By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D., RECE. I am feeling inspired lately. Even though it has been a long time since I first discovered the philosophy and guiding principles of the Reggio Emilia Approach at times over the years I have gotten disillusioned about my ability to bring Reggio home. But lately I am feeling very encouraged. My inspiration these days stems from others who are striving for authenticity in their practice as Reggio inspired educators. About a week ago, I read a blog post that was so succinct in it’s simplicity that I saw it shared over and over again on multiple Reggio inspired Facebook sites, “Reggio Emilia, isn’t Art”. The author, Cynthia Evans states, “so many times I see someone asking for help “adding Reggio” to their curriculum”. She goes on to say that rather than seeing “Reggio” as just about art, being inspired by Reggio means you follow, listen, and respect children. I believe that Reggio inspiration has found a home in the heart of this educator and it also fills mine. This post came from the heart from someone who is on a journey to develop a personal and profound relationship with Reggio inspired practice. It reminded me to pay heed to the words of Howard Gardner. Whatever our context is, we can find inspiration in relationship to the foundational ideas of this complex approach and grow our own interpretations in our own native soil in our home/heart.
What does it mean to be Reggio inspired? It’s true it isn’t just an art experience. It is also not just about adding a wicker basket or two filled with natural materials to your classroom. It goes deeper than that. I am far from the only one that has pondered and reflected on the meaning of being Reggio inspired. Others have thought about it too. I have read many articles over the years in my practice as a Reggio inspired educator including Reflections and Impressions from Reggio Emilia: “It’s Not about Art!” by Nancy Hertzog (2001) and from the wonderful Margie Carter in 2009 “Doing Reggio?”. I shared these on Twitter last week and it sparked a dialogue with other Reggio inspired educators including Joel Seaman who shared his blog post, Reggio inspired vs. Reggio: One little word makes a big difference and someone else shared the courageous post from Zella Said Purple, My Break Up Letter with the Reggio Approach. These inspiring educators deepen my thinking and enhance my skills as a critical pedagogue. They help me to see beyond the surface decoration and to think about relationships to materials and this can spark ideas and transform practice.
The Reggio Emilia Approach has inspired many educators that I know for decades. They have been transformed because of their deep relationship with the guiding principles particularly the image of the child. For me, it was in the early nineties that I first began to hear about this approach and met a young early childhood educator, Rosabla Bortolotti whose persistence and patience finally paid off when I too recognized that as an proponent of emergent curriculum, my inspiration needed to stem from the ideas emanating from this town in north central Italy.
At that time, we didn’t have Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest. Rosalba and I would meet for dinner, over coffee or have long chats on the telephone. It seemed back then that we were quite alone in our philosophical and pedagogical beliefs. Now I have a professional network of fellow Reggio inspired educators that I can turn to for inspiration from across the globe. When I want to be inspired or to learn from them all I have to do is search for the hashtag #ReggioPLC on Twitter! I am grateful for the technological advances that have allowed me to make these connections that inspire and give me this opportunity to build relationships. This is what sustains me. At the same time, the omnipresence of social media has made me think about the preponderance of the misconceptions related to “doing Reggio”. I recognize that to be inspired by the Reggio Emilia Approach is to be in a continual process of learning. You can begin with that basket of materials but take the time to read, reflect and connect with others.
While social media has changed my life I wonder about the impact that it has had on the messaging about “Reggio”. On Pinterest, I did a search of “Reggio” and “decoration” and I was confronted by 100s of images. Then I did the same for “Reggio” and “activities” and more images came across my screen. It is clear that there are many out there who are still in the process of building their understanding and I am grateful for the others who are reinforcing the distinctions between “Reggio” and “Reggio inspiration”.
Recently in a Facebook group I was asked to respond to a comment from someone who asked, “what is your opinion of Reggio?” and last semester when teaching a math course at Ryerson University a student suggested that a particular activity could be “turned into Reggio” if rocks were added. These misconceptions can be frustrating to those who have found a deeper connection to Reggio inspired practice but hopefully with time relationships will grow. Like all good relationships time is needed. If we recognize that the only Reggio educators are those that live in Reggio Emilia and claim that we are Reggio inspired we can nurture and nourish our relationship to the theory and practice over time.
