"Reality, as always happens in children's hands, reveals once again its infinite potential for transformation." - Loris Malaguzzi (1920-1994)

Loris Malaguzzi was born in Corregio, Italy in 1920. He grew up in Fascist Italy and remembered six years of war that "gobbled up my youth." Encouraged by his father, he enrolled in a teacher training course in 1939 and completed it during the war. In 1946, Malaguzzi enrolled in the first postwar psychology course in Rome - and this marked the beginning of the Reggio Emilia adventure.

It started in a little town called Villa Cella in the northern region of Italy known as Reggio Romana. In the political and economic chaos that followed the fall of Fascism and the German retreat from Italy, the villagers, including children and parents, had collected stone, sand, and timber to build a school. Loris Malaguzzi rode his bicycle to the town to have a look and was so impressed by what he saw that he stayed.

The first school was financed by selling a German tank, nine horses, and two military trucks. According to Malaguzzi, "It was the women's first victory after the war because the decision was theirs. The men might have used the money differently." That first school still exists in the countryside 20 minutes from the city of Reggio Emilia, which in 1963 assumed funding for the preschools.

The Reggio Emilia approach to early education is based on the belief that children are powerful people, full of the desire and ability to grow up and construct their own knowledge. Children have not just the need, but the right to interact and communicate with one another and with caring, respectful adults.

Although Malaguzzi's ideas about education affected many aspects of the environment and curriculum, a major focus of the Reggio program is observation and documentation. Teachers routinely take notes and photographs and make tape recordings of group discussions and children's play. They meet each week to focus on their observations. Teachers and directors review the documentation and strive to hear the strongest currents of interest within children's flow of ideas. They then use what they learn to plan activities that are truly based on children's interests and to gain insights into children's individual personalities and into child development as a whole.

The vision of Reggio Emilia schools is always evolving. However, what is constant about the philosophy is best described by Malaguzzi himself: "What children learn does not follow as an automatic result from what is taught. Rather, it is in large part due to the children's own doing as a consequence of their activities and our resources."

To learn more about Loris Malaguzzi and the Reggio Emelia philosophy, read his book The Hundred Languages of Children (Ablex Publishing, 1998).

Created by Dr. Carol Brunson Day, CEO of the Council for Professional Recognition, which serves the U.S. office of Reggio Children.

This article originally appeared in the May, 2001 issue of Early Childhood Today.