Adapting an Italian educational approach in Canadian and Japanese preschools

Anna Baldacchino

The quaint town of Reggio Emilia in northern Italy is famous for its three As: art, architecture, and agriculture. But Anna Baldacchino traveled there because of another word that begins with an A. She wanted to learn about an approach to early childhood education that teachers developed in the Reggio Emilia schools.
Adapting an Italian educational approach in Canadian and Japanese preschools
While Anna Baldacchino travels the world, she is keen to promote an approach to teaching children that she considers inspirational for children in her Charlottetown home in Canada.Baldacchino completed her Master’s thesis on child studies at the University of Prince Edward Island in 2011. She helped in adapting the Reggio Emilia approach developed in Italy so that it could be used at three early childcare centres in the province of Prince Edward Island (Baldacchino, 2011).
Her fieldwork led her to the town in Reggio Emilia, Italy, where the original school building that Italian women resurrected from the rubble at the end of the Second World War was. The destruction of schools and education systems by the war necessitated a new, immediate approach to raising children. Impressed by the resolve of the mothers, educator Loris Malaguzzi (1920-94) became the founder of an educational program based on the principles of respect, responsibility, and community through exploration and discovery. All children entering Reggio schools are considered to have the potential to excel in life. These schools provide a supportive and enriching environment based on the interests of the children. Rather than use previous curricula, or design a needs-based curriculum, teachers first observe what students want to learn and then prepare a curriculum. Employing this emergent curriculum, lesson plans are created that are flexible and based on child-guided interests (Hall et al., 2010).
The Reggio Emilia approach has been adapted for use in Japan at several preschool and after school centers in Nagakute, Shizuoka, and Tokyo. The educational philosophy of the Reggio Emilia approach has been implemented at the KIDDIE, Discovery International School, and BKI preschools.Early childhood educators at the Discovery International School in Nagakute believe their students learn best through playing, and that the best learning opportunities are rooted in enriched forms of play and play-based inquiries. Play includes language learning. Teachers can discover what their students are interested in and overhear the fundamental questions children have by observing them at play. The teachers then adjust their syllabus and revise their lesson plans to provide positive, developmentally supportive learning experiences to develop the child’s self-image, social skills, language, and health habits.
Baldacchino presented her research on the Reggio Emilia approach to childcare educators at the International University of Kagoshima on June 17, 2011. She explained what stakeholders–the parents, teachers and school administrators–identify as the necessary supports needed to continue the development of the schools. A participant who listened to her presentation asked, “Are children naturally interested in other countries? Does the Reggio Emilia approach encourage children to learn about other countries?” In reply, Baldacchino noted that children are naturally interested in everything that is around them and that comes to their attention. This does not only include the home and outside environment but also encounters they might have with other children from other countries, perhaps in playgrounds or in the classroom itself. Teachers and parents also play an important role in this by setting up the environment with appropriate books about other countries.
Speaking from her experience as a parent and an educator of young children, Anna Baldacchino advises “you can rest assured that if the books are there, the children will look through them and have questions about what they are seeing.” It depends on the teacher to build on the initial curiosity of the children and dig deeper into the subject, transforming it into a project from which the children can learn more about different countries, cultures, and people. Videos are readily available on the web to complement such a project, and images can be printed off to show, for example, different environments or clothes worn in certain countries.
Baldacchino suggests the first thing that preschool and elementary school teachers in Japan need to change is to teach English in English and not in the Japanese language. The children have to be challenged to speak in English during the English lesson, read aloud in English to the class, and teachers should make available website links in English to parents and children to help them practice it at home as well. She believes that such a step would be a big change for the Japanese educational system, but she hopes that perhaps there might be a few teachers who would be willing to try it out. The ideal situation would be if the class or the school happens to have foreign students or immigrants from other countries in their classrooms. In that case, the parents could be invited to the classroom to the children about the different culture and traditions that they might have in their country of origin. Another idea is if one of the students has traveled with his or her parents to other countries, the teacher takes up this opportunity to ask about the child’s experience, possibly includingthe parents in this project.
Baldacchino hopes to return to Japan and continue her studies on how the Reggio Emilia approach can be adapted for use in schools in other cultures. On the day of her departure she wrote a haiku about the monsoon weather and the natural environment that she encountered during her sojourn in Kagoshima.
Rain, heat sunshine
Sakurajima looming in the clouds
Until we meet again Satsuma
Baldacchino, A. (2011). Localizing Reggio: Adapting the Reggio Emilia Approach to Early Childhood Education in Three Childcare Centres on Prince Edward Island (Unpublished master's thesis). Faculty of Education, University of Prince Edward Island, PEI, Canada.
Hall, K., Horgan, M., Ridgway, A., Murphy, R., Cunneen, M., & Cunningham, D. (2010). Loris Malaguzzi and the Reggio Emilia Approach. New York: Continuum Library of Educational Thought.