Reflections Nursery Headteacher Liz Brown discusses the history and guiding philosophy of its Reggio Emilia approach to Early Years education

Unlike Montessori, the Reggio Emilia approach is not well known in the UK. Pioneered in Emilia Romagna, northern Italy immediately after World War II, it is now gaining popularity worldwide.Reflections Nursery and Small School is an early adopter – one of the only Reggio School settings in the UK.

Loris Malaguzzi was just a young teacher after the War when he met a group of women determined to build a school out of the wreckage. The school grew from a shared ethos among the women that the next generation, their children, would grow up as free thinkers who would fight against injustice and inequality.  Malaguzzi joined the women and became instrumental in the development of the Reggio Emilia approach.

It is a democratic educational construct where educators and children are partners in the learning process.  At its core was Malaguzzi’s belief that social learning precedes cognitive development, so environment has a key role to play in the process of learning, as well as creativity. The seven key principles include an ’emergent curriculum’ based on the child’s individual experiences and interests. There is a focus on community and self-expression and teachers are partners. Children’s learning must be documented, and parental participation is vital.

Reflections Nursery on child-led learning
Reflections takes the approach that all children are capable thinkers and learners and the curriculum is self-guided to build key skills

At Reflections Nursery, our approach is rooted in Malaguzzi’s belief that all children are capable thinkers and learners as well as creative communicators and conversationalists. The possibilities for their ‘languages’ include drama, painting, dancing, playing, questioning, singing, dreaming and experimenting – also crying and laughing.  It is our aim to teach children how to use all the symbolic languages in everyday life.

The environment is our third teacher, a space for providing numerous opportunities and experiences. In one of our Ateliers you may find resources such as light boxes, digital overhead projectors and ‘provocations’, in the form of objects that inspire children to question and create theories between themselves. We allow the children to follow a self-guided curriculum. The principles of respect, responsibility and community are promoted. For example, children work in small groups and the adult will offer open-ended questions or discussions and orchestrate the children’s debate – allowing the children to teach each other. This develops children’s ability to research, listen to opinions and develop confidence in sharing their own ideas.  

“Malaguzzi believed that social learning precedes cognitive development, so the environment has a key role to play in the process of learning”

We also understand that children develop their own theories to make sense of the world and we explore these theories together. We listen to their ideas and take them seriously and we help facilitate their research through what we call ‘project work’. Whereas topic work is chosen and planned by adults and with a determined outcome, project work is inspired and guided by children’s own interests and questions. We document these projects with notes and photos to show the children, other educators, and parents. This tells the story of the project and gives the children authorship of their work.

At Reflections, we see the Reggio Emilia philosophy during these early childhood years as an approach that can embed the foundations for learning and, in turn, shape how children proceed through their educational journey. These foundations enable them to become capable, curious learners for life. 

Reflections Nursery

Further reading: Sutton High Prep takes learning outside