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027: Is a Reggio Emilia-inspired preschool right for my child?
27th February 2017 • Your Parenting Mojo - Respectful, research-based parenting ideas to help kids thrive • Jen Lumanlan
00:00:00 00:46:43

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This episode is the final in our mini-series that I hope will help you to think through the options you might have for your child’s preschool.
In previous episodes we looked at Waldorf and Montessori approaches to early childhood education; today we examine the Reggio Emilia-based approach with Suzanne Axelsson, who studied it for her Master’s degree in early childhood education and is well-respected in the Reggio field.  She helps us to understand how the “concept of the child” impacts how we see the child and support their learning, and what are the “hundred languages of children”…


Bodrova, E., & Leong, D.J. (2006). Tools of the mind: The Vygotskian approach to early childhood education (2nd Ed.). New York, NY: Pearson.

Edwards, C., Gandini, L., & Forman, G. (Eds.). (2012). The hundred languages of children: The Reggio Emilia experience in transformation.


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Jen:                                      [00:27]                   Hello and welcome to today’s episode of Your Parenting Mojo, which is called Is a Reggio Emilia Preschool Right for My Child. So this is the third in our mini series about different approaches to preschool education and today’s episode is going to be a little bit odd for me because I actually know a fair bit about the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education, but I went out and found us a real expert to talk with and I’m going to pretend like I don’t know very much so that we can ask the kinds of questions that people here are new to Reggio Emilia might ask. Our guest today, Suzanne Axleson received her master’s degree in early childhood education at Sheffield University in England, where she specialized in Reggio Emilia language and communication and documentation as a tool to aid memory and deepen children’s learning. She has 20 years of experience teaching in a variety of early years settings including traditional Swedish preschool and Montessori. Suzanne recently worked at Filosofiska, which I hope I’m pronouncing correctly, Sweden’s first preschool with a philosophical profile where she developed an approach to use philosophy as a pedagogic tool for young children, but she recently decided to spend some time collecting her thoughts in preparation for writing a book on how to use listening to improve pedagogical outcomes. Welcome, Suzanne.

Suzanne:                            [01:39]                   Thank you.

Jen:                                      [01:40]                   Thanks so much for joining us today. I wonder if you could tell us about how you first learned about the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education and what about it spoke to you?

Suzanne:                            [01:49]                   It was round about 2007 when I was working in a preschool and there were teachers talking about that this is a new approach to this preschool should take and we looked into it so we realized this was something we were going to do and so I looked more into it and realized it spoke to me because it’s more or less what I’ve been doing all the time. It was about observing the children and listening to the children and making sure that the learning was happening appropriately for them. So it felt like a natural contraction of how I was working as an educator but to deepen that, to learn more about it.

Jen:                                      [02:27]                   Okay, and what specific elements of the practice were you referring to there?

Suzanne:                            [02:32]                   When working with projects the children will find something of interest and then you will go into their interest and deepen their understanding of this by if for example, it was dinosaurs, it would not just be looking at everything that was dinosaurs and learning facts about dinosaurs. Why was it they were interested in dinosaurs and quite often it was finding out more about their fears and finding out more about how they themselves build things or created things or drew things and interacted with what was scary or it was different depending on the group of children, so dinosaurs was never – I’ve done it many different times, but he’s never been exactly the same.

Jen:                                      [03:13]                   Hm. And is never exactly the same because the children are never exactly the same. Right?

Suzanne:                            [03:18]                   They all have their different approaches. Some children have been – they’ve wanted to be paleontologists, so they wanted to go and pretend that we’re finding fossils and it’s all been about the bones and connected to the bones in their own body, so it was like an exploration of their own body through the dinosaur bones while others, It’s been definitely the fear. There’s something was those big scary teeth was what was fascinating them. There were more of the fear exploration during that time.

Jen:                                      [03:45]                   Okay.

Suzanne:                            [03:46]                   It’s always been an interesting way to… It gives us the opportunity to look at, to, to discover what children are learning, but they give me a new perspective on the same thing. So I never go and see dinosaurs and exactly the same way.

Jen:                                      [03:59]                   Mm. Yeah. Okay. Um, so I wonder if for somebody who’s never seen a Reggio classroom before, can you walk us through what one looks like in your mind? What does the room look like and what are the children doing and and how do they move through their day?

Suzanne:                            [04:13]                   In my mind, the classroom would be one would inspire learning now look around and I would know the children were interested in and know what they’ve been doing recently because there’d be documentation on the wall and that everything would be accessible for the children or most things will be accessible for the children because sometimes you can’t have everything out all at once. The children will be busy. They will be engaged. It would have freedom, freedom to move around and the classrooms from what I’m used to, when I’ve observed classrooms in the U.S. Have been more like a classroom while I’m used to the children being exposed to a whole series of rooms that they can move in and out of, so they have even more freedom here in Sweden and then what they do in the US, so um, aesthetic, it would be beautiful, but then what beautiful is, is can be quite different from preschool to another preschool because you’ve got to include your own culture and your own context.

