The Reggio Emilia Classroom: Where Young Children Lead the Charge

Walk into any of our early childhood classrooms here at Teton Science Schools and you’re bound to step into a space that inspires curiosity, wonder and awe; a space that touches the senses in every which way and tempts you to touch, explore and express yourself through mediums like music, painting, collage, dance and more. Observe what happens throughout the day in one of these spaces and you’re sure to witness children leading the charge in their own learning, teachers learning from and with their young students — inviting questions, listening, recording and facilitating discussions — and perhaps, even a parent or two volunteering in the classroom. From the outside, these spaces look and feel more like bustling little communities — growing and transforming based on the children’s interests and the places they explore — rather than pre-packaged, one-size-fits-all classrooms. That’s because they are.

Our pre-kindergarten communities and classrooms are inspired by the Reggio Emilia philosophy and — in addition to our place-based education philosophy and practices — lay a foundation to support the development of critical and innovative thinkers that grow up to learn, think and act independently and collaboratively to make this world a better place.

But Wait, What is the Reggio Emilia Philosophy?

Named after the north Italian city from which it originated, the Reggio Emilia philosophy was born by Loris Malaguzzi in response to a post-WWII community’s need to rebuild. For residents of the Reggio Emilia community, education was viewed as perhaps the most critical component of their economy, as well as society, and the most valuable and impactful way they could emerge from the trenches and ensure a vital future for their city. What emerged from their post-war financial investment, alongside the support of committed educators, parents and the city’s residents, was an innovative learning philosophy and approach that would empower children to construct their own learning.

The Guiding Principles of Reggio Emilia

Malaguzzi believed that “the teacher’s goal is not so much as to facilitate learning in the sense of making it smooth or easy, but rather to stimulate it by making problems more complex and difficult.” Rather than making assumptions that a child can not, instead teachers must create opportunities for children to voice their ideas, explore their interests and test their theories. Over the years, the Reggio Emilia philosophy has evolved its own distinctive and innovative set of principles.

The six guiding principles of the Reggio Emilia philosophy:

Image of the Child

Children are viewed as competent, capable and rich in potential to be the protagonists of their own learning. They have the ability to drive curriculum through their own curiosities and interests and are regularly asked to think creatively, problem-solve and share their theories and ideas with the group. 

The Role of the Environment

The learning environment acts as a third teacher. It should be dynamic, engaging, and inspiring and reflect the inhabitants of the space and the values they hold. The work of the children and the children themselves should be visible and the space designed in a way that entices, excites and welcomes the student in a way that honors their intelligence. The learning environment is not just thought of within the context of walls, but what’s accessible within the children’s place and natural world. 

The Studio

The studio plays an important role in the classroom. Malaguzzi wrote a poem about the one hundred languages of children believing that young children should be encouraged, “to explore their environment and express themselves through all of their available ‘expressive, communicative, and cognitive languages,’ whether they be words, movement, drawing, painting, building, sculpture, shadow play, collage, dramatic play or music” (Edwards, Gandini & Forman, 1998). Therefore, a diverse amount of materials should be available to children to enhance their language literacy.

Parents as Partners

Parents serve an important role within the learning community. The partnership that is created between parents, teachers and children is important in supporting each child in having the best possible learning experience. A parent knows and understands their specific child best and teachers understand and know about early childhood education; together they can support children to have a successful and enjoyable learning experience. Parents actively participate in the classroom, whether in the classroom, out in the community or exploring the natural world. 

Teachers as Researchers

Education is seen as “a communal activity and sharing of culture through joint exploration among children and adults who together open topics to speculation and discussion” (Edwards, Gandini & Forman, 1998).  Teachers are co-constructing knowledge alongside the children versus filling an empty vessel. Teachers record conversations, take photographs and revisit conversations and documentation with children to better understand their thinking. Through these processes the teacher continues to explore the childrens’ interests and document the learning that’s happening in the classroom, both between children and teachers and children and the community at large.


Documentation is a way to make learning visible and there are several types that can typically be found in the classroom:

      • Historical documentation that captures the capacity of young children and highlights new learning. This type of documentation can serve as a message to visiting families about what types of experiences are had in the space and how the school views children.
      • Ongoing documentation that highlights the work that is currently on-going or in process, not just the finished product.
      • Daily documentation that captures a special moment or several moments of each day that includes pictures of the children and their quotes.

So, where does Place-Based Education fit in?

Head of Early Childhood Education at Teton Science Schools, Erin Solomon, believes that the Reggio Emilia approach and place-based education form a really beautiful pairing.

“It is the perfect foundation for a child’s educational journey — for children to be curious about the world around them, have their explorations be inquiry based and centered around themselves, their peers, their communities and their place, and really, put the power of research, design and experimentation into their hands.” 

We’re not sure we could have said it any better ourselves.

Interested in learning more about how we meld the philosophies of Reggio Emilia and Place-Based Education at Teton Science Schools?

Check out our upcoming workshops

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