Adventures in the Reggio Approach to Early Childhood Education

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In October of 2017, Rachel Sherman and Turhan Karabey, two of the best and brightest JCYS educators, were accepted for the JUF Reggio Emilia Community of Practice. As part of a delegation of Early Childhood Educators from across the country, they traveled to the home of the Reggio Emilia approach to Early Childhood Education, Reggio Emilia, Italy. For 10 days they immersed themselves in study in order to boost their own knowledge of the play-based system.

As I look back now at the excitement I had when Turhan (Karabey) and I were accepted for the JUF Reggio Emilia Community of Practice I realize that I had no idea the amazing experience that awaited me. We joined a group of 7 other educators, administrators, and atelieristas headed by our incredible leader Jenna Kalkman-Turner. We attended meetings beforehand with the Chicago group to study together, prep ourselves, and get to know one another. We quickly became a tight knit group filled with ideas to share and ready to learn from the experts in the field of Early Childhood Education.

The Reggio approach to early childhood education was born out of the city of Reggio Emilia, Italy post WWII when the ton was trying to rebuild from bombed out rubble areas and loss of lives. The community came together under the leadership of Mr. Loris Malaguzzi (a man who at the time was an administrator in the Reggio Emilia school system) to discuss how to ensure that these atrocities don’t happen again and more importantly how to move forward. They all agreed that the way in which they educated their youth needed to be revised with an emphasis on creating critical thinkers. To encourage a love of learning they expose the students to what they describe as the 100 languages, meaning that through materials, different medium, and exploration children can express themselves. While I have studied and worked in this way for over 15 years I now know that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did. Being in Italy, being able to witness and interact with the Reggio approach first hand was one of the biggest learning experiences of my life.

When we arrived, we joined a contingency from Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and Israel. We toured Venice and celebrated Shabbat over amazing plates of pasta and risotto while discussing how to look at our learning experience through a Jewish lens. We then traveled to Reggio Emilia on Sunday and were welcomed by a parent of students in the Reggio Emilia preschools. She led us on a tour of the city, giving us some historical context as well. The next morning, we journeyed together to the Loris Malaguzzi International Center. There we spent the next five days attending presentations by teachers, pedagogistas, atelieristas and staff of Reggio Children (the larger organization the city has put together to manage all of the schools.)

The seminars often involved video footage of long term projects or dissection of themes in the greater community of schools. We found ourselves learning how they document during the process, their collaboration with one another, and so much more. We were also fortunate enough to visit a few of their sites to observe the work and the environments. But, all of that and more to come, as we share our new knowledge with the greater JCYS community in the coming months.

Rachel Sherman – Assistant Director of Early Childhood Education, Michael R. Lutz Family Center – Wicker Park
Turhan Karabey – Assistant Center Director, Michael R. Lutz Family Center – Wicker Park