What is Reggio-inspired learning & emergent curriculum?

What children learn does not follow as an automatic result from what is taught, rather, it is in large part due to the children’s own doing, as a consequence of their activities and our resources.
—Loris Malaguzzi, The Hundred Languages of Children

"Relationships are at the very heart of the Reggio Emilia philosophy. That philosophy is reflected in an environment that encircles the child with three “teachers,” or protagonists. The first teacher—the families—takes on the role of active partner and guide in the education of the child. The second is the classroom teacher. Often working in pairs, the classroom teacher assumes the role of researcher and intentionally engages children in meaningful work and conversation. The third teacher is the environment—a setting designed to be not only functional but also beautiful and reflective of the child’s learning. It is the child’s relationship with family, teacher, and environment that ignites learning.

Children construct their own knowledge through a carefully planned curriculum that engages and builds upon the child’s current knowledge, recognizing that knowledge cannot simply be provided for the child. The curriculum, often emergent in nature, is based on the interests of the children. When learning is the product of the child’s guided construction rather than simply the teacher’s transmission and the child’s absorption, learning becomes individualized. Most important, teaching becomes a two-way relationship in which the teacher’s understanding of the child is just as important as the child’s understanding of the teacher.

Emergent curriculum is not a free-for-all. It requires that teachers actively seek out and chase the interests of the children. This kind of teaching environment demands a high degree of trust in the teacher’s creative abilities, and envisions an image of the child as someone actively seeking knowledge. It is a perspective that turns structured curriculum, with predetermined outcomes, on its head. A standardized curriculum that is designed to replicate outcomes often eliminates all possibility of spontaneous inquiry, stealing potential moments of learning from students and teachers in a cookie-cutter approach to education in the classroom. Given the diversity of the children we teach, accepting a canned recipe for teaching, evaluation, and assessment is problematic at best. Each child we teach is unique, requiring us to use our own judgment, instead of rules, to guide our teaching practice. To teach well, educators must ensure that creativity and innovation are always present. Although good teaching requires organization and routines, it is never inflexible and rarely routine. It dances with surprise. It pursues wonder. It finds joy at every turn.

Flexible environments allow teachers to be responsive to the interests of the children, freeing them to construct knowledge together.One thing we know for certain is that students will thrive in a school environment where the teachers themselves are thriving. The best schools nurture the teachers who work there as well as the students who learn within the walls. Learning from our colleagues deserves time and attention, as it opens up new ideas about what professional development should be. Changing outcomes in classrooms requires teachers to challenge what they know and what they think is developmentally appropriate, and to reach beyond pedagogical techniques. In our experience, this can happen only in an environment that is respectful of differences in viewpoint, supportive in trying something new, and mindful of the willingness of teachers to shed their sensitivity and isolation. Teachers who have grown accustomed to working alone transform their thinking into creating solutions as they share with their colleagues. This transformation in teaching practices can happen only in an environment where collaboration and discussion are highly valued.

There is much about the Reggio Emilia approach that distinguishes it from other efforts to define best practices in early childhood education. Much of the worldwide attention has been on the program’s emphasis on children’s symbolic languages, lovingly referred to as the hundred languages of children. George Forman and Brenda Fyfe (2012) describe the hundred languages of children as symbolic languages children use to express their own knowledge and desires through artwork, conversation, early writing, dramatic play, music, dance, and other outlets. Recognizing that at the very core of creativity is our desire to express ourselves, Reggio Emilia schools create environments that inspire and support creative thinking and invention. If building and sustaining relationships are to be the foundation of a learning community, then creativity must always be present. Creativity is the conduit—the instrument that allows us to communicate with and understand others.

As all teachers and families know, there is a big difference between what a child is capable of doing and what a child is willing to do. You cannot teach someone who does not want to learn or someone who does not believe they can learn. If we want to promote the hunger for learning, then we should create environments in which students and teachers feel safe to venture beyond what is already known—environments that reflect our values and celebrate students and teachers as uniquely creative individuals."

-Excerpt is taken from this NAEYC article

QUOTES FROM FAMILIES

Toddler & Preschool Parent: 

When I leave my son with Manuel, I know he won't only be loved and cared for, but also that he will play hard, get messy, and experience true joy. And that is what it is all about. 

Infant & Preschool Parent

I appreciate that WEC places so much value on getting messy and exploring the outdoors. WEC has worked hard to create a supportive community within its walls for all the families. 

Toddler Parent

At WEC, my daughter is surrounded by people who love her and have her best interests at heart. She is safe, she is respected, and she is thriving. We love it here and would recommend it to anyone.