The origins of an inspiring educational approach ask the world to reflect and challenge our current educational systems
“To make a loveable school, industrious, inventive, liveable, documentable and communicable, a place of research, learning, re-cognition and reflection, where children, teachers and families feel well – is our point of arrival.”
– Loris Malaguzzi
This week we celebrate a century since Loris Malaguzzi birth, a man who dedicated his life to education.
The Reggio Approach is a philosophy that inspires educators all over the world and to begin to truly understand this approach we must take some time to understand and celebrate the man behind it. Loris Malaguzzi strove to create an approach that empowers children and educators through the experience of reflection.
Over the next few weeks we will delve into the core fundamentals of the Reggio Approach, What is it? Where did it come from? How does it work? So join us today to start from the beginning, let’s explore Loris Malaguzzi’s life and celebrate his birthday!
Loris Malaguzzi was born in Correggio, a small town in the province of Reggio Emilia, Italy, on the 23rd of February 1920.
He reports a humble and happy childhood, and, when the time came to choose his academic carrier, he enrolled in the ‘teaching Institute,’ where he attends during the 1930s. He says this choice wasn’t motivated by any particular talent or passion but moreover to get an easy salary, which was the advice of his father. After completing his diploma and becoming a qualified teacher at the age of 18 years old, he began teaching in the primary school of Reggiolo, in the province of Reggio Emilia.
In 1940 Malaguzzi moved to Sologno, a small village in the Apennine Mountains, where he stayed for 3 years and where he says, he discovered the pleasure of teaching and his love for children. It was also here that he enrolled in the faculty of Teacher Training at the University of Urbino and study remotely.
In the meantime, the war began. This is how he described what he saw upon going back to Reggio Emilia:
“The War was there. I went to Reggio for a quick visit. A city without words. There weren’t the People. Just humans moving in silence. They were looking for food. Empty homes. During lunch with my family, my father confessed that it was already hard to find food. Butter and meat were a luxury. The bread was dark (black), the shops empty. Once back in Sologno I used all my savings to buy 4 lambs, the most beautiful ones. I wanted to make them a surprise (…) the lambs died almost all at the same time after licking the red paint at the bottom of the houses (…) it wasn’t right (…) I didn’t say anything to my parents.”
After this experience Malaguzzi moved on to teach to a middle school in Guastalla, another town in the province of Reggio Emilia, on the plain of the Po River and in 1946 he graduated, completing his studies in Pedagogy.
One of the most significant experiences of Loris Malaguzzi’s life journey happened a few days after Reggio Emilia was liberated by the Nazi occupation.
It was right after the end of the war in 1945, that he that learnt that a community were building an unofficial Early Learning Center in Villa Cella, in the province of Reggio Emilia. It was said that the parents wanted to build a preschool for their children and to do so they were using recycled materials recovered by the bombed buildings. The additional money needed to build it came from the sale of chickens, eggs, and horses. Malaguzzi was skeptical of such a plan and so he went to see with his eyes exactly what people were talking about:
“I road with my bicycle and I discovered that it was all true. I meet women cleaning the bricks. People had made their own decisions (…) –I am an Elementary School Teacher – I say – Well! -They say- if it’s true, come and teach in our school!”
The strength and will of these people will make Malaguzzi reflect and reconsider all of what he previously had learnt. He developed a deep understanding that a school isn’t just an institution but a place of interrelationships, a place able to produce culture and build a better future. During this time, he will re-evaluate all his views about the School System, as he describes here:
“I was an elementary school teacher (…) my poor theoretical models were all ridiculously overturned. First, it was really traumatic that building a school could be an idea coming from ordinary people – women, hired hands, metalworkers, and smallholders. But the second school paradox was that the school was built by that same people, without money, without permission, without technical help, without a council of directors, school supervisors and leaders of parties, but with only their working hands, placing one brick on top of another.”
As Barbieri (2017) explains: “in Malaguzzi’s mind, there is a clash between the official top-down pedagogy (…) and the reality, composed of people starting a schooling process spontaneously, just because it was an immediate need: the participation of people, the answer to real needs. The bottom-up organization that we found positively described here will become characteristic of the whole educational Malaguzzian Enterprise, and he never abandoned this understanding (…).”
