Reggio Emilia Childcare Centres | The Reggio Emilia Approach and STEM Education: Nurturing Young Scientists and Engineers
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Reggio Emilia Childcare Centres | The Reggio Emilia Approach and STEM Education: Nurturing Young Scientists and Engineers

In our changing world, the demand for problem-solvers, critical thinkers and innovators in the Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields continues to grow. Early childhood educators, in particular, have been presented with the challenge of making foundational STEM education a priority. Enter the Reggio Emilia approach, an educational philosophy that encourages child-centred learning, creativity and collaboration. As this approach is versatile and able to be adapted to suit contemporary society, its further integration into STEM education promises to yield positive results. In this blog, we’ll explore how the Reggio Emilia approach can enrich STEM education and foster the development of young scientists and engineers.

Why STEM is now a focus in Early Education 

In 2015, the Australian government sought to make STEM a greater focus in early childcare education following the realisation that Australia was falling behind globally in these fields. A national strategy focused on building foundational STEM skills was implemented and these subjects were further emphasised in the Early Years Learning and Development Framework. The strategy looks at not only encouraging children to try these subjects but also to build their confidence in these areas and find them more enjoyable. The hope is that students will be more inclined to take these subjects later in their education, and potentially start careers in these fields. 

Reggio Emilia Childcare Centres | The Reggio Emilia Approach and STEM Education: Nurturing Young Scientists and Engineers

How the Reggio Emilia approach promotes STEM

The Reggio Emilia philosophy highlights the importance of child-centred, hands-on learning. It encourages curiosity and exploration — values at the heart of STEM — and promotes critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, and interdisciplinary exploration. At Reggio Emilia Early Learning Centres, we explore a range of STEM activities, but beyond what is learned, we incorporate crucial skills intrinsic to the sciences in a variety of other ways. Let’s explore an example of this below.

Reggio Emilia Childcare Centres | The Reggio Emilia Approach and STEM Education: Nurturing Young Scientists and Engineers

Project-based learning

One of the key differences of the Reggio Emilia approach that sets it apart from others is its emphasis on collaborative, project-based learning. Much like a science experiment or a mathematics formula, children are tasked with forming an idea or hypothesis about their topic of interest. In collaboration with their educators and peers, the children test their hypotheses and reach conclusions about them. Of course, this is all facilitated in a fun, play environment to increase engagement. 

Projects are central to the Reggio Emilia Approach, allowing children to explore topics in-depth over extended periods. Whether it’s seeing which colours combine to make other colours or investigating their senses with different textures, tastes or scents, the project-based learning style at Reggio Emilia inspires children to investigate and seek their own answers. Through project-based learning, children develop skills such as observation and analysis, and their learning is documented in several formats so they can reflect on what they’ve achieved and develop further.

Reggio Emilia Childcare Centres | The Reggio Emilia Approach and STEM Education: Nurturing Young Scientists and Engineers

 

Environment as the ‘Third Educator’

Within the Reggio Emilia approach is the concept of the “Third Educator” or the physical environment. As children develop, their interest and understanding of their surroundings grow. They become more motivated to explore their environment and use it to make sense of the world. Hence, the role of the ‘Third Educator’ in a child’s schooling cannot be overstated. At Reggio Emilia centres, classrooms are designed to inspire learning and create an inviting atmosphere for engagement. 

Making STEM activities more accessible is a critical aspect of the “Third Educator” philosophy. Materials such as abacuses, magnifying glasses, building blocks and more are selected to invite play and investigation into these subjects. When children show interest in a particular tool or item, it may be further explored with the group during a hands-on activity. By enticing children to engage with their environment, we allow them to choose STEM activities spontaneously. 

Reggio Emilia Childcare Centres | The Reggio Emilia Approach and STEM Education: Nurturing Young Scientists and Engineers

 

‘100 Different Languages’ and interdisciplinary learning

When a child is developing, the neural pathways in their brain can be activated more than at any other stage in life. The more these pathways are connected, the stronger they can develop. With this in mind, the founder of the Reggio Emilia philosophy, Loris Malaguzzi, proposed the concept of “100 Different Languages”. This concept refers to the multitude of ways children can express themselves. It suggests that the more styles children learn to communicate in, the better they can build on new skills and develop vital connections in their brains. 

Some of the languages include, but are not limited to, visual arts, music, building and construction. While STEM subjects are often thought of as separate in traditional education, the “100 Different Languages” approach stresses the interconnectedness of disciplines. For example, visual arts, particularly the concept of patterns and colours, may be used in STEM learning experiences to increase understanding of scientific concepts and foster creativity. Dramatic play is another language that may be used to show a child’s interest in STEM, such as a doctor’s surgery roleplay like the one pictured.

Reggio Emilia Childcare Centres | The Reggio Emilia Approach and STEM Education: Nurturing Young Scientists and Engineers

Community involvement and collaboration

The Reggio Emilia approach values the involvement of families, educators, and the wider community in children’s learning journeys. This is essential in a child’s development as it gives them “real-life” context and strengthens their ability to interact and connect with society. The phrase “it takes a village to raise a child” definitely applies to the Reggio Emilia philosophy. 

Incursions and excursions are examples of how the community can help enrich STEM education. Excursions to museums, zoos and aquariums give children the opportunity to learn about science in a real-world setting and learn from experts in the field. Likewise, incursions such as career visits from dentists, scientists and doctors may inspire children to form an interest in STEM subjects and broaden their career aspirations. At Reggio Emilia, science experiments are a popular activity in our Friday Connections program — an initiative for parents and carers to spend more quality one-on-one time with their children. During Friday Connections, children and parents collaborate to complete these projects. Seeing a parent or family member engaged in STEM projects is likely to increase a child’s interest in these subjects.  

Reggio Emilia Childcare Centres | The Reggio Emilia Approach and STEM Education: Nurturing Young Scientists and Engineers

The integration of STEM education is an essential aspect of early childhood development. At Reggio Emilia Early Learning Centres, we prioritise STEM education in the learning program, creating an environment where children can build these skills, explore relevant activities and grow their interest in these fields. To find out more about the Reggio Emilia approach and how we incorporate STEM education into our curriculum, feel free to reach out to us on 02 9891 2222 or via email at mail@reggioemilia.com.au.

Reggio Emilia Childcare Centres | The Reggio Emilia Approach and STEM Education: Nurturing Young Scientists and Engineers
Reggio Emilia Childcare Centres | The Reggio Emilia Approach and STEM Education: Nurturing Young Scientists and Engineers