In 1991, the American newspaper Newsweek described one of the 32 preschools in Reggio Emilia, Italy, as “more like a cheerful greenhouse than a public kindergarten”. Since then, the method pioneered in this small Italian town has gained popularity throughout the world. There are now more than 30 international networks which host conferences and seminars and send study tours to Reggio Emilia each year. But what is this method?

To understand the approach,we can read the words of founder Loris Malaguzzi’s book, The Hundred Languages of Children. First, a Reggio-inspired school must provide a large range of experiences and materials for children, so they can express themselves freely. “The wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experiences. We must widen the range of topics and goals, the types of situations we offer and their degree of structure, the kinds and combinations of resources and materials, and the possible interactions with things, peers, and adults.”

Second, a Reggio-inspired school must document the children’s learning process. This can occur through written or filmed observations, photographs, and the children’s work itself. “Teachers must leave behind an isolated, silent mode of working, which leaves no traces. Instead they must discover ways to communicate and document the children’s evolving experiences at school.”

Third, a Reggio-inspired school sees every child as an artist with innate intelligence and encourages creativity and sensory learning. Most programmes that use the Reggio model make the environment a top priority, as it is considered an equal teacher. Parents and the community also play an important role, as does the in-school kitchen and taking the children’s interests into consideration throughout the day. Teachers lead children in “guided discovery” and allow children choices about where and how to play.

As Reggio Emilia inspired preschools make their way through Asia and Vietnam, it is important to understand that each country will “do” Reggio in a different way.

“The environment should act as an aquarium which reflects the ideas, ethics, attitudes and culture of the people who live in it. This is what we are working towards.” The Reggio approach makes room for culture to influence the actual implementation in the school.

The Reggio Emilia method is an innovative and somewhat unconventional approach which will suit some families more than others. When deciding on a preschool for your child, it is vital to visit the school and meet the people your child will build relationships with throughout their learning journey.   

Shannon Brown works in international education in Ho Chi Minh City and has a background in social work, public heath, and early childhood education.