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Reggio Emilia Approach with Play-dough

By Liska Myers


We are finishing our play-dough-themed exploration of alternative educational approaches by taking a glance at the Reggio Emilia approach. While it may be less well-known than the previously discussed Montessori and Waldorf practices, many of its ideas and techniques have been integrated into other educational philosophies.

Reggio Emilia is a city in Italy, and the approach that took its name was developed by the teacher Loris Malaguzzi and parents from neighboring villages after World War II. The innovative idea of the philosophy was that children should take an active part in their education: they must be given control over the direction of their learning, and they must have plenty of ways and opportunities to explore their interests. Teachers in the Reggio Emilia environment are considered to be co-learners and collaborators, working on the projects along with their students. The role of teachers is to observe children's interests and provide them with suitable educational experiences, materials, and books.

It is easy for us, parents, to follow this approach because we are naturally prone to noticing the smallest of our children's inclinations. For instance, my son has been showing interest in colours and colour sorting lately, and I have started to wonder if there is a way I can help him make new discoveries, based on this interest. However, in a Reggio Emilia approach, it is often not about having a solid lesson plan, but about building an exciting invitation to play and learn and seeing what children can do with it.

This is our Reggio-inspired corner for colour explorations. It has three primary colours of play-dough, three bowls with toys of matching colours, transparent blocks of different colours and three nesting dolls. We did not have to get any new toys for it – those are toys that my son has had for months, presented in a different light to encourage his curiosity. There is also a mirror, because mirrors play an important role in the creation of a Reggio Emilia environment: they provide light and open up space, as well as offering a new perspective on the activity.



It was so easy to come up with new colour games in this Reggio-inspired corner. My son made impressions of different toys in his play-dough, matching each toy to the right colour. It was a simple sorting exercise with sensory elements.

Then I showed how to mix two primary colours to make new hues. Red and yellow make orange, and the same goes for transparent blocks. My son likes to look through each of them, but looking through two at once gave him new colours.

With this new knowledge, we made a rainbow of play-dough colours. My son went to work on stamping each little piece with a bee, and I left him at it, absorbed in his play.
This is, of course, a very specific example, based on the current interest of one child. But the idea of Reggio Emilia approach can be taken to many different levels. As long as children show interest in something, there is the possibility to turn their fascination into a learning experience. Make it inviting and fun – and, whenever possible, try a mirror!


Liska Myers is an author of the blog, Adventure in a Box, where she shares ideas on how to make wooden toys, set up a home puppet theatre, and choose the best children's books. Accompanied by her husband and son, she lives and adventures in Ontario, Canada.

Posted on Aug 29, 2014

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