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The Relevance of Loris Malaguzzi in Early Childhood Education


Loris Malaguzzi (1921-1994) is an educator from Reggio Emilia in Northern Italy. I will present a brief history of Malaguzzi and the beginnings of Reggio Emilia followed by some of the key concepts of his pedagogical philosophy. Then I will conclude with a discussion of how Malaguzzi has influenced the Swedish curriculum and the relevance of his work to current early childhood education.

I find that exploring the Reggio Emilia Approach is like a journey... always new things to discover. The bulk of this text was written in 2009 as a part of my masters in ECE and has been continued in 2017 to include my journey with the Reggio Emilia Approach and to document it and share it with others.

Since I completed my masters I have started writing a blog “Interaction Imagination” - the word interaction being directly inspired by Malaguzzi. There I share my thoughts about being a Malaguzzi inspired educator... as I have found that the more I have explored The Reggio Emilia Approach the more I want to go back to how Malaguzzi inspired his fellow colleagues and those around him. Please take the time to read to the end and discover why he is so important to me... and how he can inspire you.

A Brief History

At the end of the Second World War Malaguzzi heard about a group of women who were building a school from the rubble and financing it with the sale of abandoned German tanks (Hewitt, 2001, p.95) and his involvement with these women became the beginning of what is now known as The Reggio Emilia Approach. New (2000, p.2) writes that the parents did not want ordinary schools; rather, they wanted schools where children could acquire skills of critical thinking and collaboration essential to rebuilding and ensuring a democratic society. Moss (2007,p.136) writes that a previous mayor of the city claimed the Fascist experience had taught the citizens’ of Reggio Emilia that people who conformed were dangerous and that this is why the parents so desired critical thinking for their children. They asked Malaguzzi to teach their children, and he told them that he “had no experience, but promised to do (his) best. 'I'll learn as we go along and the children will learn everything I learn working with them,” (Atner, 1994). These were not empty words but the very foundation of the Reggio Emilia approach. Malaguzzi has “emphasized the importance of ”leaving room for learning” by observing children and reflecting, thus enabling teaching to become better than before” (Scott, 2007, p.22). Malaguzzi, himself learned, as he had promised - he went to Rome to study psychology, where he took inspiration from such thinkers as Vygotsky, Piaget, Dewey and Bruner. But he did not stop there – he continued to research and enter dialogues with others in a variety of fields of learning - absorbing all the information and applying the theories and ideas that suited the needs of the preschools and the children in Reggio Emilia, for example he went to the Rousseau Institute and the Ecole des Petits of Piaget in Geneva (Malaguzzi 1998, p.53) but also the works of Wallon, Chaparède, Decroly, Makarenko, Erikson, Bronfenbrenner, Bovet, Freinet and the Dalton School in New York have guided Malaguzzi in the development of his pedagogical philosophy (p.59). The list of names being just a sample of the scholars Malaguzzi sought inspiration from. The various theories he discussed with the staff of the new preschools, and the parents of the children who attended the preschools, in order to inspire and to process the information (p.60). New (2000, p.2) says that many credit Malaguzzi for uniting many other Italian early childhood educators to share and debate methods of working with young children.The responsibility of running these schools remained heavily in the hands of the parents until 1963 (Malaguzzi, 1998, p.50) “when the municipality of Reggio Emilia began setting up its own network of educational services for children from birth to six years”. (Nutbrown and Abbot, 2007, p.1). According to Spaggiari (1998,p.105), even though the responsibility no longer rested with the parents, but with the municipality, they continued to be an active part of the Reggio preschool, including regular slide shows and art displays, theme evenings, lectures given by experts for both parents and teachers, work sessions where parents help build new furniture, workshops where new techniques are learned, holidays and celebrations spent together with the families and parental involvement in excursions.

Edwards et al.(1998, p.22) says Malaguzzi decided upon limiting class size to twenty as well as there being two teachers in every classroom rather than the customary one, and that teachers should work collectively and without hierarchy as suggested by Bruno Ciari, the leader of the Movement of Cooperative Education, another of source of inspiration for Malaguzzi – and someone he was in frequent dialogue with.

In 1970 the first infant-toddler centre was opened, one year in advance of Law 1044(1971) instituting social and educational services for children under the age of three. This occurred on the demand of the mothers who requested a safe place for their children as they returned to the workforce (Edwards et al1998 p.19, Malaguzzi, 1998, p61). This was followed by a series of social legislation making the availability of nursery schools more readily available to the people of Italy and the number of schools blossomed until the mid 1980’s (Edwards et al, 1998, p.22).

