The Reggio Approach

You’ll hear this phrase throughout Reggio-inspired schools. The first two teachers, implied in the phrase, are the parents and classroom teachers. They are the overwhelmingly pedagogical forces in a young child’s life.  The Reggio approach adds to this the physical environment itself as a pedagogical force. Nursery schools in the town of Reggio Emilia, Italy, have an atelierista on their staff, and we have been lucky this year to add this as a full-time role on our staff as well.  Sari Lipshitz, long time classroom teacher at our school, has gracefully stepped into this role. You may have seen her working with clay in the common space or wire, shells, or other materials in your child’s classroom.  Atelieristais an Italian word that is loosely interpreted in America as “art studio teacher” but to be true to its roots and role in the Reggio nursery schools, we might translate the role as “cognitive development through aesthetic inspiration.”

What does this mean, and how does it happen?

Young children learn through physical manipulation of the stimulants available to them.  As children age and mature, they develop an increasing ability to think in abstractions and generalizations; this ability commonly develops during the end of the nursery years or shortly thereafter.  However, until that transition, children’s development is typically intimately tied to the perception of physical sensations. 

Consider learning about the concept of a “right angle.”  You or I would be at a loss trying to verbalize this to a nursery-aged child, who does not yet have a large enough store of knowledge about the real world in which to place the ideas we would describe to him. However, were we to sit in the block corner and examine the properties of regular polygons through creative play with them, we will likely see the child slowly develop an awareness that the corners of the triangular blocks behave in different ways then the corners of the square or rectangle blocks. It is the tactile perception of these properties, not the abstraction of them into words or thoughts, which allows the young child to develop this understanding.

Looking at a typical nursery classroom, and for that matter a typical nursery supply ordering catalog, you will find three categories of object-properties in overwhelming proportions: primary colors, regular polygons, and physical states (solid, liquid).  In the approach outlined above, in which children learn through interaction with the environment, this leaves much to be desired.  The atelierista’s job, what Sari has been hard at work doing, is expanding the possibilities for thought that the environment presents the child.  A Reggio inspired environment is one in which the physical setting and materials beg the child to think creatively, outside of right angles and primary colors.  When working with Sari, a child might encounter wet clay that doesn’t behave like a solid or a liquid; acorns or pinecones that don’t behave like plastic polygons; or water color crayons that mix into a myriad of colors.  All of this is done in an effort to offer the child physical materials which provoke creative thought.

You will see Sari this year in the Common Space, setting up play experiences for our students, and also in your child’s classroom, where she will be working with small groups of children on classroom projects.  Sari also meets regularly with each teaching team to stay abreast of their curriculum and add relevant materials to their ongoing work.  If you see Sari around the school, please pause for a moment and introduce yourself. 

We began our Reggio-inspired journey as a school several years ago, and are so proud to have taken this next step by adding the full-time role of atelierista.  As always, we have our sights on the horizon and are excited for the possibilities to come.

I am pleased to invite you to join for “coffee chat” in my office tomorrow (first Friday of every month, 9:00-10:00AM), as Sari will be joining this week.  As always, this will be an “agenda-less” meeting in which you are asked to bring whatever is on your mind. Sari will be there to share her perspective on whichever topic we settle on, and for you to get to know her a little bit more.    

Shabbat Shalom,