Understanding Space in a Reggio-Inspired Classroom
by Teresa Narey, Pre-K Educator
As many of you may have read in our brochure or handbook or on our website, Beth Shalom Early Learning Center is inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education. Reggio Emilia, a city in Italy, revamped its approach to early child care as it rebuilt its preschools after WWII. The once predominantly Catholic programs became flexible environments where children were considered co-constructors of knowledge and given considerable agency in their classrooms.
Here at Beth Shalom, we recognize the value in child-directed learning. Our teachers strive to understand the children’s interests and showcase them in various ways. While each classroom is uniquely arranged according to the children’s needs and teachers’ tastes, you will notice evidence of the Reggio approach in the following ways:
1. Use of white space. In Working in the Reggio Way, Julianne P. Wurm explains that in Reggio-inspired classrooms, “The classroom [serves] as a canvas upon which the students and teachers [can] create their own body of work.” Here, the belief is that the needs of the children (and teachers) evolve over time. Therefore, the classroom space should be clean and easily manipulated. One month the children may be interested in block play and materials related to this play will consume the space. The next month, they might be invested in dramatic play. A clean, calm space allows for such transitions to happen seamlessly.
2. Prominence of children’s artwork. We’re all familiar with traditional children’s
crafts—handprint turkeys at Thanksgiving, clouds made of cotton balls, construction paper snowflakes—but according to the Reggio approach, open-ended projects truly highlight and value children’s thinking. According to Mary Ann Biermeier, a professional development director in Arizona, clay, wire, wood, and recycled materials are materials used frequently in Reggio environments that allow children to explore. You may notice that when decorations adorn the walls of your child’s classroom, they are often pictures or projects unique to each child. Emphasizing process over product helps to ensure that the environment is child-centered and that children are exploring and learning with all of their senses.
3. Natural materials. Flowers, stones, pine cones, corks and shells are common materials found in Reggio classrooms. Unlike natural materials, toys often have an intended purpose, limiting children in their imaginative play. Natural materials, often referred to as “loose parts,” allow children to explore and create freely while keeping connected to the world around them.
As you drop off and pick up your child each day, be sure to notice the ways his/her classroom is Reggio inspired. Ask the teachers about the children’s interests and how they’re addressing them. Consider bringing in leaves, twigs, and pine cones or recyclables to contribute to your child’s classroom’s loose parts collection.