The interaction of Swedish teachers together with those of Reggio Emilia resulted in an exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm called “The Hundred Languages of Children” (Barsotti 2009). The title of the exhibition also being the title of a poem written by Loris Malaguzzi describing how children start life with a hundred languages but are robbed of 99 continued Barsotti. Thus reinforcing his pedagogical philosophy as being one that helps the children to maintain all their different languages and to build upon them rather than telling the child which voice should be used. Barsotti told us, at one of the many Reggio Emilia courses held in Stockholm, that the interaction with Sweden has continued and in 1992 The Reggio Emilia Institute opened in Stockholm allowing dialogues and courses to inspire teachers across the country.

After the sudden death of Malaguzzi, Rinaldi (2008, p.53) confesses to an enormous vacuum, arousing fear that they would lose the sense of the experience itself. Rinaldi had worked for 24 years by Malaguzzi’s side and thanks to their conviction they moved forwards and continued with what Malaguzzi had started. A new version of “The Hundred Languages of Children” Exhibit began its tour in Rome in 1995 and continued around the world (Edwards et al, 1998, p.23). In 1996 the early childhood system in Reggio Emilia was entrusted to the city authorities by the Ministry of Education this included funds to continue the education of its teachers (Edwards et al 1998 p.23). The spirit of Malaguzzi is forever present in the city of Reggio Emilia. He had challenged teachers to develop “new eyes” to enable them to see the true intelligence of children (Rankin 2004, p.81) and through these eyes the teachers of Reggio Emilia continue to see – what the children are doing and are interested in, and further a-field – what the researchers are doing. Dahlberg and Moss (2008, p.4) point out that it is not simply the fact that the educators of Reggio have brought in concepts and theories from many places but that more importantly they have reflected upon them, creating their own meanings and relevance to their work.

Key Concepts

Malaguzzi was the driving force of the key-points of the Reggio Emilia approach. These key-points include – children have rights rather than needs; the child as a collaborator with the teacher in his/her own education/development (interactions/pedagogy of listening); the environment is the third educator; the researcher teacher and the researcher child (documentation/competent child); learning through play, emphasising creative expression (hundred languages), and the involvement of the parents. (Gandini 1998 p.177; Malaguzzi, 1998, p.79; Spaggiari, 1998, p.105; Vecchi 1998 pp139-147; Abbot 2007 p.14; Philips 2007 p.49; Rinaldi, 2008 p.57, p.65)


Malaguzzi (1994, p.1) said that children had the right to fulfil and also expand ALL of their potential, describing them as rich and competent and not beings with needs but beings with rights. He wrote down a Bill Of Three Rights – for the parents, the teachers and the...

Children have the right to be recognized as the bearers of important rights: individual, social and legal. They both carry and construct their own culture and are therefore active participants in the organization of their identity, their autonomy and their capabilities. The construction of this organization takes place through relationships and interactions with peers, adults, ideas and objects, as well as both real and imaginary events of a communicative world (Malaguzzi 1994, online )

I noticed that these writings of Malaguzzi reflect many of the articles in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. For example article 12, where children have the right to say what they think should happen and have their opinions taken into account; and in article 29 that states the development of the child's personality, talents and mental and physical abilities should be to their fullest potential. (United Nations, 1990)

Jones (2000,) described the rights of children in Reggio Emilia as stemming from common sense rather than an international declaration.

The words 'common sense" carry with them overtones of approval, suggesting solid, workable and rational agreement over what is the best to be done in determining the rights of individuals and social groups

(Jones, 2000, p.3)

In this description the rights of children bend and sway with the society and the culture that the child finds itself in – a part of a family, a part of a preschool, and a part of a city. The children can be assured the safety and guidance of the adults around them as well as being heard and valued to have their own theories.

Not only does the word “rights” for me apply to us seeing each child in their developmental process, and seeing their abilities rather than focussing on their difficulties... it also brings me to the idea of democracy. That children are heard and valued are a part of the democratic process... that the children have the right to participate in their own learning journey and not simply be assistants to the plans the educators have for them.


According to an interview between Malaguzzi and Rankin (2004) the interaction between children and children, children and adults and adults and adults is an essential part of the Reggio experience.

Interaction must be an important and strong word. You must write it in the entrance to the school. Interaction. That is, try to work together to produce interactions that are constructive, not only for socializing, but also for construction language, for constructing the forms and meaning of language.

