Within a school, the classroom is the primary environment where learning happens. Noting how important children’s agency in the Reggio approach is, it’s not hard to believe that Reggio classroom design would center around the children’s needs and requirements.
When we enter a Reggio inspired classroom as adults, we immediately know who does this space truly belongs to. It isn’t a rationally divided space, and aesthetic and functionality are not decisive factors.
Instead, a Reggio Emilia classroom is designed to inspire relationships: we imagine children moving across different areas, interacting with each other, experimenting with different textures and tools, moving materials into different settings to explore new properties and characteristics.
We may put colored plastic cups near windows to inspire reflection plays, we may want to set ribbons and brunches together on tables, or rock and pebbles, or buttons and sandboxes. It doesn’t have to make sense; it has to inspire connections.
Conversely, we also want to imagine students being able to be alone, have some pensive time, and relax.
Beautiful, but how messy is all this, you may ask?
That is a legitimate concern. Having small children roaming around the classroom (sometimes even outside!) on their own carrying pebbles and sand, it’s somebody’s definition of a nightmare.
However, here are a few considerations to keep in mind.
To give children the agency to make choices means to respect them as individuals, to listen to their opinion and concerns, to ask for their input. However, the Reggio approach is not in the business of raising wild children.
It is about creating a framework where kids learn to express themselves and negotiate within a group. They need acknowledgment from adults but also need rules and principles to interact with peers amicably.
Learning to create in a respectful environment is the fundamental scope of the Reggio Emilia approach.
It is pointless, if not detrimental, to implement Reggio practices without establishing appropriate behavioral practices first. As far as my experience goes, students, teachers, and parents from Reggio inspired schools are required to sign a fundamental agreement with each other at the beginning of each school year. It’s nothing particularly groundbreaking (respect yourself, respect others, respect the environment), but it provides a robust framework for an amicable school, and it’s an excellent visual helper for children to evaluate their behavior and choices.
Tidying up is part of the educational scope and a crucial part of the lesson’s activity.
That isn’t to say that Reggio’s children don’t make “bad choices.” Being a Reggio educator is certainly a demanding job as teachers are expected to be on their feet, circulating, asking questions, documenting, and assisting. Nevertheless, it is delightful to witness children busy and stimulated throughout the class, and nothing less than miraculous to witness, after months of struggle, students tidying up after themselves.
Reggio Emilia classroom ‘s characteristics:
What makes Reggio schools different?
The Reggio Emilia school is a living organism interacting with the people within, not just capable of evolving, but actively promoting change and variation.
Filled with natural material and muted tones, the space should be engaging but not overwhelming. A thriving Reggio Emilia classroom should provide the opportunity for children to split into small groups engaged in a multitude of different activities.
Arguably the best-known element of the Reggio classroom is the Atelier, the area where children have the opportunity to express themselves through a multitude of mediums. Despite the name, what happens in the Atelier has little to do with traditional artistic practice; a more accurate definition could be “creative thinking experiences,” where children’s experience, connections, communication, and creativity are made visible through their works.
The teacher, or Atelierista, functions as a facilitator of the explorative practice. Active learning can be prompt by introducing new materials and activities, or by suggesting new contextualizations and original approaches.
Documentation of the children learning process is the other prerogative of the Reggio educator, as it provides children with visual evidence of their learning process.
As students should be independent and proactive in their learning, supplies, and materials should be easily accessible to them. Curiosity, trial and error, experimentation, lateral connections, are all fundamental aspects of the Reggio learning philosophy.
The “square” is the school’s central area and serves as the main gathering for children.
Accessible from all the classrooms, it’s the natural space for social interactions and exchange. The Piazza is an open place where children gather between lessons, where they change clothes, store their belongings, and socialize.
It should also allow enough flexibility to be rearranged for large group activities, events, and special activities.
Mini-stations, or mini-workshops, are smaller versions of the Atelier. Each station gives a limited amount of children at a time (usually no more than four) the opportunity to experiment with different materials and set-up. Those can include sensory play, loose parts (more on this ahead), light tables, sand writing, assemblage, block building, as well as more traditional art activities such as clay modeling and painting.
Reggio educators call these set-up “provocations,” as they are meant to provoke an inquisitive and creative response in the children.
Loose parts play
Loose parts plays are a kind of provocation where children are invited to play with a series of both natural, manufactured, and recycled materials that can be moved, assembled, combined, and taken apart in a multitude of ways.
There are a variety of materials that can be used for this activity: natural materials like leaves, sand, rocks, shells, and brunches. Manufactured objects include glass pebbles, bolt and screws, blocks, buttons, and ribbons; but also recycled materials such as bottles, caps, plastic glasses, straws, plates, corks, and cartons.
Check out our list of favourite loose parts play materials!
During the play, children aren’t expected to create a finished project. Instead, they are experimenting with different materials, understanding how they interact, devising solutions, and improving their fine-motor skill and hand-eye coordination.
- “The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Experience in Transformation“
- “In the Spirit of the Studio: Learning from the Atelier of Reggio Emilia“, Lella Gandini
- “For an Education Based on Relationships“, Loris Managuzzi, Young Children, Nov 1993
- “Your Image of the Child: Where Teaching Begins“, Loris Managuzzi