As the Director of Preschool at the 14th Street Y, I’m often asked about Reggio Emilia. What is it? Is it important for my child?
The Reggio Emilia approach is an educational philosophy focused on Preschool and primary education. It is a pedagogy described as student-centered and constructivist that uses self-directed, experiential learning in relationship-driven environments. The program is based on the principles of respect, responsibility, and community through exploration and discovery through a self-guided curriculum. At its core is an assumption that children form their own personality during early years of development and are endowed with “a hundred languages,” through which they can express their ideas. The aim of the Reggio approach is to teach how to use these symbolic languages (e.g., painting, sculpting, drama) in everyday life. It was developed after World War II by pedagogist Loris Malaguzzi and parents in the villages around Reggio Emilia, Italy, and derives its name from the city.
And that’s JUST the beginning of answering the question, “what is Reggio!?”
For a moment, join me, on my Reggio journey. Time machine back to 1999 in Ohio! Finishing up my undergraduate degree at The Ohio State University, I thought I knew it all. I was ready to enter the field of early childhood education and change the world. Throughout my studies and first years of classroom experience, I kept hearing the same phrases, “Reggio is amazing, but you can’t do Reggio like they do Reggio in Reggio.” Year after year I kept hearing intelligent humans say the same phrase “well we can’t really do Reggio in America.” This stuck with me and became an internal struggle with my educational studies. So much so that there was a time period where I thought “Reggio Schmeggio.”
I am a Scorpio and an introvert—I add this to our storyline because I want to share, in this safe space, that I am an over analyzer. Just ask my mother! It’s awesome when it’s awesome, and cruel when it’s cruel. For my early years of studies, I just couldn’t understand why everyone was giving up on this beautiful approach to early childhood education. Giving up in the sense that they were accepting that we couldn’t really “do Reggio.” They were satisfied with eliminating some plastic toys, adding baskets and providing one shelf with open materials. This did not satisfy me. This was not how I was feeling and I wanted to do more.
Flash forward a bit—10 plus years ago I moved to NYC and felt instantly how much the city valued early childhood education. I returned to school after a very large break and entered the mecca of early childhood education at Bank Street. I walked in that first day and had an overwhelmingly amazing feeling that I found my tribe. Every class spoke my language, and the people I connected with felt like six degrees of Kevin bacon. My years of study at Bank Street went fast, and with every passing day I felt my teaching practice becoming more authentic to myself. However, the big Reggio topic was still unsolved.
Even at Bank Street some still believed in the whole “we can’t do Reggio in America.” (Gasp! I know!) So, it left me digging deeper, to experiment at the heart of it all in my own classroom. Every single day that you entered our classroom at the 14th Street Y, you were greeted with a smile, a warm welcome, and into a room that respects and invites children and families to play. In my seven years as a teacher of the 2s, the community we created was and is still special. The experiences were meaningful and the relationships between the teachers, children and families were strong and inspiring. I kept telling myself that we’re “doing Reggio!” Even though that phrase made me laugh, I felt confident in the work we were doing. And that is when things began to shift.
In 2013 I had the opportunity to visit Reggio, Italy for the first time with our Preschool Director, Art Director and one fellow teacher. It was overwhelming. It was confusing. It was inspiring. It was so packed, rushed, and somewhat stressful to take it all in and report back to AMERICA!
After many years as a full-time teacher I started taking on new responsibilities. First as the Program Coordinator, then Special Needs Coordinator, next Assistant Director to Associate Director, and now happily landing as the Director of the 14th Street Y Preschool. With each role, it provided me an opportunity to connect our school to our greater 14Y community and neighborhood. It was happening in the most organic ways. From our preschoolers giving hi-fives to the seniors arriving for their silver sneakers classes in the gym as we made our way out. Even collaborating with artist fellows from LABA: A Laboratory for Jewish Culture, an Arts & Culture program here at the 14Y. These artists interact in such a meaningful way with our preschool community. Sometimes we walk a few blocks to Sirovich Center, a senior center that also serves Jewish homeless seniors, and sing songs with them, donate food or artwork that the children created for them. One day it just hit me! We are so “doing Reggio” and then some! ***Reggio doesn’t have a clear definition for an intentional reason. I believe that it is a feeling of love, respect, acceptance, perspective taking, relationships, discovery and democracy*** Since our Preschool is in a community center, which is also in a neighborhood that appreciates, respects and supports us, this makes us exactly like Reggio!!!
It’s so wonderful having a school in a community center. Our children get to explore the five floors of the 14Y every single day. They get to interact with our amazing members, staff members, and explore a neighborhood that invites them into their restaurants and stores. It’s these relationships that make the 14Y so special. We’re proud to be a Jewish community center in the East Village that has a school inspired by Jewish values and the Reggio-approach. These two areas are so intertwined—it’s a beautiful thing. It’s what adds that spark and sparkle to the magic observed and felt when you enter the 14Y and our Preschool.
All of this finally hit me and turned into concrete thoughts in my brain a few years ago. And it’s the most amazing timing that I’m going back to Reggio, Italy this May!
I’m excited to share with all of you that I was awarded a grant through PJ Library. I will be traveling with a small cohort from PJL and we will be joining up with a total of 60 educators from the Washington, DC Federation. I feel so blessed and grateful for a second visit to Reggio.
My overall goal of the Reggio visit will be storytelling. How do I share my story with all of you—the teachers and 14Y community? How do I find moments to capture to inspire my teachers? My plan is to approach this as I approach life—with an open mind, awareness, and being as present as possible. Just like we practice in our preschool, that it’s about the process, not the product. I am going to hold tight to that as I become a student again. I’m not worrying about producing anything for when I return. I know that if I can be fully present and make the most of every moment, all the inspiration I’m filled with will be released out to you. I am excited to take you all on this journey with me.
Reggio or bust!
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