(Rankin, 2004, p.84)

Rinaldi (2008) suggests that just listening to a teacher is not a sufficient way to learn and to develop. She contends a child should participate in his/her own development for it to have any relevance, not only on an individual level but also by listening to peers and learning from them. The teacher should listen to the child in order to develop as a teacher, listen to the parents to further understand, and listen to each other to stimulate professional development.

Rinaldi gives eight explanations of what listening is when describing documentation and assessment. These include the concept that listening is an active verb, that it is an emotion and based on curiosity, that it should be done not just with our ears but with all of our senses, that it is not an easy thing to do and should be done without prejudice, and it is the premise for any learning relationship (2008 p.65). Zakin (2005, p.4) states that this approach to teaching and learning based on collaboration and mentoring stems from Vygotsky’s (1973) theories (zone of proximal development) and requires the teachers to look at their own pedagogical practice. Therefore a curriculum is created not by the state but by the teachers in collaboration with the children. Rankin’s (2004, p.82) writes that Malaguzzi said “its not so much that we need to think of a child who develops himself by himself but rather of a child who develops himself interacting with others”. This is why the meeting place of the piazza is so important – here the children can exchange ideas with each other – as well as in the small activity groups together with a teacher.

Dahlberg and Moss (2008, p.6) suggest another important inspiration for Malaguzzi has been John Dewey (1938) including his view that learning is an active process and not merely the transmission of pre-packaged knowledge. They suggest this is seen in the teachers listening to the children’s interests and developing projects together, learning simultaneously during the process.

The word interaction felt so important to me that I chose it as part of the name of my blog. That interactions are not confined to children interacting with the educators, each other and the world around them, but also my interactions with my colleagues, with the world around me and of course with the children I work with. The blog was started as a way to interact with ideas... writing down my ideas so that I could reflect on them build on them, and also so that others could read them with the hope that I would get feedback in the form of comments that would allow me to think one more time about the process of thought... maybe even have the opportunity for a pedagogical somersault.. where my train of thoughts are turned on its head and I am afforded a new perspective. This can only happen through interactions... with others, with books, with experiences...

The Third Educator

Rinaldi (2008, pp77-88) writes that the layout of the preschools has been a crucial part of the Reggio experience, Malaguzzi believing strongly in the relationship between a good quality environment improving the quality of learning. The environment should enable the child and teacher to express their potential, abilities and curiosity. The Reggio Emilia preschools have been created by the collaboration of architecture and pedagogy and the use of visual arts.

The piazza has become synonymous with Reggio Emilia, each of Malaguzzi’s preschools possessing one. It is a large open central space that most traditional schools also have, but Gandini (1998 p.165) had wrote that Malaguzzi explained that it is how this space is used that is important. By calling it a piazza, the town square, Malaguzzi was creating a significance about this open space – a place for meetings and interactions – and not just a place for “recreation because between 10:00 and 10:30 there is supposed to be a break”. I this sense it is not merely about calling it a piazza either, it is about the significance of the place; it is an approach to thinking about how a space can be used, and this space does not have to be indoors, it can also be created outdoors... not all settings are constructed in the same way, so we cannot just lift the idea of “the square” and transplant it into our own setting. We have to think about the intention of the space, how can we create these interactions, what sort of interactions and why? And then to arrange the space according to these reflections.

Gandini continues that the environment must be flexible and must be adapted with the changing needs of the children. She remembers the words of Malaguzzi who told her that “we value space because of its power to organize, promote pleasant relationships among people of different ages, create a handsome environment, provide changes, promote choices and activity, and its potential for sparking all kinds of social affective, and cognitive learning” (1998, p.177)

The atelier, workshop or studio, is a space in the Reggio Emilia preschools that Malaguzzi (1998, p.73) invested a great deal of hope. It is a space rich in materials and tools easily accessed by the children. It was intended not only as a space of creativity but also as a place of research – a place where the children can test out their theories individually and together with other children, and with professionally competent adults (p.74). There are small ateliers for the children to work on projects in smaller groups – as the children are divided according to age in Reggio Emilia preschools (Gandini, 1998, p.172). There is much that can be written about ateliers, not only the access to the materials and also the use of an atelierista (an educator trained in the arts to provoke/deepen thoughts not only for the children but for the educators too), but I feel it is necessary to point out that the atelier is not the only space for creativity. Creativity is more than art, so being good at art is not about being creative – it is the capacity to make connections (but that is just a very basic way to describe the complexity of creativity). I have written about art, the atelier and creativity often in my blog...

