The Reggio Emilia Approach: How is it Different?

Selecting a preschool or early learning centre for your child is a significant choice, and it’s crucial to ensure you’re well-informed to make the best decision. The Reggio Emilia Approach is an educational philosophy and approach to early childhood education that is known for its distinctive and child-centred approach to learning. It differs from more traditional educational methods in several key ways:


Child-Centred Approach


In the Reggio Emilia Approach, teachers respect and value the interests, questions, and ideas of each child, and the curriculum is built upon these interests. Traditional preschools and early learning centres often follow a teacher-centred approach, where the teacher imparts knowledge and sets the curriculum ahead of time. Individual interests and questions may have less room in traditional settings, as the curriculum is standardised and designed for a group of students. The Reggio Emilia Approach recognises that children are naturally curious and capable of directing their own learning. 


Emergent Curriculum


The Reggio Emilia Approach develops a curriculum based on the interests and experiences of the children. Teachers observe and document children’s activities, interests and questions, and adjust the curriculum accordingly. Traditional preschools typically have a fixed curriculum that covers specific subjects and skills at predetermined times. This can limit opportunities for engaging and relevant extended learning that is meaningful to the child.


Project-Based Learning


Collaboration and cooperation are intentional in a school inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach to education. Children are encouraged to work together on projects and investigations, fostering social skills and the exchange of ideas. Traditional education often uses short, teacher-led activities that may not delve deeply into a subject. Projects in the Reggio Emilia Approach allow children to explore topics in-depth, fostering a more profound understanding of concepts.


Documentation and Reflection


Reggio-inspired documentation is a way of visually stabilising and bringing meaning to experiences, ideas, thoughts and the daily interactions of children in early education settings. Documentation of children’s work, including photographs, transcripts, and displays of their creations, is a fundamental aspect of the child-centred approach. This documentation serves as a tool for both teachers and students to reflect on their learning journey and plan what will come next. Traditional preschools may not emphasise documenting children’s work and progress as extensively, as it is not key to their educational approach. 



In a Reggio-inspired classroom, teachers encourage groups to work together using dialogue, comparisons, negotiations and respect. They learn to express their ideas, listen to others, and work collectively toward common goals. Traditional preschools often focus more on individual tasks and activities.  When children work together they can share ideas, help each other solve problems, and learn from one another. This type of open learning also allows children to communicate in a multitude of ways and try their strengths.


Teachers as Co-Learners


Teachers in Reggio Emilia classrooms are seen as co-learners alongside the children. They guide and facilitate learning experiences, ask questions, and explore topics together with the students, to model a lifelong love of learning. In traditional preschools, teachers are typically seen as the primary source of knowledge and are seen as having all the answers. The Reggio Emilia teaching approach encourages educators to embrace the role of a fellow inquirer, fostering a spirit of curiosity and wonder. 



The Role of the Environment


The physical environment is considered the “third teacher” in Reggio Emilia classrooms. It reinforces the idea that learning can happen anywhere, not just at desks. Traditional preschools may not prioritise the aesthetics and organisation of the learning environment to the same extent. The environment in Reggio Emilia classrooms is not a passive backdrop but an active and intentional component of the learning experience. It is carefully designed to inspire curiosity, creativity, and a sense of wonder in children. For example, the walls are adorned with artwork created by the children, and natural light floods the room. There are various learning centres, such as a reading corner with comfortable cushions and a wide selection of books, a science exploration area with magnifying glasses and plants, and an art corner with a variety of art supplies. In this childcare setting, the environment serves as the third teacher by responding to the children’s interests, providing numerous opportunities for learning, play, and exploration in a way that aligns with their passion and curiosity.


Let’s say the children are showing interest in a dinosaur. The educators can extend this learning by creating a “prehistoric” play area with dinosaur footprints, large dinosaur cutouts, and sandboxes for “dinosaur egg” hunts. They can create a dedicated corner of the playroom as the “Dinosaur Discovery Corner.” Fill it with a variety of dinosaur toys, figurines, and puzzles and include posters of dinosaurs and a large map showing where dinosaurs lived.


Multiple Forms of Expression


The Reggio approach starts from the premise that children use many different ways to express their creativity, understanding and thoughts. Loris Malaguzzi, founder of the Reggio Approach, describes the “infinite ways that children can express, explore, and connect their thoughts, feelings and imaginings.” It emphasises the belief that children have a hundred different ways of expressing themselves. Traditional preschools may focus more on academic subjects and less on creative expression. Encouraging multiple forms of expression in Reggio Emilia classrooms recognises that children have different strengths and ways of communicating. 

Parent and Community Involvement


In Reggio Emilia classrooms parents and the community are considered essential partners in the educational process. Open communication and involvement are encouraged, and parents are often invited to participate in classroom activities and projects. Ultimately, our centres should feel like a home outside of the home. Traditional preschools often limit parent involvement to occasional events or meetings. Involving parents and the community in the educational process in Reggio Emilia creates a supportive learning ecosystem and strengthens the child’s sense of belonging.


Focus on Relationships


In the Reggio Emilia Approach to early childhood education, a strong emphasis is placed on building and nurturing relationships among all members of the learning community, including children, teachers, parents, and the wider community. These relationships are considered essential for creating a supportive and enriching educational environment.  Traditional preschools may not prioritise relationship-building to the same extent. Emotional development and social skills often receive less direct attention in some traditional early learning programs. Strong relationships in Reggio Emilia classrooms create a safe and nurturing environment where children feel valued and heard.


In summary, the Reggio Emilia Approach differs from traditional preschool and early learning methods by placing a higher value on child agency, individualisation, deep understanding, creativity, and community involvement. To find out more about the Reggio Emilia approach, its principles and how we facilitate your child’s learning through environment, collaboration and projects feel free to reach out to us on 02 9891 2222 or via email at

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