Reggio Emilia Spaces Around the Home
In adult-led approaches we often only highlight the finished outcome, whether it be artwork on a piece of paper, or an assignment that was completed well. In the Reggio Emilia approach, we also highlight the process of learning. Children love to see pictures of themselves working on an activity. Taking pictures of the activity and having these pictures alongside a picture of the outcome, or the outcome itself, is a beautiful way for children to remember that they are hardworking artists and scientists.
Interviewing a child for his or her perspective, writing the quote down, and placing the quote near the artwork is empowering for the child. Reggio Emilia pictures are usually placed on a black, white, beige, or neutral color background. This helps the artwork and the child stand out, as opposed to the adult-led decor. Reggio Emilia spaces or playrooms are usually composed of these neutral colors in entirety, and the artwork truly shines. Plants, collections, and art supplies are usually on display. The feeling of being in a child-centered environment is moving, freeing, and inspiring. Parents are often in amazement of the capabilities of their children.
Reggio Emilia Activities At Home
While these are a few simple ways to bring Reggio Emilia into the home, the philosophy itself believes learning and creativity are ongoing processes. I wonder what Reggio inspirations you and your child can wonder into your home?
About the Author
Jacqueline Stanford-Smith is a teacher with over sixteen years of experience working with students with learning differences. She has taught in sub-separate special needs’ classrooms, inclusion classrooms, and general education settings. In 2017 Jacqueline published her first book, Possibilities, about strategies for including children with learning differences in a general education classroom. Later in 2017 Jacqueline’s school started broadening the usage of the Reggio Emilia approach which quickly became one of her favorite philosophies to bring into the classroom and her home life with her toddler twins. She believes in empowering children in order for every child to meet his or her full potential.
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