Bishop (2007, p.73) says that Reggio Emilia preschools have intended to have an educational and symbolic value for those using the spaces – both indoors and outdoors. Many describe the preschools as filled with light and colour from the large glass windows, white walls and glass room dividers, aquarium-like, and illuminating the children’s work (Bishop, 2007; Hirst, 2007; Nutbrown and Abbot, 2007; Gandini, 1998;). Furniture and materials are designed so that the children can be independent – the environment allows them to start activities and pursue them with as little assistance from adults (van den Bosch, 2009, p.20).

The third educator can be seen as your colleague, and just like yourself and your human colleagues, it is in need of professional development to be able to interact with the changing needs of the children and of society.


”We teachers must see ourselves as researchers, able to think, and produce a true curriculum, a curriculum produced from all of the children” (Malaguzzi, 1993 p.4). The word ”reconnaissance” is used by Malaguzzi, (1998, pp.88-89) as an important tool to overview the situation with the children, the preschool, the family, the town etc. From this reconnaissance wisdom is acquired into how the children play, how they pretend and how individual and group identities develop etc (p.89). Rinaldi (1998, p.119) explains that the observations are documented and are used to stimulate the teacher’s self-reflection as well as discussions with colleagues.

Projects arise from the interest of the children continues Rinaldi, they are of varying lengths of time and children work by themselves and with the teachers. The teachers continue to observe and document during the project’s process and this documentation makes it “possible for the teachers to sustain the children’s learning while they also learn (to teach) from the children’s own learning” (Rinaldi 1998, p.120) The documentation includes words and photographs at both adult and child height (Leask, 2007, p.45) as well as diagrams, working models, paintings etc

(Bishop, 2007, p.76). Slide documentaries, videos and books says Rinaldi (1998, p.121) also support the memory and interactions of the teachers, children and parents. She continues that by revisiting a project by looking at the documentation the children are offered an opportunity to further reflect and interpret their own ideas. Something I do with the children in Stockholm with exciting results. The artwork and results of the projects therefore document the process – the learning of the children which then offers further learning processes for adults and children alike by acting as a “mirror of our knowledge” (Rinaldi, 1998, 121).

There is a difference between documentation and pedagogical documentation... the latter being taking that step to interact with the documentation... to analyse it together with other... the children, colleagues parents etc in order to better understand the learning of the individual children and the group. And from this analysis plans can be made to support the children's continued learning journey, thus starting the next cycle of documentation to learn from.

I have written quite a lot about documentation - please check the category "Pedagogical Documentation" for further links.


​“Play is a key factor in children’s well-being. As such it is not a luxury to be considered after other rights have been addressed but understood as an essential and integral part of children’s everyday lives and therefore central to the UN Convention as a whole.” (Fronczek, 2009, p.113). Malaguzzi says that as teachers each one needs to be able to play with the things that derive from children and that curiosity is a necessary attribute. He also says that teachers need to be able to try something new based on the ideas that are collected from the children. (Malaguzzi, 1993 p.2). In other words Malaguzzi is not only promoting play as a method of learning for children, but also as a method of learning for the adults around them. This is an idea he got from Hawkins (2002, p65-77) “messing about” - that for educators to truly understand the pedagogical value of play they must mess about with materials, play and explore with them. I have written extensively about play in my blog and the need for a healthy play diet, that there are many kinds of play and children need to have portions of all of them. Often, I feel, adults are too quick to narrowly define play and to defend this view of play. My observations of children over the years has lead me to believe that it can be hard to fully understand what play is, and that it is not something that is exclusively for children either. I also feel that many areas of play has been encroached on by adults, especially educators who search for the teachable moment. Despite the fact that I wrote “play is not meant to be educational. Rather, education flows naturally into the environment os a child at play.” I feel there is room for educational play as one of the many forms of play, my meaning with the statement is that far too often adults forget that free play is a learning environment that maybe we as adults have to be able to see the learning and the children are allowed to get on with their play.

Original Learning is my attempt to explain how play and learning are interwoven. Like an infant who first discovers their hands plays and learns at the same time - the learning impacts the play, the play impacts the learning.

Hundred languages

Malaguzzi (1998 p.3) wrote a poem as part of the exhibition of the children’s work entitled “The Hundred Languages of Children” that reveals his thoughts that children do not think and learn in just one way but have many approaches to the world and his belief that school and culture are robbing them of ninety nine by telling them how to think and how to learn without joy. Göhlich (2008, p.1) wrote that learning is multidimensional – that it includes learning to know, learning to know-how and learning to live and that it is not just a cognitive process.

