Brief Thoughts On The Reggio Emilia Approach, Part I

A relative recently gave me a copy of Bringing Reggio Emilia Home and asked me for my thoughts. Having never heard of “the Reggio Emilia approach”, I initially thought the book title implied a character named Reggio Emilia who was returning from somewhere they had been taken. It was only after I started looking into it on the web that I realized it is an educational philosophy originating in northern Italy.

I cracked the book open today and read through the first chapter, which details the author’s move to Reggio Amelia with her family (a husband and two young sons, all American) to pursue a one year internship as an observer at a preschool in the town, along with some of her first impressions. I still don’t know where the story is going or what kind of scenes will take place. Right now I am just trying to read with an open mind and understand what the author thinks the virtues of this “approach” are from an educational standpoint and what problems it helps to solve. I also want to be aware of problems I see it creating without addressing, but so far there hasn’t been anything like that.

Without going into further detail for now, the author lists the following as the “fundamentals of the Reggio approach”:

  • the child as protagonist
  • the child as collaborator
  • the child as communicator
  • the environment as third teacher
  • the teacher as partner, nurturer and guide
  • the teacher as researcher
  • the documentation as communication
  • the parent as partner

Here are some impressions so far.

The school sounds small, both physically and in terms of student enrollment. I think the “approach” recommends smaller class sizes and smaller overall school enrollments (20-30 total) and that typically there are two teachers per class who work in a supportive team. This seems to be the case at the Diana School she is observing.

The school has a team of cooks who prepare fresh snacks and pranzo (lunch) for the students, teachers and themselves. I really like this. The children take a nap after lunch. I also like this. Paying attention to nutritional needs and making mealtime special is part of my ideal lifestyle. Listening to the body’s needs and relaxing all the way to napping when called for, especially in the case of small, growing children, makes a lot of sense to me. I wish that the teachers didn’t read “fairy tales” to the kids before they took their nap though– this tells me that being reality-oriented is not a high priority for the “approach.” I like that the teachers and cooks get together and share their meal while the children sleep and that they do this at a leisurely pace and focus on social topics rather than “their work” (ie, working lunch).

The lesson plan or day’s activities starts with a debrief between the teachers and the children. There appears to be a lot of questions from the teachers aimed at understanding the children’s priorities and interests to be explored throughout the day’s activities. The children are semi-organized– some pursue independent activities, some work together, some volunteer to assist the teachers in engaging with other, younger children.

The town of Reggio sounds pleasant. The author and her husband walk to their local cafe bar for their morning espresso. Their sons ride their bikes to school through the city streets. Their neighbors quickly “adopt” them and have them over for dinner and vice versa to teach them Italian cooking and traditions. Interestingly, I noticed that the parks and public places are described as having a variety of age groups using them simultaneously, including youngsters, “amorous teenage couples”, families and old people sitting around talking and getting fresh air. When I think about the public parks where I live, I notice there are never any old people about, and that families with small children only go to certain parks with playgrounds, and adults or individuals with pets go to separate parks or go at different times, and few people think of spontaneously meeting their neighbors or community members in the park, or scheduling a get together there with a friend or associate. This seems like a sign of beneficial urbanity in Reggio that is strangely missing from where I live, but which I have noticed in public places in big American cities and in other public parks around the world– though in the US and certain less wealthy countries I have visited, there is also a problem with vagrancy and other undesirables using these parks.

Saturday Morning With A Nutritionist

One of the required classes at the birth center is Nutrition 101. Now, readers who are family/friends of ours know that we have some “particular” opinions on what is optimal nutrition! We tend to eat a more traditional diet, and we have been eating this way for about five or six years now. Nutrition (and being more strict about it) has only increased in significance for us as we’ve prepared for conception and pregnancy. I went to this class with pretty low expectations because I’ve heard and read the basic guidelines about what to/not to eat during pregnancy, and they often do not parallel the research I’ve done on optimal nutrition. I was pleasantly surprised!