Suzanne:                            [05:17]                   I think when I’ve observed schools in the US, they’ve had an awful lot of things on the walls while here in Sweden and not quite so many things on the walls, so there’s huge differences in how Reggio is being interpreted, but it’s not just the beautiful classroom is not enough is how the classroom is designed to create interactions with the teacher, with the materials, with children, with each other. So it’s not so much about a beautiful looking classroom is it’s very much about a room that is created with consideration for children and consideration for their interactions and consideration for the interests and learning of the children.

Jen:                                      [06:07]                   Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. I am a member of a couple of different Reggio-based groups on facebook and I think that especially the teachers who are newer to it tend to get hung up on the beauty of the classroom and it tends to be a lot of wood in the classroom and a lot of wicker baskets and I think sometimes think that if they were doing the wood and the wicker baskets, they’re “doing Reggio” and I think it’s important to remember that the beauty of the classroom is sort of a way of grounding us, but it’s not what. It’s not what Reggio is, right?

Suzanne:                            [06:38] Absolutely.

Jen:                                      [06:40]                   Yeah. I wonder if you can help us understand a bit about the origination of the Reggio approach because this is… When I’ve spoken with in a Montessori and Waldorf educators this is the point in the interview where I normally talk about certifications and school accreditation, but that, that doesn’t exist for Reggio, right?

Suzanne:                            [06:56]                   Not in the same sense, no.

Jen:                                      [06:58]                   So can you. Can you help us understand that?

Suzanne:                            [07:01]                   It started as an approach because at the end of the Second World War, they basically wanted a kind of education for their young children in Italy, the city of Reggio Emilia that would allow a more critical thinking, a more democratic approach that you wouldn’t just follow leaders blindly, they would actually question so that the children had the ability as adults to choose the right direction for their lives and not just follow. So it was always an approach. Malaguzzi was a very young man; and it was kind of surprising, I think he was only 24 when he started it

Jen:                                      [07:37]                   Oh, I didn’t know that!

Suzanne:                            [07:38]                   I know; it kind of shocked me. This was a man who was very humble in his approach because he understood that he only knew a certain amount, so he wants to learn together with the children. So it’s always been this approach of learning together with the children and the children would be his teacher and he will be their teacher.

Suzanne:                            [07:56]                   And we would be co-researchers. So it’s more of an approach rather than a method. So it’s hard to become accredited in an approach, while a method is much easier to teach. Like the Montessori method, you learn the method of learning. Then you can apply this. While Malaguzzi really did not want to method because he felt this approach will be evolving all the time, like children, like society and culture is always evolving so we can’t have something that is fixed because if it’s fixed then it’s not going to be adjusting to the needs of our time and the needs of the culture that it finds itself in. A big part of why it appeals to me because it’s a pedagogy that is evolving rather than just this is the way it is and this is the way it should be.

Jen:                                      [08:47]                   Yeah, and it also, in my mind, makes it more relevant to different cultures. I think when you go to Reggio Emilia and you talk to the teachers there, they’re adamant that you know, you don’t go in and look at their what they’re doing in their classrooms and take and take that home with you and aim to copy it in your classroom because it’s not relevant in your culture. The idea is to kind of extract the way that they’re thinking about the issue and then go and apply that in some kind of topic relevant to learning that is relevant in your culture. Is that right?

Suzanne:                            [09:20] Exactly. The view of the child not as an empty vessel to be filled with information but the child is competent and to reach their own potential and we’re just scaffolding that learning; they’re building their own education. So I also appreciate that we don’t see the children as something that we have to fill and we are responsible for in that sense, but we are responsible in supporting this child to reach their own potential.

Jen:                                      [09:51]                   Yeah. Okay. So you brought up a couple of ideas there and I think one of those is the idea about constructivism, which is sort of the opposite of the way that school exists in the U.S., where you assume that the child is basically an empty vessel into which the teacher pours knowledge. Whereas Reggio views learning as a process that is co-constructed between two people and I think the example that you gave of Malaguzzi is great. You know, the idea that this person who was really the bedrock of the Reggio Emilia approach didn’t say, you know, this is my approach and I will teach it to you. He said, children, I will learn from you and you will learn from me. It seems as though that’s an awesome example of constructivism.

Suzanne:                            [10:36]                   Yes, yes.

Jen:                                      [10:37]                   Yeah. And so the other, the other idea that you mentioned was scaffolding. Can you tell us a bit more about that? And I should, I should, I should mention to listeners, we did a whole episode back on scaffolding. I think it was about episode four or five. So if you want an in-depth understanding of it, go back and check that out. But um, can you help us understand how scaffolding is used in a Reggio-based classroom?

Suzanne:                            [10:56]                   Well instead of just telling the children how to do it or what to do, you’re asking them open ended questions to do that open problem solving. It can take little bit longer, but then the children’s learning is that own learning and they can be proud of how they achieve this. I think it’s very easy for us to fill in