Between 1946 and 1951 he organizes theatrical activities for children and adults, he commits to his life as a journalist and politician (enrolling for the Italian Communist party) up until 1951 when he once again enrolls to study, however this time in Rome, with the goal of becoming an educational psychologist. He left the University before than graduated, but in turn saw him offered a job as the Director of an institute for Special Education in Reggio Emilia, where he went on working for 15 years. Here Malaguzzi had the opportunity to observe infants and toddlers and discover how much he truly loved to work with them, grow and acquire an interest for infant drawings. During his work at the institution, as reported from a colleague, Malaguzzi was feeling very frustrated by the fact that none of the children of the institution could succeed at the tests prepared from the Primary School, in this way he was saying, they were all destined to fail…
“It’s during this time he questioned himself on what it means to learn and why the children can’t learn what the school wants to teach them. It’s during this time that he started to criticize the school as a traditional institution, (…) that it was too mnemonic and not linked to real life.” (Alati F., 2014)
From now on we see Malaguzzi start to create international and national relationships, begin interrelating with other professionals and most importantly lead a fight aimed at changing the structure of the local state schools first and then later those within wider Italy.
From 1960 to 1966, Malaguzzi was requested to manage the ‘house of vacation’ for children in Rimini, Italy. Under his leadership, they began to welcome mixed-age children from 3 years old till 13 years as well as those with disabilities.
During his time at the ‘house of vacation’, Malaguzzi developed pedagogical guidelines that saw a great investment in the professional development of educators…Each employee was to be hired 4 months before their first day at the house of vacation solely for training purposes as well as a basic standard set that all educators must possess a teaching diploma. Weekly meetings were also introduced, a time where all the educators gathered together and could express their opinions about the program, a time for collective reflection on their practices. During these reflections and discussions, the employees saw a need and for the role of an expert in the arts. This carefully selected educator was then given the responsibility to organize events having as focus on the arts, especially visual arts such as painting. The “Atelierista” was born.
Children were organized in small groups and from the beginning, families were encouraged to participate in the school’s programs. Families were asked to participate in special events such as exhibitions, parties, and meetings. Plus every week a movie with the most significant moments of the children’s group was projected in the town within Reggio Emilia for all the families to see.
At the core of the pedagogy at the ‘house of vacation’ was:
- The importance is given to the interrelationships within the children’s group and the adults
- The encouragement of the children’s autonomy
- A focus on creativity and lateral thinking
In 1962, Malaguzzi became the Pedagogical Coordinator of the first municipal Scholastic Institution…“A new kind of school: laical, open and pluralistic… they wanted to offer not just a school that offers high-quality education but is also able to offer meaningful educational experiences. For this reason, they had to rethink everything: the spaces, the professional training, and development, the role of the families and the financial resources…”
Then it was in 1963 that the first Nido (infant-toddler center) opened, called ‘Robinson’: “It wasn’t an unplanned choice of name – the character, Robinson, represents the strength of one to reinvent himself. This model will be used to communicate with people and spread a new idea of education. Every tool was used to bring people closer.”(Alati F., 2014)
“I remember, even if it is a difficult and heavy memory, that we didn’t want our children to wear a uniform, a badge… We didn’t want the children to wear a uniform that would remind them about the school… But something that would become the shield of the opportunity, also us – we who teach and educate (…) at the end we chose green, the color of hope, the same one for girls and boys. But as soon as we had recognized our institution, we will take this out.”
The project involved a new concept of education, with a new image of the child at the center, a competent child, an agent of rights. It also involved new training for educators and all the staff of the school (cleaners, cooks, helpers,)… a new idea of education that is able to open up more learning opportunities and able to offer more languages of expression to all children.
From this first municipal school that opened, more schools followed with a new perspective and this new philosophy. 1964 saw the school Anna Frank open and in 1970 Diana early learning center opened, in the center of town.
1968 saw Loris Malaguzzi nominated as the pedagogical consultant for the municipality of Modena. It is here in this role that he reinforced the concept of documentation, suggesting to all the educators to keep one notebook with all their reflections about their practice, a diary of sorts. Alongside this was the introduction of 2 educators per classroom, which was a revolution for the time, previously only 1 educator had been allocated per classroom.
