One of the first sessions of Proudly Primary was hosted in Highbury’s Weavers’ Nest where Jill Sachs spoke about the “Aspects of the Reggio Emilia Approach”. Jill is the founder of the Caversham Institution, which trains teachers specialising in pre-Grade R. She has explored and learned about the Reggio Emilia approach for a number of years and is passionate about sharing her experiences with teachers all over South Africa. 

Reggio Emilia is the name of a city in Italy, which was where the approach was conceptualised and developed. It was developed after World War II by pedagogist Loris Malaguzzi in collaboration with a group of parents of Reggio Emilia.

The approach isn’t a “one size fits all” but is rather a philosophy that inspires teaching and learning instead of prescribing it. “All we seem to do is teach to get children through, but somehow we have lost some of the magic of teaching,” says Jill.

One of the principles of the Reggio Emilia approach is the “image of the child”. Children are seen as capable, intelligent and competent learners, encouraged to question and reason. Teachers are seen as co-learners – always researching, learning and developing

The physical environment is of fundamental importance to the early childhood program and is referred to as the “third teacher”. Integration of the classroom space with the surrounding environment is vital to the Reggio Emilia approach, and if you take a walk through our Weavers’ Nest classrooms, it becomes evident how these spaces make such a difference to a child’s learning environment. “Make learning visible,” says Jill – it’s important to document and display a child’s work so that it can be shared not only with the child, but with parents and teachers, too. By making learning visible, the student’s thinking and feeling can be studied while the documentation serves to help with evaluation of the educators’ work and refinement of the curriculum.

To introduce the value of storytelling as a catalyst for learning Jill used the story of the Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams Jill ended off the session with an exercise. She asked everyone to find something in their bag or pocket that they would like to throw away. They then showed the person next to them and spoke about why they didn’t want it anymore. She then asked what it was like to feel discarded and unwanted. She then used this as an example of how stories can be used This is an example of using storytelling to get children to open their minds, use reasoning and explore at a deeper more meaningful level even within the national curriculum. She also mentioned the difference between provocations and themes and the importance of asking children questions and actually listening to their response. “So much of our lives have been defined and prescribed, but exploring the Reggio Emilia approach frees us up,” explained Jill.

Cecily Fraser, Department Head says, “The Reggio Emilia approach has changed the way we think, teach and learn at Highbury, and we look forward to seeing our students blossom and move onto Grade R with everything they have experienced and learned in Weavers’ Nest”.