6 Lessons Reggio Teaches

There are 6 important lessons that the Reggio approach teaches-Each of these 6 will be covered in the class, Rethinking Kindergarten, and participants will dig deeper into ways they can incorporate some of these strategies and philosophies into their current teaching.  Consider this a quick and dirty overview of what exactly the Reggio approach believes and teaches students about art and their world. If you are just joining us, the Reggio Approach originated in world renowned preschools in Reggio Emilia, Italy and now around the world. It involves a full time art teacher as well as content teachers who work together to help students learn more about their world in a more integrated and authentic way.  Basically everything our current US Education system isn’t!  I personally find it all very refreshing and fascinating. We never learned these things in school- and chances are your PD at your school won’t cover it- So you’ve come to the right place to elevate your learning and your students as well!

Research is taken from the text below, the Hundred Languages of Children, which we use in the class. Ideas and reflections are my own. 

6 Lessons Reggio Teaches

1. Project Work 

Project work is defined as in-depth projects taken on by small groups of children.  The interesting thing about project work in Reggio is that it centers around every day experiences, such as grocery shopping or tending to the garden. Too often, teachers bring around eccentric topics that are very far from the student’s reality (i.e.: Space Travel or the prehistoric age).  Students at this age have a hard time relating to such abstract concepts and can become equally and even more interested in the everyday as well as working with each other through projects.

Reflect: What projects do you do with students that help them relate better to THEIR world around them? Do you do enough project based work?

2. Treating Children’s Work Seriously

In Reggio, the work produced in the art room is not simply decorative in nature to be put up on the refrigerator. The artwork is an important resource to help the student learn concepts, and explore and deepen their knowledge of the world around them. The artwork helps the teachers plan for the next steps for that student, just like a formative assessment.

Reflect: Do you promote the artwork in purely a decorative way or aim to get something deeper out of the lesson?

3. Realistic and Imaginative Representation 

It’s important for students to draw both realistic and imaginative.  You don’t have to choose one or the other. Both contribute to the students development in a positive way.  Visual arts are thought of as languages for the children to communicate when they many not have the words or writing skills to do so. How they accomplish this can be diverse.

Reflect: Do you shun realistic how to draw books? Are you so focused on the student’s art looking representational that you forget to let them imagine?  Realize you don’t have to choose. Foster both in your art room!

4. Teacher- Child Relationships 

In the US, teacher and child relationships is focused so much on the routines and rules that teachers are usually too busy or too reluctant to engage students in real conversation for sake of structure (Sidenote- Dark cloud forms over my head, as I am TOTALLY guilty of this and really really want to work harder on it).  In Reggo is the opposite, the work and conversation between the teacher and student is the center of the learning. The student is not just an object of praise or target of instruction, they are thought of as apprentices, working WITH the teacher to foster learning. This is powerful stuff, people!

Reflect: What are small ways you can engage the students in conversation more?  Do you think of students as “targets of instruction” and not as little people you are molding? Too often we can get into that trap.

5.  Children’s Sense of What Adults Think is Important 

Children can pick up on what they think the adult finds important or what gets the most attention. Too often we only give attention to the negative behaviors and forget to point out the good things the are happening in our art rooms.  Students will pick up on this like wildfire- hence behaviors.

Reflect: In what ways to you communicate successes to your students?

6. Family-School Relationships

The Reggio school is thought of as the extended family of the students.  Teachers and parents work together to help mold the child’s education. Teachers stay with students for several years and work with mixed age groups to foster that family feeling. In the US we are so quick to move on to the next thing we don’t always let things linger long enough to have a truly lasting impression.

Reflect: In what ways to reach out to parents to foster that community and family feeling?

Feel free to answer any of the reflection questions in the comment section too much good conversation to be had! I can’t wait to hear what you think about this new way of thinking.  Which lesson do you want to work on the most? Mine is #4! 

Pssstt. Like what you are reading? Want to dig deeper with your colleagues? There is still time to grab your spot in “Rethinking Kindergarten,” the AOE class that starts on December 1st. 

Jessica Balsley

Jessica Balsley is the Founder and President at AOE. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.


  • Kim Hyman

    I would love to take this class “Rethinking Kindergarten”. It sounds facinating….anymore thought about offering courses at 3 graduate credits so they will be accepted for transfer? Almost finished with my degree but looking for about 6 more credit hours in Art, must be 3 or more credits per class.

