Start Early. Start well.

May 07, 2024

Together We Bloom

Field of poppies in Reggio Emilia, ItalyA field of poppies in Reggio Emilia, Italy, where Marisa Macy traveled with American colleagues to learn more about the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education.

By Marisa Macy 

For the past two years, Marisa Macy, the Buffett Early Childhood Institute Community Chair at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, has traveled to Reggio Emilia, Italy with a group of early childhood professionals. They examine Italy’s child-led approach to early childhood education, including the well-known Reggio Emilia philosophy. Read Macy’s account of their April 2024 trip.  

You might feel like you are in a Monet painting when you visit Reggio Emilia. It’s bursting at the seams with poppies everywhere in springtime.  

If you wonder what Reggio Emilia is like, experience it—it’s magical. Seize the day and come with us to Italy, where every route is the scenic route. Our group of 10 from Nebraska and Florida took several routes to learning and professional development this spring while we were in Emilia-Romagna, in the northern region of Italy.  

After World War II, people in the Italian town of Reggio Emilia were disgusted by what the war did to their community. They wanted to rebuild. They turned to early childhood education in hope for their future. The Reggio Emilia approach was founded by Loris Malaguzzi and parents from the surrounding area of Emilia-Romagna. The “100 Languages” poem was written by Malaguzzi and conveys some of their educational philosophy. 

Reggio Lingua, an Italian company located in the heart of Reggio Emilia, created a two-week itinerary for us to experience early childhood education in Italy. Reggio Lingua provided us with a translator during school visits. Being in a place where the primary language spoken everywhere is Italian gave us English-speaking Americans a feeling of what it might be like for our children and families in the United States whose home language is different from English. 

Here are ideas I took away from the early childhood professionals and children there: 

1. Play is a universal language. Children of all ages speak the language of play fluently.  

2. Attuned caregiving starts with listening. If we listen carefully to what their behavior is saying, children communicate what is important to them.   

3. Observation during children’s familiar routines and activities can be the basis for accurate assessment. 

4. Inclusion means we are creating a sense of belonging for everyone together. 

5. All members of the community are responsible for creating a healthy and happy environment where everybody can grow. 

6. Professional well-being and care strengthen the overall community. 

7. Kindness is spoken in the hearts of early childhood professionals when families are respected in little and big ways. 

Marisa MacyMarisa Macy

The people of Reggio Emilia measure the hours in a day by the church bells ringing in their village and by rewarding social connections. We met many early childhood professionals from Italy and around the world who shared their love for teaching and learning. We explored Reggio Emilia programs for babies, preschoolers, and early elementary schoolchildren. 

Teachers gave us a warm “benvenuti” (welcome) to their schools, and they shared with us like we were their long-lost cousins. Early childhood professionals took care in discussing what it’s like to teach in Italy, as well as special routines and rituals.   

Mealtimes are a revered ritual in Italian culture, and there is great pride in the regional cuisine in Emilia-Romagna. We got to experience meals with Reggio Emilia educators and children. All day long, but especially during meals, their class family gathered. Stories and delicious food were the focal points. They showed how food can bring people together.  

Benvenuti was how the children welcomed us, too. The bambini, little ones, talked with us about their interests during mealtime conversations around the table. Children showed us the things they were proud of in their classrooms. 

Sometimes it’s necessary to explore afar to journey within. Our American delegation went to Italy together, and we collaborated with one another before, during, and after. 

In addition to expanding ideas about teaching, the trip to Italy with other professionals gave us time to reinforce the bonds we have with one another. I feel like our community of practice at home got stronger from traveling together.  

This shared experience was both personally and professionally rewarding for me. I now have nine American friends that I can say, “remember when we were in Italy and we ate Erbazzone Reggiano out of a paper bag while watching Reggiani ride their bikes that were decorated in flowers like a parade float in front of the Reggio Emilia Opera House while listening to the accordion player?”  

Speaking of music, one of my favorite songs to sing with children (and anyone who will sing along) is “The More We Get Together.” The lyrics of the song highlight the importance of togetherness. Together we learn. Together we teach. Together we make a difference for children and families. All together. Together we bloom into the best version of ourselves. “The more we get together, the happier we will be.” 

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