Reggio Emilia is often regarded as “the only global preschool pedagogy truly able to ignite a child’s love for learning”. Since the 1950s, this child-directed approach has been gaining popularity among parents as it allows a child to develop resilience, responsibility, self-confidence, teamwork, problem-solving, as well as creative and scientific thinking skills.
As Singapore’s leading Reggio-inspired preschool, Mulberry Learning adopts a unique hands-on discovery learning approach driven by the child’s interests. Distinguishing features of the Project Inquiry @ Mulberry™ programme are the collaborative projects done in both English and Mandarin. Each project involves a child-initiated scientific inquiry process lasting six months across three main stages (Setting the Research Focus, Investigative Research, and Presentation & Documentation). Children emerge from these projects brimming with curiosity, satisfaction, and taking an active approach towards their learning as self-motivated young explorers.
Known to create confident communicators, independent thinkers and lifelong learners, the Reggio Emilia approach has been around for nearly seven decades. It is uniquely characterized by three concepts: respect for the child who is rich with wonder, emphasis on fostering strong relationships and the power of the learning environment.
Make a visit to a Reggio Emilia-inspired classroom and you will be instantly bowled over. The learning environment is recognized for its potential to inspire children. Filled with natural light, order and beauty, the open spaces are clutter-free and every design aspect is considered for its purpose which will encourage children to delve deeper into their interests.
Flexible style of child-directed learning
In Mulberry Learning’s classrooms, the children are the main initiators of the learning process. They are endowed with a uniquely individualistic understanding of how to construct learning on their own with little to no dictation by the teacher of what to learn. Children are treated as active collaborators in their education as lessons are entirely child-centric. This stands in stark contrast to other learning approaches in early childhood education which relies on a fixed, structured curriculum and a set of pre-determined and didactic tools.
The flexibility of Reggio Emilia curriculum is one of the significant distinguishing factors as children are allowed to have fun in the pursuit of knowledge as they study what piques their interest.
Developing empathy and strong social skills
The second tenet of the Reggio Emilia approach is the emphasis on fostering relationships to include parents, teachers and the community. Reggio Emilia places a strong focus on social collaboration through working in groups during lessons, where each child is an equal participant and contributor who has their thoughts and questions valued. Children are encouraged to use language to investigate and explore, to reflect on their experiences and be aware of the needs of everyone around them.
Tailored learning by age groups
Reggio-inspired schools believe that large age gaps between children and their vastly different levels of mental development will be harder to address than the relatively smaller differences in development within children of the same age group. While this offers less opportunities for students of different ages to interact while using the Reggio Emilia approach, this is made up for through visits to public places beyond the school to develop friendships in the community and communal learning sessions with peers.
The role of the environment
The environment plays such a significant role in Reggio-inspired programmes that it is often referred to as the “third teacher’. The Reggio Emilia environment is one that is filled with natural light, order and beauty, with the ability to inspire children. Art is hung at children’s eye level. There is an emphasis on using natural materials that can be used in more than one way to encourage an interest in the natural world and exploration. Children benefit from having the natural and social environment as a resource at their fingertips.
Teachers intentionally organize, support and plan for various spaces for children. As a result of this belief in the power of the environment on a child’s development, sensory learning components and outdoor lessons are also more common in Reggio-inspired schools. This creates many options for lessons to be taught through experience, creating a tangible memory of whatever a child learns during class.
On the whole, these core values at the very heart of the Reggio Emilia approach are responsible for the success of its namesake city in terms of educating young children. When applied in the Singaporean context, it is a powerful alternative to other forms of early childhood education that keeps its competitive edge due to the flexibility of the curriculum and how student-led learning resembles play, creating a fun and wholesome experience for all.
At Mulberry Learning, the children are viewed as an active constructionist of their own learning. The Reggio Emilia environment allows the children’s interests to guide the class while the teacher facilitates the learning process. The Project Inquiry offers a 3-step process where the children will be able to decide on a research topic, engage in exploration and present their findings.
This learning process incorporates different Habits of Mind and Multiple Intelligence skills, which sets the stage for how children views their learning experience in school. It teaches them how to be take responsibility of their own learning, better social skills with their peers and how to be a self-directed learner.
1. RESEARCH FOCUS
During the first phase, the children will participate in guided activities to find out what topics pique their interest. Craft work, story-telling and questions are used to discover the children’s pre-knowledge and mind maps are created to help with the brainstorming process. The “Exploration” process will take 4 weeks to be completed to help set the research focus for the children.
2. INVESTIGATIVE RESEARCH
“Investigative Research” is the longest phase out of the whole process, taking up 12 weeks to complete. The children will begin the second phase of their Project Inquiry by voting for their selected topic. When the children choose the topic and what they want to learn about it, they will be more motivated to learn and will develop a sense of ownership about the project. Once the topic has been selected, the children will begin their investigative research. The teachers will prepare an array of activities, experiments and field trips for the children to draw their findings.
3. PRESENTATION & DOCUMENTATION
In the last leg of the Project Inquiry process, the children will participate in a presentation where they will present their findings from the past few weeks. After documenting what they have learnt, the children will be putting together a presentation under the guidance of their teacher. To help the children develop self-confidence, they will go through several rounds of planning and rehearsing before they present their findings. As they discuss and write down their experience, they use a combination of speaking and writing skills while applying the new vocabulary and grammar that they have learned.
Curiosity is a good quality for a young learner to possess. When a child is curious, they are motivated to ask questions, seek answers and apply those answers to their personal experience. Through this Project Inquiry process, each child can demonstrate curiosity, an attitude of wonder and a desire to discover. Using a variety of resources available such as story books, multimedia, readers and an inquiry project journal, the students are able to gather different information on their chosen topic.