The Reggio Emilia approach is a major influence on my work (which I'm still trying to find the exact manifestation of - but that's another story).
I know Mommy2Brittani called it a play-based curriculum, but it is actually an emergent curriculum (or project approach), however both have similarities in that they are child-centered instead of subject centered as an academic pre-school would be (which I am sooooo not a believer in).
In a play based curriculum play is the focus of the day - this is great because play is of course the work of the child and in a good play-based school, teachers may be re-setting the environment, observing the children at play, helping children out at stations etc. but the teachers are engaged in activity not sitting passively and only saying 'no' when they see "bad behavior" or maintaining safety. One of my favorite books on play is "The Plays the Thing" by Elizabeth Jones and Gretchen Reynolds.
*********THE REGGIO EMILIA APPROACH***************
The Reggio Emilia approach began in the municipal preschools of Reggio Emilia Italy by Loris Malaguzzi and others and those schools not actually in Reggio Emilia usually say they have a Reggio Emilia BASED program.
A Reggio Emilia based classroom starts with play-based, but continues above and beyond into emergent -curriculum (FYI - there are also emergent-curriculum schools that don't call themselves Reggio inspired). Emergent curriculum involves study of a particular topic. What is unique about emergent curriculum as opposed to unit-studies, which also is the study of a topic, is that with the emergent curriculum the ideas come from the children and the children's interests determine the length. Unit-studies have topics decided by the teacher that are of a pre-determined length and are usually the same from year-to-year. Additionally while unit-study topics are fairly basic in scope (birds, fall, transportation) emergent curriculum projects are sometimes very unique following the concerns of children which can also of course be unique. Two well known, well-documented Reggio Emilia projects (available on video) are "The Amusement Park for the Birds" and "To Build a Bridge in Clay."
The Reggio Emilia approach has a few important pieces beyond the emergent-curriculum style projects...
-----The environment as the third teacher----
The Reggio approach looks at the environment that the child spends their day as an important part of their education. The class rooms are generally not set up as a typical pre-school classroom, but have unique elements that are often changing - bringing in new objects and such for the child to explore. There are also many objects from nature, objects from everyday life and generally they don't look to only an early-childhood classroom catalog to set up the environment.
-----The Image of the Child----
Generally most teachers of children in Reggio based schools find it extremely important to reflect on what their image of a child is. To look at how they view children and how this affects their interactions and teaching. The image of children at Reggio schools is that they are very competent, capable individuals who are totally able to explore on their own. Teachers or course believe in this and they reflect on how they personally live this philosophy in their teaching. The best illustration of this is in the poem by Loris Malaguzzi "The Hundred Languages of Children" which I'll post in another post.
-----The Altierista and the Atelier----
The schools in Reggio Emilia Italy all have an Altierista (studio teacher) and an Atelier (art studio) in their school as well as having a mini-atelier in each classroom. Art is very important in the Reggio Emilia Approach as one of the very important languages of children. Children use art to explore their world and to express their thoughts on the world. Art is not only for aesthetics but a very serious form of communication. Children are allowed to use all sorts of materials and because they use them all the time are very comfortable with art materials.
The Reggio Approach documents children's work all the time through pictures, video, recording of the children's words and conversation and through the children's work itself. This documentation is both for the adults in the children's life to see their process of learning and for the children to be able to explore their ideas even further. Because teachers record and transcribe conversations with children, they are able to go back and say to children "you said...., what do you think about ...." etc. The documentation in the Reggio approach is often done in panels; foam-core boards with photographs and the children's words on them documenting a project by the children. Often this is a project still in process.
*********COMPARING REGGIO AND MONTESSORI***************
Philosophically Montessori and Reggio both see the child as an incredibly capable person. Montessori is definitely a more didactic approach to ECE however.
The Montessori philosophy has children using "Montessori Objects" as opposed to doing emergent curriculum activities. These Montessori objects are designed to be self-correcting in that there is one way the object can be used for it to work. For example there is a set of cylinders that get gradually larger in circumference that fit into a base of holes that get gradually larger in circumference. This object is self-correcting in that there is only one way to put the cylinders in the holes and therefore the child using the objects is meant to learn tacitly about changes in sizes.
Children are able to choose what objects they want to work with (it is always called work in Montessori) and will often repeat these activities over and over. The teacher in a strict Montessori setting is supposed to introduce the objects in a three-step process:
1) This is a
2) Bring me the
3) What is this?
The Montessori philosophy doesn't really address art in the education process at all, while Reggio sees it as an important language. The Reggio teacher helps children explore their ideas, the Montessori teacher helps children to do something by themselves, but in a particular way. While I think the Montessori objects can definitely be useful for kids, I'm not a fan of showing them how to be used.
These are some of my favorite resources about Reggio
BOOK-The Hundred Languages of Children -Edwards, Carolyn; Gandini, Lella and Forman, George. This is THE book about Reggio. A collection of essays from people who have implemented the Reggio approach both in Reggio Emilia Italy and other places around the world. An AMAZING book.
BOOK - Beautiful Stuff: Learning with Found Materials - Cathy Weisman Topal, Lella Gandini. This is a beautiful look at children exploring through objects.
BOOK - Bringing Reggio Emilia Home - Cadwell, Louise. A teachers look at implementing the Reggio approach in her classroom.
VIDEO - The Creative Spirit: Creative Beginnings. Creative Beginnings is one in a series of four Creative Sprit Videos which was a PBS series. I was able to check the video out from my library (over and over) - purchasing is expensive ($80 for series). The video has a beautiful segment on Reggio Emilia commented on by Howard Garnder.
EXHIBIT - The Hundred Languages of Children. Yes it's the same title as the book!! One of the most amazing things I've seen in my life. I flew to Columbus to see this and spent the entire day in the exhibit. A collection of documentation panels etc. from Reggio Emilia Italy schools and other Reggio schools as well. Currently in St. Paul MN. For the schedule see:
BOOK: The Plays the Thing - by Elizabeth Jones, Gretchen Reynolds. Not Reggio, but a great discussion of children's play and the ways adults can be involved.