“Many experts have hailed the Reggio Emilia approach as an exemplary system for helping children develop strong thinking skills. The primary goal of this method is to create learning conditions that help children develop these abilities through exposure to all matter of expressive, communicative, and cognitive experiences.
Four guiding principles work together to meet this objective:
Emergent curriculum: Topics for study are built on the interests of the children, determined by discussions with the class and their families, and by areas that fascinate many children, such as puddles and dinosaurs. Teachers use these observations to decide what projects are best suited to the interests of the class, what materials will be needed, and how they can get parents, or possibly even the community, involved.
Projects: Children participate in in-depth studies of concepts, ideas, and interests. Such projects are often explained to the children as adventures, and can vary in duration from a week or two to the entire school year. Teachers stand by as advisors to the group, helping them decide what directions they should take their research in, how they should represent what they learn, and what materials would be best suited for this representation.
Representational development: Teachers present new ideas and concepts in multiple forms, such as print, art, drama, music, puppetry, etc. This variation is considered essential in making sure that all children (who have many different styles of learning) have the chance to understand what is being taught to them.
Collaboration: Groups both large and small are encouraged to work together to solve problems using dialogue, comparisons, negotiations, and other important interpersonal skills. Each child's voice should be heard within the group to promote the balance between a sense of belonging and a sense of self.
Teachers play a dual role as researchers in a Reggio Emilia classroom. Their primary purpose is to learn alongside the children, being involved in their group learning experiences as a guide and resource. A Reggio Emilia teacher must always carefully observe and track the growth of the children and the community within the classroom, and also spend time reflecting on what they have learned about themselves and their teachings as well.
The documentation of these observations on the growth of both teacher and children is another facet of the Reggio Emilia approach. Pictures of the children at work and play, dictations of their words, and their interpretations of their experiences help both teacher and parent learn more about what does and does not work for their young ones. This allows for the dynamic of the classroom to be adjusted in whatever way best helps the learning process.
The classroom itself is referred to as the "third teacher" in Reggio Emilia schools. Much like the Montessori approach, great care is taken in constructing an environment that allows for explorations of various interests with ease. Interesting items, plants, and animals are not uncommon either. The documentation mentioned above is sometimes kept at children's eye level so that they, too, can see how they are progressing as the year goes along.”
—Richard Jeter, Early Childhood Today