Learning creatively has involved challenging many preconceived ideas about education. Up to now, art instruction, has been more appreciated for its cultural and recreational service to children than its educational possibilities and Zakin (2005 p.5) believes that it should be seen with new eyes, that art and science are not at opposite ends of the scale. Gardner (1998 p.xvii) also comments on the harmony Reggio has achieved by “challenging so many false dichotomies” for example child versus adult, enjoyment versus study as well as, like Zakin, the contrast of art and science. Rinaldi (2006 p.173) continues this list with work-play and reality-imagination; she writes the word “and”, linking everything together – creativity and rationality, teaching and researching etc. I understand this, as one should cover all areas with equal importance so that the child has a chance to develop her “hundred languages” and has a greater opportunity to find the ones that she excels at and enjoys.

If there are a hundred languages there are a hundred ways to listen... as educators we need to see how each child learns and to be able to provide a curriculum that meets these learning abilities, as well as providing new languages for the children to try out. If we listen we can hear more languages; in this way we learn from the children and from colleagues and parents, as well as online communities that can share ideas and thoughts about learning and play.


The parents are an important part of the Reggio preschool experience, they are also considered a specialist and are recognised for bringing with them a particular viewpoint as well as values (Rinaldi, 2006, p.157). Hunter (2007, p.39) says that parents are encouraged to participate in the daily life of the preschools and that parental observations contribute to “lively discussions”. Running the preschools without the parents, write Södergren and Wiking (2009, p.15), is unthinkable in the Reggio Emilia preschools and are a part of their development rather than just “customers” who drop off their children to professionals who make all the decisions.

Reggio Emilia and Sweden

Malaguzzi’s “first flight abroad” was to Sweden and the exhibit which was first called “When the eye jumps over the wall” that later became “The Hundred Languages of Children” (Barsotti, 2009). This involvement with Sweden came before the curriculum for the preschool (Lpfö98) came into being in 1998. Vecchi comments on the importance of the move of the Swedish preschool from the Social Service Department to the Education Department indicating a change of viewing preschools as a place to protect and nurture children to a place of learning (Vecchi 1999, p.46). The new curriculum was welcomed by many as it raises the status of the preschool, by describing the preschool as laying the foundation of lifelong learning, giving parents the possibility to influence the setting as well as challenging teachers concerning giving children the right to influence their own situation (Rösne and Sköldefors 1999, p.48).

Bondesson et al (2007 p.17) describes the new Swedish preschool curriculum as changing the focus of how the child is seen. The curriculum sees the child as competent, as did Malaguzzi, and that the teachers should support the child’s development and learning through interactions with children and adults. “Children in preschool should meet adults who see the potential in each child and who involve themselves interactively with both the individual child and the group of children as a whole” (Lpfö98 p.5).

The curriculum has a general formulation which allows a variety of interpretations – therefore the traditional Swedish preschool, writes Bondesson et al (2007 p.18) is able to continue working with children based on adult lead activities, but at the children’s level to encourage their learning. At the same time it allows for the Reggio inspired method of allowing the children to influence their own learning process and the teachers as fellow researcher. The Swedish curriculum states “The preschool should promote learning, which presupposes active discussion in the work team on the contents of what constitutes learning and knowledge” (Lpfö 98 p.6).

At the preschool where I work in Stockholm we have a pedagogical advisor that comes once a week and works with us – to discuss ideas, documentation methods and starting up projects after observing the children’s interests. Therefore we are discussing what learning is for us, embroidering the philosophy of Malaguzzi onto our Swedish

fabric. The Swedish preschool curriculum also covers Malaguzzi’s key points of being creative “by means of different forms of expression, such as pictures, song and music, drama, rhythm, dance and movement, as well as spoken and written language” as an essential part of “promoting the development and learning of the child” (Lpfö98, 2006 p.7) Södergren and Wiking (2008, p.26) write their concern that the Reggio Approach preschools in Sweden can never expect the parent participation that occurs at the preschools in Reggio Emilia in Italy. This, they believe, stems from the fact that preschools in Sweden arise from the parents need for childcare rather than being created for the children as they did in Reggio Emilia. This, though, does not consider the parent co-operatives in Sweden that rely on parental involvement – these co- operatives are not always Reggio inspired, but have many different influences – from traditional Swedish preschools, forest schools (Ur och Skur) to Montessori etc. Working at a Reggio inspired preschool without the parental involvement expectations and having my children at a parent co-operative without a Reggio profile has been an eye-opening experience to see just how valuable the interaction of parents is for teachers, parents and not least the children.