  • L. R. Emerson II’s Upside-Down art has been created from 30 years of research and determination to break the Glass Ceiling of art history.
    Renown artist Georg Baselitz recently commented he found Emerson’s work “…inspiring.”
    This is notable considering Baselitz’ art shares a similar compositional variant to Emerson’s work and moreover that his art has sold for in excess of $4.2 million dollars at auction.
    L. R.’s 2011 work involved creating his Upside Down Art known as Masg: from Gaelic meaning to mix; or infuse for legendary Grammy recording artist Leon Russell.
    In the Spring of 2011 Emerson presented his artwork to Mr. Russell who was on tour at the time with Sir Elton John promoting their Union album. In the works Emerson used advanced digital methods learned during study at VCU. The work featured Leon Russell in inverted, multi-Directional poses; one pose being the younger Leon and the latter depicting Leon as he appears today – still rocking!
    The poster series is part of a comprehensive set featuring Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Bono and other notable musicians. Early in his career Emerson created art for Leon from 1990-93 so this culminating effort to memorialize Mr. Russell within an Upside Down Artwork was fitting to commemorate Leon’s 2011 induction into the rock and roll Hall of Fame..
    L. R. recently wrote: “I set the mark from 1984 onward to begin what is today a major change in Art Education and secondarily a significant art movement focused on multi-directional composition.
    I hold that we live in the time when art education texts will be rewritten because my research and invention has proven that our classroom texts need to be revised; publishers need to include new avenues of the compositional variant.
    The Historians and Critics have finally lost the stronghold on what is assuredly necessary evolutionary changes the practice of Art Education. I must emphasize the old texts are incorrect considering the pulse of our Upside-Down Art movement at large.
    Both VCU studio and pedagogical practices compelled me to centralize my artistic effort; thus I refined my 30 year battle to overcome the theoretical walls that historians and many art educators ardently defend. To me, it is the artists that ultimately define the story of art – we are the dreamers of the dream.
    As a student of art in the early 1980’s, the aspect of having only three primary choices of compositional balance left me feeling artistically confined. So contrarily, against my teacher’s advice I worked out my High School compositions from multiple directions, therefore intentionally violating not only the two-dimensional plane but also compositional norms.
    Looking back, I literally turned the work upside-down during a period of which this was not taught nor allowed; thus I solved my visual riddle from multiple directions.
    I continued into the mid-1980’s making hundreds and later thousands of works – continuing to experiment with compositional variants. This pioneering exploration with compositional variants along with 37 documented hybrid styled artmaking methods are my primary contribution to art in the 20th and 21st Century.
    In 2005, after having been kept secret for over two decades, Masg or Upside-Down Art was introduced to more than 500 renowned museums and galleries worldwide including the following: U.S. National Gallery, The Musee du Lourve, National Gallery and Tate Museum, London, Smithsonian American Art Museum to name a few.

    Back then, the art world and the web was completely void of any evidence of any artist working upside-down other than Georg Baselitz who was featured in 1984 in the Los Angeles Times with his, neo-expressionist upside down paintings and early 20th century artist Gustave Verbeek who created cartoon ambigrams. Yes, it has been an enormous battle from the 1980’s trying to get galleries to notice vs. today where “the new” is embraced and we see artists and photographers following our movement.
    None of these aforementioned accomplishments would be of any importance if not for the blessing I receive in working to share my experiences with others in the classroom and within the museum and exhibition realms.
    I suggest to every artist living today: study the world and all its art, then go and make your own!” L. R. Emerson, 2011.
    Today, through his VCU Graduate study Emerson’s art has permanently secured a change in Art Education where composition can no longer be classified as simply symmetrical, asymmetrical or radial but also must include Emerson’s pioneering work in multi-directional composition.

    One image, Two Views ™
    http://www.e4fineart.com, The Worlds Largest Solo Artist Site™

  • Rross1111

    This approach reminds me of  “Big Ideas”. I know Jessica recently received the  Davis Art Education Series books (wonderful, by the way) and by now knows what that means. The book by Patricia Stuhr and Sydney Walker addresses using Big Ideas to create meaning in art making for students. The art project focuses on a central topic such as “play” and students discuss their play, types of play, who plays with them…basically relating the topic to their own lives, discussing it, looking at the artwork of artists who use “play” in their artworks, and then create an artwork based on their ideas of “play” which could be designing a new playground, taking a picture of their friends playing their favorite game, etc. Of course you would want to talk about their artwork further after it is finished to keep their minds thinking and discuss the processes they used in creating the artwork.

    • Rross1111

       I would like to correct myself! I am not sure how I dragged Patricia Stuhr into this, but it is actually Marilyn Stewart who co-authored Re-thinking Curriculum in Art with Sydney Walker. Sydney Walker also has a book in the series called Teaching Meaning in Artmaking. Both books are excellent reads and address using Big Ideas. 

      • Thank you for the resources and reminding us of “Big Ideas” – Sometimes we get so obsessed with the details we don’t take a step back and look at the big picture! The books are great resources and I am enjoying them.