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  • Elizabeth Barrett-Zahn

Early Childhood Approaches to Learning (S&C Editor's Note)

Updated: Aug 4, 2020

“The child has a hundred languages”

-Loris Malaguzzi, Founder Reggio Emilia Approach




Early childhood is that special time when everything is new, all things are meant to be taken apart, and questions abound. The wonder is real and tangible as the young learner makes discoveries through trial and error, finds connections through exploration and builds upon prior experiences. What a perfect place for an educator to step in to watch, listen, and learn from these young problem-solving early scientists and engineers.


Yes, it’s been said that early childhood, including preschool, teachers must have an inordinate amount of patience, wear multiple hats as they deal with social, emotional and educational concerns, and have just about a million tricks up their sleeves to help wrangle the enthusiasm and energy level of most children within the 2-6 age range. Yet these youngsters are primed, willing, and anxious to learn. They are comfortable making mistakes, eager to explain their thinking, routinely make observations and share predictions.


An approach to learning such as Reggio Emilio at its core honors children as constructors of their own learning. This month our feature articles highlight Reggio Emilio as an approach to empower both the educator and students with a mindset that reminds us, teachers of any grade level, that learning starts with engaged students and engaged students are active in the process and direction of the learning.


As in the paradoxical question of the chicken or the egg; what comes first the lesson or the students? Do we teach lessons or do we teach students? Reggio Emilio reminds us to include and elevate our thinking about the role of the student in the learning process. We’ve all experienced situations where an amazingly planned lesson landed with a thud with students, only to remember that we must consider our audience: the students. What do we know about them, their thinking, their likes and dislikes? How can we involve the students in the process of learning? How can we be sure to help promote lifelong learners? These questions are at the heart of the Reggio Emilio approach.


In the words of Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of the Reggio Emilia Approach, “The pleasure of learning, of knowing, and of understanding is one of the most important and basic feelings that every child expects from the experiences he confronts alone, with other children, or with adults. It is a crucial feeling which must be reinforced so that the pleasure survives even when reality may prove that learning, knowing, and understanding involve difficulty and effort. It is in this very capacity for survival that pleasure is transformed into pure joy.”


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