Thank you, Diane. This blog was very timely for me. I am going to the Reggio Study Tour in May for the first time. I am admitting here that I resisted for many years – for many of the reasons you sited – ‘Doing Reggio’, ‘Oh you do the Rggio thing do you?’, ‘I can see you do Reggio’ … all gave a momentary thrill, then a feeling of being a fraud, not truly ‘getting it’. BUT I wanted to see and hear for myself and as I do not speak Italian and learning a new language is hard for me I resisted going – I have kept reading and talking about the Reggio Emila schools and their inspirations… but felt going would be unsatisfactory. I am over it now. I want to see and listen – to the extent I can – to try to further deeper my understanding of the philosophy, their
thinking, and hopefully find my own way ‘in the forest’.
Wonderful that you get to see the real Reggio Emilia schools. Then you can home inspired to build your own relationship with the principles. Also the food is really, really good especially the cheese!
Hi Liz: Congratulations to you on your zeal, follow-up and trip to Italy to experience Reggio in vivo. I am not an educator, rather a dad of a daughter who is and she loves the ideal of Reggio. I just wanted to comment that it is sort-of good you don’t know the language because it might parallel the experience of some students in our classrooms. Moreover, the universal language of people all over the world is simple respect, simple interest and attention, and most of all, ironically, our effort to communicate. I can see YOU becoming like a Reggio student learning to trust the Reggio instructor and giving yourself to her or him. Then, the Reggio teacher respects you as individual and your learning need and “ability”—and teaches you by instruction or observation what you need or wish to know.
And, yes, like Diane says enjoy the wonderful cheese—along with hospitable people, the gorgeous architecture, romantic ambiance, and whatever you do not forget the fabulous Italian red wines. ENJOY!
it was in 1993 that I took my first trip to the schools of Reggio Emilia. Bringing Reggio home is not an easy task. It belongs to the culture in which is was born. However, we can use those guiding principles and embed them into our own culture to create our own Reggio inspired schools. I agree, too often educators are fascinated with the art, failing to see the support system that lies beneath the end results.
Hi Diane, this is indeed a very insightful reading. I, myself, am an educator very much inspired by the Reggio Approach in its true meaning of what it is. People are missing that to be Reggio Inspired is to teach with conscious and be highly respectful and empathetic for children’s interests and emotions. I have struggled a whole year and a half to help educators in Finland, to understand the concept, but I am leaving wihout having reached many of them. However, I am on my way to Italy and will do my own personal research in there. Because, like you, every once in awhile I get discouraged, but I try to breath deeply and start over 🙂 . People like you with the same ideals are the ones I am looking forward to work with, so we can inspire each other. Don’t give up, there are others like you :).
– Nettie –
Hi Nettie! It is alway so exciting for me to connect with Reggio inspired educators from around the world. I hope you will join the #ReggioPLC international Twitter chat on Feb 7th at 4:00 EST. The topic will be what it means to be Reggio inspired 🙂
Hi Diane: Great post and very timely as I begin with two colleagues to prepare for the May study tour. It will be my second time and their first and we worry about our effectiveness in desiminating what we learn to our other colleagues (as part of a larger organization, our mandate on returning is to provide professional learning opportunities for other educators in the organization). I really am inspired by the Howard Gardner quote, particularly the last part about how we need to prepare the soil for certain aspects to thrive. You have given me much to ponder! Thank you!
You are most welcome Brenda!
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Diane, you put your finger firmly on the “Reggio Light” that seems to be around. I hope you’ll get a chance to read my new book, written with Leslie Gleim, Seeing Young Children with New Eyes: What we’ve learned from Reggio Emilia about the Children and Ourselves. It has eight chapters on The Image of the Child, and another eight chapters on The Documentation Process. There are chapters, after that, giving examples of the kind of consciousness that has arisen in us as we began to use what the Reggiani have given us. You can buy the book from my webpage: http://www.eceteacher.org or from Lulu.com or iTunes.com
We wrote it to share our experience and be of help to others.