Malaguzzi tried to support the families in spending more time with their children, organizing committees and meetings for them all. In 1970, a group of parents and the major’s employees created a families’ committee.
At this point, the educational system Loris Malaguzzi is promoting is already very similar to what we know today as the ‘Reggio Approach’.
Malaguzzi wanted to share his and his associates’ discoveries and ideas about education. Therefore 1971 saw him organized a symposium called “experiences for a new kindergarten” this was exciting and groundbreaking 100 participants were expected, however, a surprising 1,000 participants attended.
A very unexpected friendship was born with Gianni Rodari who came to visit Reggio Emilia in 1972. For one week Gianni would travel around Reggio, wondering in the roads, visiting schools and piazzas talking with Atelieristi, Pedagogisti, educators and children. He exchanged ideas, participated in reflections and took notes which in turn he then collated into a book dedicated to Reggio Emilia based on these exchanges. “Incontri con la fantasia” (Meeting with the fantasy.).
All this exposure saw many other critiques follow and not all positive…Corradini wrote an article accusing the Reggio Approach of not giving children the fundamentals of religion and no freedom given to the teacher to lead. Another criticism was the result of the schools of Reggio Emilia involvement with Vietnamese children in 1973 who were affected by the War their country was experiencing. Many people saw this as a political involvement of the schools and one, which was inappropriate. However, the most severe criticism and attack came in 1976 via a television report stating that “the Reggio schools are modeling children to became communists.” In response to these shocking allegations, Malaguzzi took time in 1977 to collaborate with his team and write… “Religious Education and Early Childhood Education.” An article explaining how religion does not need to be explained to children but they can find their own answers. Religion isn’t something to train but something to talk about.
This aside the most iconic development of 1976 – 1977 was the birth of the first pedagogical project. Starting from the questions, sentences, and ideas of the children, transformed into a leading photographic exhibition.
In 1981, the project’s exhibition “the eye if it jumps the wall” launched the Reggio Approach abroad with the opening of the “Reggio Emilia instituted” in 1982 in Sweden, then Spain and followed by Germany.
Now it is with every passing day that Malaguzzi defines his educational approach more and more;
- 1983 saw Malaguzzi work against the reform in schools to start children in primary school at 5 years old, stating that it does not give children the possibility to explore.
- 1985 he shares reflections between children and technology called: ‘Approaches to the future: the intelligences of children and intelligence of the computer.’
- 1985 also saw Loris Malaguzi retire at the age of 65 and Carla Rinaldi become the pedagogical coordinators’ supervisor. However true to his passion Malaguzzi never stops campaigning for a better education.
- 1990 congress sees 1,700 participants attend a conference on the rights of children to which Loris Malaguzzi was highly involved
- 1991 Malaguzzi writes his own guidelines for Early Learning centers
- 1992 is still working with the schools and children, participating in the last project he will be a part of alongside children called ‘the birds’ amusement park’
- 1993 Loris Malaguzzi is recognized and receives the “Khol” prize from Chicago and in this same year he acknowledged the need to have an organization where the structure of networks and delegations is managed
On the 27th January 1994 even after all of these achievements, developments and progress Malaguzzi still calls on all of his pedagogical coordinators and all staff of the educational system to have one more reflection, that of the internal organization.
Sadly, on 30th January 1994 Loris Malaguzzi passes leaving behind an unprecedented heritage.
Alati F., (2011), Loris Malaguzzi: Vita e Opere di un pedagogista reggiano che ha inventato un nuovo modo di pensare l’educazione dei bambini e delle bambine, Universita’ degli studi di Modena e Reggio Emilia.
Barbieri N.S. (2018), (Alan S. Canestrari (Editor), Bruce A. Marlowe (Editor)), LORIS MALAGUZZI: HIS EDUCATIONAL PHILOSOPHY, The Wiley International Handbook of Educational Foundations, Ed. Wiley-Blackwell
Barbieri N.s.. (2017), Loris Malaguzzi: la sua vita e la sua filosofia dell’educazione come nuclei fondativi del “Reggio Approach”, PEDAGOGIA DELL’INFANZIA LV CONVEGNO DI SCHOLÉ, Ed. La Scuola
Picture credits: @FondazioneReggioChildren