Parents are seen as valuable by the Swedish curriculum as the section on preschool and home states – “Parents should have the be involved and influence activities in the preschool.” (Lpfö98, 2006, p13) but are not as actively involved, on the whole, as the parents in Reggio Emilia.

To see the environment as a third educator is something Swedish preschools are still working on, Bondesson et al (2007,p.37) had predicted that this would have been the area easiest for Swedish preschools to adopt from the Reggio philosophy, but were disappointed in their study to find that this was not the case. They felt that having a mirror pyramid was not enough and that the environments lacked sensual experiences and a more inspiring environment for the children’s creativity. Preschools in Sweden, both traditional and Reggio are making the transition from adult sized furniture to child sized (Thestrup and Sundquist, 2004 p.13). My own preschool has two child- sized tables and one adult-sized table, although there are discussions to invest in child-sized furniture for the entire department.

The rights of children, “each individual shall be emphasised and made explicit in all preschool activity” (Lpfö, p.3) comes under the heading of fundamental values in the Swedish curriculum, the word “democracy” being the very first word used. “Democracy forms the foundation of the preschool.” (Lpfö98, p3)

This is very poignant when one considers that the preschools in Reggio Emilia were started as a reaction to the fascism Italy endured during World War II. Rinaldi (2008 p.140-141) writes of the importance of democracy in the preschools in Reggio Emilia and its connection to the children’s participation – “school as a place of democracy”. In Stockholm, we have not only the Swedish National Curriculum to follow, but also Stockholm’s Preschool Curriculum, which is a compliment to the national one. In the Stockholm Curriculum there is a section on pedagogical documentation (the word documentation does not occur in the national curriculum), it describes documentation as a tool to reflect and develop the setting, allowing the work at the preschool to be visible so that children, parents and staff have a basis for reflection as well as it being a support in self evaluation and part of the systematic quality of work (Stockholm Stad 2009, p.14).

The Relevance of Reggio

To give an idea of the extent of its influence, between January 1981 and January 1999 there were approximately six hundred delegations to Reggio Emilia with a total of about ten thousand visitors (Morrow, 1999, p.23). In Sweden it can be a long wait before one gets the opportunity to visit Reggio Emilia as part of one of the courses

offered, as there are so many wanting to visit – my preschool is still on that waiting list – a year later.

There are several areas of research identified by Abbot and Nutbrown (2007) arising from the inspiration of Malaguzzi and the Reggio Approach, for example the role of teachers, parents and play in the education of children. Also inclusion and attitudes to special educational needs as well as the role of the preschool environment and creativity.

What Malaguzzi has introduced to Reggio Emilia is not necessarily new, Dewey (1980, p15) had written about traditional schools being a crime against the nature of children by not following the interests of the children and learning practically, as did Pestalozzi (1746-1827) (Nutbrown et al 2009, p.27). Nutbrown et al (2009) continue that play has had several pioneers including Montessori (1870-1952), Steiner (1861-1925), Fröbel (1782-1852), Isaacs (1885-1948) and Margaret Macmillan (1860-1931). Comenius (1592-1670) had written about how teachers should understand how a child’s mind works, as did Dewey (1859-1952), Vygotsky (1896-1934) and Montessori with their ideas of a child-centred education – with activities and interaction and Charlotte Mason’s (1842-1923) writings became known by some as a child’s Bill of Rights (Nutbrown et al, 2009, p.36). What was new with Malaguzzi was the longevity of putting his theory into his practical work. Gardner (1998, p.xvi) compares Dewey’s decades of writing theory and his four years of practical work in a school with Reggio Emilia, “Nowhere else in the world is there such a seamless and symbiotic relationship between a school’s progressive theory and its practices”. The “hundred languages of children” documents how the preschools in Reggio Emilia have evolved over forty years interweaving theory and practice during this time. Nutbrown (2006, p.121) quotes Moss (2001), that:

“while we seek the answer which will be enable us to foreclose, in Reggio they understand that even after 30 years or more, their work remains provisional, continually open to new conditions, perspectives, understandings and possibilities”

We need to also continually assess what we are doing, to weave into our practical work the theories that we are reading – and making it relevant to the situation we find ourselves in.

Nutbrown et al (2009, p154-155) describe play as an important part of learning for children, and that although the word “play” is used often its definition is not always clear. After a period of children “working” in school being favoured, play, has once again, found a new respect.

