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Reggio Emilia and Forest School, a match made in heaven @Wildlings!

The Reggio Emilia ethos has found its way into a number of preschools in Singapore and has proven to be wildly popular. A long time ago at Wildlings we recognised the synergies between the Forest School and Reggio Emilia approaches to early years education and we've been successfully implementing this blended approach for our accompanied and pre-school programmes. Read on to find out how we do it.

The Origins of Reggio Emilia

The Reggio Emilia approach originated from a town in Northern Italy called Reggio Emilia. It all started after the World War Two when a middle-school teacher by the name of Loris Malaguzzi heard that a group of villagers were putting together a school. He headed to the town of Reggio Emilia and saw a group of women picking up pieces of bricks which could be used to build a preschool. Loris Malaguzzi was inspired by the idea and decided to help. Loris Malaguzzi worked very closely with the group of teachers and community to build the school’s curriculum. He soon left his job as a middle-school teacher to focus on the needs of the preschool. The approach of the preschool was then adopted across the town.

The Image of the Child

The Reggio Emilia approach views children as curious and competent learners of the world. This is known as the ‘Image of The Child’. In his article, Your Image of The Child: Where Teaching Begins, Loris Malaguzzi mentioned,

“There are hundreds of different mages of the child. Each one of you has made yourself an image of the child that directs you as you begin to relate to the child. This theory within you pushes you to behave in certain ways; it orients you as you talk to the child, listen to the child, observe the child. It is very difficult for you to act contrary to this internal image.”

An adult who trusts that the child is capable of making connections to his surroundings safely, will observe quietly as the child interacts with the different materials that are available. The adult will only speak to intrigue the mind of the child (but with no intention of directing the child’s play) or when safety is of a concern. The adult trusts the learning process even if it’s moving at a pace slower than expected. The adult believes that learning is not always tangible and that the child is processing the cognitive processes in his mind. What is your image of the child? Do you find that your dialogue with children is highly influenced by this image?

Hundred Languages of Children

Loris Malaguzzi composed a poem which beautifully represented the multitude number of ways children communicate their thoughts and emotions. The term ‘languages’ is a symbolic representation of ‘concepts’ possibly covered during play. It signified the art of the method of exploration which the child has adopted to create meaning of the world around him – construction, movement, drama, painting, sculpting, writing, music, dancing, design.

The Environment

The environment is seen as the ‘third teacher’. The Reggio Emilia approach believes that the environment plays a crucial role in inspiring possible play experiences. To ensure that the environment honours the children’s ongoing interests and passion, the teacher needs to be mindful when it comes to observing the children. Teachers capture powerful images and videos of children during their play or learning experiences. Teachers also dictate children’s ‘voices’ to document their conversations. These observations allow teachers to put on intentional lenses as she observes the children at play to gather more information about their explorations. In the words of Loris Malaguzzi,

“An environment that grows out of your relationship with the child is unique and fluid. The quality of and quantity of relationships among you as adults and educators also reflects your image of the child.”

Reggio Emilia and Forest School

The Forest School ethos mirrors the Reggio Emilia pedagogy. Children are perceived as capable beings who are full of curiosity. In the words of Malaguzzi, children have “pieces of the world” attached to them having come from different family background and culture. Each child has something valuable to add to conversations and play. In our Preschool Program at Wildlings, children are invited to share their thoughts and prior experiences. Working collaboratively is one of the key factors of the Reggio Emilia approach. Children feed off one another’s ideas. During one of our discussions about how everyone is unique, six-year-old Abby, explained the concept of merging ideas;

“You can have different ideas from your friend. But what you can do is put your idea, and your friend’s ideas… together.”

In Forest School, children are given time and space to create their own play experiences, this is because we know that children are competent and creative. They come with ideas on how they should connect with their environment and create meaning from it. In the book Free to Learn, Dr Peter Gray wrote,

“Children are biologically predisposed to take charge of their own education. When they are provided with the freedom and means to pursue their own interests, in safe settings, they bloom and develop along diverse and unpredictable paths and they acquire the skills and confidence required to meet life’s challenges.”