Take the best of Montessori and play-based, blend well, and — ta-da! — you have this artsy, idealistic philosophy that’s so cutting edge and groovy, it’s the basis for Google’s on-site preschool for its Silicon Valley employees. And in Manhattan, former members of Blue Man Group have started their own Reggio Emilia-inspired preschool, the Blue Man Creativity Center. (Kids spitting paint to make spin art, anyone?) Reggio Emilia gets its name from the small Italian city in which parents, teachers, and public officials banded together to create schools that rose above the lockstep mindset from past decades, opening their first preschool in 1963. In 1991, Newsweek named Reggio Emilia’s school system one of the 10 best in the world. Reggio-inspired schools are still pretty rare (and admissions thus megacompetitive).
This Italian import — the original schools boasted their own light-filled piazzas — is basically a play-based approach with more structure and teaching. (The educational buzzword is “intentionality.”) Instead of just supervising as kids learn to fingerpaint and take turns on the tire swing, Reggio Emilia teachers spend a great deal of time observing their students’ obsessions and using these as the basis for elaborate lesson plans that can stretch over several weeks and veer off into the wildest tangents. “In many play-based schools, teaching can be one step up from babysitting,” says Janet Stork, a former play-based teacher in New York who now heads Berkeley Montessori School but is a big Reggio Emilia fan. “In Reggio Emilia, play is a provocation for learning rather than just a free-for-all.” An example from my friend Diana, whose two kids attended a Reggio-style preschool in San Francisco: “Someone brought in a map from vacation, and the kids got really excited. Next day, they made a map of their classroom, then they tried to figure out the number of steps from one part of the class to another and the boundaries of the school. A different time they did ramps. An architect came in to talk about handicap access, they studied gravity and acceleration, they rolled marbles in paint down a ramp to make art.” Doesn’t that make you want to be 4 years old again?
What Parents and Teachers Say
Expect a major emphasis on community. The Reggio Emilia approach reflects the Italian cultural view that children are the collective responsibility of the state. From the beginning, community and collaboration have been vital parts of the philosophy. Teachers work as teams, and students are encouraged to do the same. Parents are expected to take part in discussions about school policy, child development, curriculum planning, and evaluation.
Your children’s lives will never again be so well-documented. Teachers are constantly videotaping and photographing children in action, as well as the kids’ finished projects. Not only is this viewed as an important tool in the learning process for children, teachers, and parents alike, it could mean you’ll never lack for scrapbook material. The art program is colossally creative. Reggio schools tend to have the best-stocked craft rooms anywhere: It’s core to the philosophy of boosting children’s creativity to the nth power. “The kids just create,” my friend Diana says. “It’s amazing to see what they come up with, with no rules.” The flip side: Post-Reggio art experiences are a letdown. As Diana’s son, now in conventional first grade, says, “I hate being told what to make.” The super-progressive vibe attracts super-progressive parents. Reggio Emilia schools, though not inherently p.c., can seem very much p.c. when it comes to everything from diversity, holiday celebrations, and snacks (organic and no-sugar preferred) to a sweetly (or cloyingly) “Kumbaya” take on conflict resolution. At Diana’s school, kids who aren’t getting along visit the “Peace Place” to discuss what happened and how it made them feel.
Great attention is given to the look and feel of our classrooms – it is often referred to as the “third teacher”. Aesthetic beauty is seen to us as an important part of respecting our children and their learning environment. Building Blocks strongly believes in the power of nature to inspire and teach children. We have made sure children at Building Blocks are surrounded and immersed in earthy, homely influences, filled with beauty, varying in textures, shapes and spaces. Children will be encouraged to explore, investigate, ponder, create, imagine, and wonder.
Children will have access to mini art studios (arteliers) that will have clay, non-toxic paints, as well as natural materials such as shells, seeds, bark, and leaves as well as recycled materials like spools and tubes.