The EYFS and the Early Learning Goals (ELGs), however, provide suficient flexibility for practitioners to follow children’s interests, respond to their ideas for developing play activities, and provide structured activities (which can also be playful) to teach specific knowledge and skills. (The National Strategies Early Years, 2009 p.5)

For teachers in Reggio Emilia play is highly valued for its ability to promote development writes New (1998 p.274), but is only a part of the learning package –

the project being of equal importance.

Malaguzzi’s description of a child with rights rather than needs is relevant in the discussion of inclusion. Phillips (2007 p.52) writes that “ the hundred ways of thinking, of playing, of speaking” in Malaguzzi’s poem is a recognition of diversity rather than churning out a “standard” child from the school system. Inclusion has been a part of Reggio Emilia practice prior to it becoming national law in Italy in 1971 (Vakil et al, 2003, p187). Inclusion, though, is more than just placing special needs children in a classroom, write Vakil et al (2003, p187) it requires a holistic approach of the child with appropriate practices which is not always a possibility in a “strictly academic curriculum”. Smith (1998) writes that in Reggio Emilia an extra teacher is assigned to the group rather than the child which avoids, as Agneta Hellström called the “bodyguard model” in which the support teacher, often lacking in appropriate experience and training, is assigned to the child. Soncini, interviewed by Smith, goes on to explain how ALL teachers in the preschool are supplied with the relevant information so that children with special rights are welcomed in all classes and all areas of the school and not totally reliant on one adult (Smith, 1998: 201-205). Phillips (2007, pp58-59) points out that no place is perfect and that a recently built preschool had not been made wheelchair accessible, and that not all rooms and all materials were within reach for such children.

Canella (1997 p.162) says the voices of children have been silenced by the weight of “adult” constructions of and for them. The English Foundation Stage Curriculum views the child as a future pupil, write Soler and Miller (2003, p.61), they continue that the curriculum is organised in stepping stones which views children’s development in a sequential manner. This means policy makers have assumed where levels begin and end for all children whereas, they write, Malaguzzi has stated the child as the starting point of the curriculum. Rinaldi, write Edwards et al, (1998 p.183), said that learning must be imagined as “spiralling” with children, teachers and parents as active parts of the learning process that cannot be expected to occur in any set order.

Warash et al (2008 p.447) write of the similarities of Reggio Emilia with DAP (Developmentally Appropriate Practice) and the foundations of the Competent Learner Model, as those that have an appropriate curriculum, teaching strategies, and an appropriate learning environment so that children acquire the necessary competencies to be competent learners. They continue that Malaguzzi and the Reggio Approach have stimulated a “powerful arena for reflecting on and questioning educational practices”.

Malaguzzi (1998 p.75-77) said that creativity should not be considered a separate mental faculty and that it requires the partnership of knowledge and expression rather than being at odds. Robinson (1998) has also come to understand the importance of creativity as a part of the educational process rather than a separate subject.

Creativity is not simply a matter of letting go. Serious creative achievement relies on knowledge, control of materials and command of ideas. Creative education involves a balance between teaching knowledge and skills, and encouraging innovation. In these ways, creative development is directly related to cultural education. (Robinson, 1998, p.6)

Final Dialogue

The Reggio Emilia approach requires a great deal from its teachers, they need to have the energy and enthusiasm to develop and evolve, to have the ability to believe in themselves and in the children and parents, they need to be able to be part of a team – not just a team of colleagues, but of the whole community. Malaguzzi had great expectations of his teachers and could be exacting and demanding, but this was a part of his respect for their intelligence, abilities and possibilities (Rinaldi, 2008 p.59) in just the same way that a teacher strives to help a child reach his full potential. Warash et al (2008, p.445) observed that teachers in Reggio did not praise children for work below their full capacity and that there is a persistence of questioning that is not seen in the U.S.A, where fostering self-esteem is more dominant.

One concern is the lack of research into the effects of the Reggio approach. There is no research into whether or not they achieve what they set out to do. There is no knowing whether or not the children will grow up into adults able to think for themselves and trust in their own convictions. There is a need to evaluate their own effectiveness – not to just continuously evaluate the time of the early childhood years – but to see whether it does have a lasting effect – whether these children keep their “extra pocket” into adulthood, and if they do, whether they use the contents of this extra pocket (Hunter 2007). If they are not keeping or using these pockets there is then a need to develop their practice further so that they do in fact achieve the goals the original parents had set and the very reason for the preschools existing.