The nutritionist who came to speak to us introduced her philosophy as primarily “paleo,” and she included references to Weston A Price throughout her talk. She said that she used to be a fitness coach but also suffered pretty severe cases of acne and poor health, despite following all the recommended regimens in the fitness world and experimenting with vegetarianism. Both unfortunately and fortunately, she got into a car accident and needed to see a chiropractor, who introduced to her a different way of eating. He asked for her for a food journal, to which she boasted that she was super healthy, eating microwavable meals, whole grain bagels with low fat cream cheese, Starbucks with coconut milk, etc. She credits him with changing her life because he was the one who showed her that not all fats are bad, but all processed foods are! Oh, bonus, she was a really good and interesting speaker who kept me engaged throughout her two hour talk 🙂

The key points that I thought was interesting and that reinforced my own nutrition principles:

  • Eat organic and locally grown — The chemicals that are used to treat the soil and plants are toxic, avoid as much as possible. Eating local means you’ll likely eat what is in season and optimally nutritious at that time. Eating ripe fruit/veggies versus eating produce that has been picked long before they’re ready, flash-frozen, and transported across the country means less interference and less “processed”! I am very thankful we live in California where fresh, clean produce is valued and available to us!
  • Eat cooked AND raw foods — Eating foods in its natural state helps preserve its nutritious potency! Furthermore, overcooked and burnt foods are actually toxic.
  • 80/20 rule — If you are able to follow a nutrient-dense diet 80% of the time, then it’s okay to indulge once in awhile. It’s not worth it to be stressed about what you eat, and it’s almost impossible to eat 100% clean anyway. The nutritionist did emphasize that even treats should be of high quality. For example, whole-fat, creamy ice cream versus fake, man-made “skinny cow” ice cream bars. I follow more of a 90/10 (or 95/5, on a good week…) rule because… Why not eat cleaner if you can?
  • Eat a variety — Nutrients are everywhere in fruits, veggies, dairy, meats, so to ensure that we get all the good vitamins our bodies need, we need to eat a variety of foods! Additionally, many vitamins and nutrients need each other to be better absorbed by our bodies (e.g., protein, Vitamin C, and zinc all work together to build collagen, helping our skin to bounce back from stretching during pregnancy 😉
  • Water — Drink approximately half your body weight in ounces. Just as how standardized tests are lame, standardized water recommendations are also lame!
  • From dietary habits to lifestyle — As your dietary habits change to be more traditional, optimal, and “primal,” you may find yourself making other lifestyle changes to become more like Grok! 😀

Some other things I learned and found valuable from this Nutrition class:

  • Apple cider vinegar for acid reflux — 2 teaspoons of ACB with 1-2 cups of water to supplement the stomach acid in digestion. I also drink kombucha, which helps a lot too. The nutritionist recommends consuming ahead of time if you know you’re going to have a big indulgent meal.
  • Vitamin C binge before delivery — This helps strengthen veins and can be found in the white parts of citrus fruits.
  • Good sources of sulfuric veggies — …include broccoli, cauliflower, and kale.
  • RAW MILK — While she could not loudly proclaim her support for this (I’m assuming for legal/certification reasons…), she mentioned that if a woman is used to drinking raw milk and can find a reputable source, it is absolutely necessary and beneficial to consume for conception and during pregnancy (and for life, I imagine!).

EDIT:

Funny thing I noticed: The nutritionist had brought some snacks for us to munch on during the seminar because it was early in the morning, and I guess she figured pregnant women are always snacking. She brought in a box of Annie’s cheese crackers, a box of Cliff whole grain chocolate chip protein bars, and a container of pre-chopped veggies with a container of ranch dressing. And then later, she used her box of Annie’s crackers as an example of questionable organic choices (I guess not all ingredients in organic Annie’s cheese crackers are organic?), and she recommended against processed, whole grains (aka a box of granola bars…).  The nutritionist seemed have thought a lot of things through… But not everything yet, apparently! 😉