Unless a preschool is designated something like “Waldorf” or “Montessori”, it probably uses the “Reggio inspired” approach. Not even the full-on Reggio Emilia. Just inspired by it. I’m inspired to do things all the time. And then I don’t do them. That word leaves a lot of room for making stuff up. The “Reggio inspired” approach seems to have little to do with the official “Reggio Emilia approach” which started in Italy after World War II. For instance, the Italian Reggio Emilia teaching style requires many plants in the classroom, wall-sized windows and heavy parental involvement – including volunteering. And the children are supposed to stay with the same teacher for three years. Also, “Reggio Emilia” is Italian, which automatically means it’s better than the American version.
Right after you hear that a preschool is “Reggio inspired”, you’ll hear about their “emergent curriculum”. Which means that they make things up as they go. For real! They actually tell you this! And rich white people love it! When I first heard about this, I actually wondered if we were all going to be told we were on a new reality show about Hollywood douche bags who shell out big bucks for a non-education for their toddlers.
What happens in “Reggio inspired” preschools is that the kids (the kids with the loudest voices) tell the teachers what they want to learn about and then the teachers create a program based on that subject. The program could last a week, it could last a year. It will last however long it feels necessary. Because, you know… They’re making it up as they go! One school told me that they just finished doing a program on “Transformers.” No, it wasn’t a science lesson on devices that transfer electrical energy from one circuit to another through inductively coupled conductors. “Transformers” as in the cartoon characters.
So, even if you your kid has no interest in Transformers, he or she is stuck doing projects about Transformers every day for however long the kids and teachers deem necessary. I’ve been assured that the kids who don’t at first seem to be into Transformers eventually open up to it and get involved. Of course they do, eventually! They have to. It’s the main thing they do for weeks or months. After 15 years of being around my husband watching NHL hockey playoffs, I’ve learned to sort of get into it. It doesn’t mean I wouldn’t rather be learning about absolutely anything else.
Maybe the Reggio program excites parents because they imagine that it will be their kid’s chance to learn about insects or whatever thing their kid is into. But it scares the crap out of me because I know that my son Laszlo doesn’t have the confidence to talk in front of a group. If he did, he’d probably say something like “I want to know more about wine.” Then the kids would laugh, squashing what tiny bit of self-esteem he has.
In a “Reggio inspired” group, the loud-mouths are going to get their way and the quiet kids are going to have to deal. Which is basically how life works, I guess, but I’d like to think that preschool could be a time to develop a voice, not be muffled by louder voices.
Once the “emergent curriculum” is determined by the genius kid who came up with the idea to learn about Transformers, “collaboration” on “group projects” occur. “Collaboration” and “group projects” are also big “Reggio inspired” buzz words. I haven’t heard of a single tenant of the “Reggio inspired” approach that fosters any moments of individual exploration. It’s kind of weird to lump a bunch of childrens’ diverse interests into one group endeavor. It seems offensive to children to say “Well, a few of the kids wanted to do something on dinosaurs, so we figured everyone else would probably like it, too.”
But the emphasis these days seems to be on “socialization.” I don’t know how socialized my two-to-three year old needs to be, especially since it’s been shown that children can’t even begin to understand the simple concept of empathy until they are four years old. Sure, socialization is important to the extent that he needs to not hit other kids. And learning to share is nice. But the emphasis seems to be on raising toddlers who will do well at conference room meetings and shmoozing at parties.
My theory is that the reason why the “Reggio inspired” approach appeals to upper middle class white people is that they feel that they were robbed of their childhood because they went to academic schools. In other words, good schools. God forbid. And so they’re going to make up for the mistakes their parents made… By sending their own kids to schools where the kids learn about Transformers and boss teachers around. Maybe I just didn’t grow up rich enough.