There are studies that show that preschool does have lasting effects - the High/Scope method HAS been evaluated and showed that working with young children does in fact improve conditions for adult life (Schweinhart 2009). The EPPE (Effective Pre- school and Primary Education), the largest study in Europe on the effects of preschool education on children’s intellectual and social and behavioural development, has also shown that good quality preschool education has lasting effects beyond the preschool years (Sylva & Siraj-Blatchford, 2009)

When I attended a Reggio Course in Stockholm I found it strange that we were unable to take photographs at the preschool we visited that had been to Reggio Emilia in Italy – their reason being that they themselves had not been allowed to take photographs during their visit in Italy. I could not reconcile with the fact that a pedagogical philosophy, which promotes photographic documentation as a method of memory stimulation to further deepen the learning process, would then deny visitors such a source of inspiration. When I questioned the ban on photography there came an explanation of making ones own journey. This I can understand, but at the same time question – we have travel guides that help us make decisions about a journey, including photographs and information to help us make a choice. Even if we were to choose what was recommended in the guidebook it would never be the same

experience – the weather might be different, the group of people would interact in a different way etc – producing something new and unique. The photographs of the preschools that allowed such documentation (on the same course) have proved to be a great source of inspiration. We could never replicate what they have done as our building and our needs are different – but they serve to inspire us to create something new in our own location and question what we do now.

It is impossible to say just how much influence Malaguzzi and the Reggio Approach has had upon early childhood educational practices, but without a doubt the sheer numbers of educators visiting Reggio Emilia and reading the literature must be having an impact on how teachers view the child and their own educational approach. Carlo Barsotti (2005) described Loris Malaguzzi as a genuine person and that maybe his greatness lay in the fact he was never satisfied with his successes. He continues that Malaguzzi never wrote down his early childhood pedagogy as a method as he believed it to be continually changing and evolving, that the teachers should also be non static and offer tools and experiences that the children could use to stimulate their creativity.It is this influence, writes New (2000, p.4) to promote, not change, but reflection, debate, and conversation--that may well be Malaguzzi’s and the preschools of Reggio Emilia greatest legacy.


Of course reflection is a must have part to any dialogue about Malaguzzi and the Reggio Emilia Approach. Despite writing this eight years ago now I will still return to read, to find those quotes and those references that inspired me then and continue to inspire me... but now, with time I read them with a new perspective, giving me the opportunity to reflect further and anew.

Also eight years ago I had to write with a word limitation – which was not the easiest thing to do, there was so much I wanted to convey about my relationship with the Reggio Emilia Approach and there simply was not the word space to include everything. Hence my desire to share this one more time with a few thoughts added here and there. I still have not written as much as I maybe could – especially about PLAY, LISTENING, DOCUMENTATION, DEMOCRACY, THE THIRD EDUCATOR, CREATIVITY... etc etc... . Those of you familiar with my blog will know that I have written a lot about listeningI shared my journey as an educator learning more about how to work philosophically with 1-6 year olds. So even though I have not written much about listening in this article it is because I trust you will find plenty about listening, reflection and metacognition throughout my blog.

I cannot express how important it is to reflect. And to do this with openness. That kind of openness that allows you to see your mistakes and not be afraid of them, but to see them as a learning opportunity. The kind of openness that allows you to receive comments from colleagues that you might not want to hear at first, but ultimately allow you to be a better teacher. The kind of openness that allows you to talk frankly with your colleagues in a respectful way to challenge them as we all evolve as educators.

Self reflection is fantastic, but reflecting with colleagues and friends, with the children and parents is also essential to grow as an educator... to evolve your teaching skills to meet the evolving child.

As the children need a safe place to learn, so do educators. If we are to learn with the children then our workplace needs to be safe, it needs to be respected and valued. Sadly within the early years sector status is not something we rate high on in society, this I feel contributes to educators not feeling safe. This means that evolving will be stifled by the need to get it right and get approval. This is not something I want for the children I work with, it is not something I want for the colleagues I work with... including all those I interact with online and in workshops I hold around the world. ECE needs to be valued.

Malaguzzi was, for me, a person that raised the value bar... not by saying we need to teach in a specific way, but that we needed to adjust our approach to how we see the child, how we value learning and play, how we interpret words, how we interact with the world around us, how we perceive education... to see the rich complexity and the interdisciplinary nature of learning.

My appreciation of what Malaguzzi has contributed as lead me to develop the idea of Original Learning... the idea that play and learning are interwoven... this lack of play v learning, arts vi science etc - but that they are all a part of a whole. That there should not be the hierarchy of value given to subjects and that there should not be a hierarchy within the classroom.. that all who enter the place of play and learning have something of value to contribute. I will over time, explain more and dig deeper into this idea of Original Learning.


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