of the Reggio Emilia approach
Reggio Emilia and the war-torn cities of Emilia Romagna, northern Italy.
Italy - May 2, 1945. Two days after the collapse of Berlin, the German forces surrendered to the Allies, leaving the war-torn cities in the province of Emilia Romagna devastated in the wake of the destruction of World War II. Resistance to dictatorship and German occupation caused the area of Emilia Romagna to be desolated by Fascist and Nazi action, and to suffer structural damage from Allied bombing (History.com, 2009). During aftermath of WWII, the people of Italy were left to rebuild their lives from the wreckage.
Photos of war-torn Italy during World War II.
Reggio Emilia's hope for change
The people of Reggio Emilia, a small Italian city in the region of Emilia Romagna, set about rebuilding their lives and reconstructing their society, with a strong desire for change and a new and just world free from oppression, injustice and inequality. This hope for change brought about cooperative movements to provide services and redress inequalities in society. The women of this time were an influential force behind the development of early childhood services, and the municipal preschools of Reggio Emilia originated through their desire for a new form of education that would ensure against future generations being brought up in toleration of injustice and inequality. With a small amount of money sourced from the selling of a tank, three trucks, and a few horses from the war, and with land contributed by a local farmer and building materials from bombed-out buildings, local men and women of all ages built the first post-war school for young children in the village of Villa Cella, seven kilometres from Reggio Emilia
(Hendrick, 1997; Thornton & Brunton, 2015).
The influence of Loris Malaguzzi (1920-1994)
Loris Malaguzzi, a local primary school teacher, was an influential and inspirational figure behind this new educational movement and the development of the Reggio Emilia approach. Having experienced growing up under Fascist rule as a young child, Malaguzzi was determined to help build a better future for the children and families of Reggio Emilia who were greatly affected by the war and the political leadership of their country (Thornton & Brunton, 2015). In hearing about Villa Cella, Malaguzzi went to find out more about this preschool project built by the hands of the people. Inspired to learn more about very young children, he then trained as a psychologist and became a leader in the parent cooperative movement, supporting parents, families and teachers in the education of their young children. Malaguzzi was also influential in getting the city government to take on the running of the many "people's schools" which emerged following Villa Cella and the eventual opening of the first municipal preschool in 1963 (Hendrick, 1997, p. 5).
Reggio preschools and infant-toddler centres
Early childhood projects similar to Villa Cella continued to develop after the Second World War in the poorest areas of Reggio Emilia, and all were created and run by parents. As a community-run system, the preschools relied solely on the support of the local communities for resources, money, food and skills (Thornton & Brunton, 2015). Preschools in Reggio were the responsibility of the Roman Catholic Church, as was common throughout Italy prior to the 1960s. As the demand for places grew and more women entered the workforce, parents also began to demand the right to send their children to secular schools. In 1963, the Municipality began to establish a network of educational services including the opening of the first preschools for children aged 3 to 6 years. In 1970, the first infant-toddler centre for children aged 3 months to 3 years was also opened by the Municipality and provided early childhood education "in environments that were appropriate to the children's developmental level" (Thornton & Brunton, 2015, p. 13). As parents and the community confirmed their support for the guiding principles of the Reggio approach, strong reciprocal relationships between the preschools and the community developed and grew. The essential role and involvement of parents in their children's education continues to be a fundamental element of the Reggio approach (Hewett, 2001).
Reggio Emilia, Italy