Expert Articles

Reggio Emilia and Play

Author: Betty Yau
Principal, Fairchild Nursery and Kindergarten

Play is a child’s work, and quality play matters to children.  Let’s consider how children feel when they arrive at a new place.  They should feel happy, respected, free to be themselves and enjoy their learning journey.   Children should feel engaged as soon as they arrive at a new place, be that at school, visiting a friend, or at home. 

Play should allow for children to find out things for themselves, to have their own experiences as they use all their senses to engage in an activity, with minimal adult intervention.  If adults control every aspect of a child’s life, we deprive children of the opportunity to explore and discover on their own.

The Reggio Emilia approach uses the environment as the third teacher to motivate and inspire children’s learning.  This approach sees children as the protagonists of their own learning.  In a fast paced and changing world of the future, children need personalized learning engagements, building on their own interests and capabilities, through real hands-on experiences.  We appreciate the importance of developing a child’s growing sense of self, ensuring that everyone is given time and space to explore and to build a sense of achievement at this stage of their lives. This will enable children to build resilience and to take on challenges to use their initiative, leading to better outcomes later in life.

Building strong relationships through conversations with children, asking them questions about what they are doing, and capturing the children’s wonderings to see how their learning and interests can be extended are important to supporting children’s learning too – this is one of the important roles that the community can do to support children’s all round growth and development.

Relationships are at the very heart of the Reggio Emilia inspired philosophy. This philosophy is reflected in an environment that encircles the child with three “teachers,” or protagonists. The first teacher—you all as the parent—takes on the role of active partner and guide in the education of the child. The second are the classroom teachers, whereby teachers assume the role of researcher and intentionally engage children in meaningful work and conversation.  The third teacher is the learning environment—a setting designed to be not only functional but also beautiful and reflective of the child’s learning. It provides warmth, allows for curiosity, confidence building, and the spark of it all –  creativity! It is the child’s relationship with parents, teachers, and the environment that ignites learning, building brain development through back and forth conversations.

As parents, we are our child’s first educators, and our role is to cultivate curiosity, creativity and confidence through children’s many questions.  This serve and return interaction helps develop   inquiry and build warm, nurturing and supportive relationships with our child.  These support quality play provocations through a wide variety of hands- on daily experiences and activities.  Through natural play, children build a strong foundation in which they can grow and flourish.

Sensory play is also important to supporting how children learn.  Hand-on experiences also enable children to make connections and theories of their own as they engage in sand or water play, dried pasta or recycled materials.  On average, we need to repeat something 400 times in order to master a skill.  Through play, we may only need to do this 20 times – why waste time and learn otherwise?  Research on reading skills at age 8 concluded that children had the same reading level, regardless of whether a child learnt through traditional rote methods, or through play based settings.  The children who were in play based settings had much more fun in the process of learning to read!   This is how we support a child’s thinking – they are building connections in their brain all time, and especially as they play.

From making cookies in the kitchen together, or sorting the recycled materials, to planting sunflowers or growing tomatoes for our window sill at home,  children choose how to conduct their learning through these engaging daily tasks.  Children become genuinely interested in their learning, and this is one way the children learn to be their own “inner teacher” with guidance from parents and caregivers.  This also provides autonomy for children and they become more engaged as they build new skills as they play and learn.

Time in playground spaces, either indoor or outdoor, provide children the opportunity to enhance their gross motor skills, this in turn builds strength and confidence in their bodies, supporting their ability to keep balance and to do more complex physical skills.

As we navigate away from pandemic times, expose your child to different learning experiences, whether that is a trip to the supermarket, time in nature, or visiting a local community library.  In any experience, your child will be paying attention to things which are interesting to them, and through your conversations together, you as an adult become a part of your child’s play.  Learning is not separated from a child’s place in time, they are learning and growing every minute of the day, wherever they are.  So, go out and play together as a family, and have fun!

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Reggio Emilia and Play