The Reggio Emilia Approach to Education

Sweden’s Reggio Emilia Institutet has published an interview with Howard Gardner in the Fall 2015 edition of its magazine Modern Barndom (English: Modern Childhood). 

In this article, Gardner discusses and shares insights about the educational approach of the Italian city Reggio Emilia and the collaboration between Reggio Emilia and Harvard’s Project Zero. 

Click here to see a PDF of the article in Swedish. The original English interview questions and answers have been reprinted below.

1. What do you think is the most important contribution that Reggio Emilia has had on the educational landscape?

A: I am going to challenge the premise of this question. Over the last 50 years, the educators in Reggio Emilia have developed an entire approach to the education of young children, which is also reflected in the values and the mode of operation of the city of Reggio Emilia. To ask for the most important contribution is like asking what is the most important feature of a democracy and how is it realized in Sweden (or in New Zealand or in a New England town meeting). It is the whole approach that is the “contribution.”

I would add that many persons and places take a superficial approach to Reggio Emilia and just copy one feature, like ‘projects’ or ‘reflection’ or ‘listening’ or having a ‘pedagogista.’ What I like about Sweden is that educators in your country have taken the whole approach seriously, realizing that it takes time to construct and must be continuously monitored and adjusted. I often joke that Reggio is really located in Sweden, not in Italy.

2. Have your experiences with Reggio Emilia had any impact on your own research? If so, in what ways?

A: I don’t do research with young children. In fact, at present, I am carrying out a large research project with students at the university. But I can say that my over 30 years of visiting Reggio have affected profoundly my understanding of young children, of their teachers, and of the possibilities of the pedagogical environment. For me, and for others like my teacher Jerome Bruner, time in the Reggio preschools has opened our eyes to potentials that we had not appreciated before. When I first visited Reggio, I had young children, but I was quite naive about their individual potentials and how they could interact with peers and elders. Now, I have young grandchildren, and I think that I have much greater insights into their potentials of understanding, listening, creating, cooperating, and relating positively to their broader community.

3. In what way do you think you and your research have had an impact on Reggio Emilia?

A: I think that Loris Malaguzzi, the principal architect of the Reggio approach during the early years, found my general approach to children sympathetic (I am very interested in the visual arts, for example, and I am a follower of John Dewey and democratic education) and thought that my idea of’multiple intelligences might connect to his “hundred languages of children.” That said, I don’t think that my own ideas have been necessary for Reggio Emilia’s approach.

On the other hand, twenty years ago, I arranged with an American foundation to provide support for Reggio Emilia, in the wake of Malaguzzi’s untimely death. That support enabled a longtime relationship between Reggio Emilia and Harvard’s Project Zero (PZ), a research group that I then directed and have been involved with for nearly 50 years. The interactions between Reggio Emilia and PZ have been mutually beneficial. Not only have we helped Reggio to understand and explain to others what is most distinctive about the enterprise (see question #1); our working together has opened up connections to networks of researchers and practitioners all around the world, from the Lemshaga School outside Stockholm to the Early Model Learning Center in Washington, D.C., to connections with the LEGO Foundation. I would like to think that our two organizations can be key players in facilitating a more progressive, democratic, and caring education for young children, at a time when too much focus around the world falls on test preparation, national rankings, shoving the curriculum of school into the preschool years, and focusing on science, mathematics and engineering, to the exclusion of the arts, humanities, and interpretive disciplines.

4. Does a dialogue continue between you and PZ on the one hand and Reggio Emilia on the other?

A: There is a continuing dialogue between key figures in the Reggio network, both in Italy and elsewhere, including Sweden, and several researchers at Harvard Project Zero (including Mara Krechevsky, Steve Seidel, Melissa Rivard, Daniel Wilson, Ben Mardell, and others, including me). We correspond regularly and take advantage of opportunities to meet (e.g. at the LEGO Conference in May, where Carlina Rinaldi won the LEGO prize; or in Boston in May, when Tiziana Filippini was awarded an honorary degree at Wheelock College). I can say that our relations with our Reggio Emilia colleagues have been formative and transformative for how we at Project Zero think about young children (and, in an extension of Reggio work, with older children as well). I hope that the interactions with our research group have been fruitful as well for the educational pioneers and architects in Reggio Emilia.


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