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Incorporating Reggio methods in a traditional school setting
Incorporating Reggio methods in a “traditional” school setting
3 Jun, 2016. 26 Comments. A Day In First Grade, Kindergarten. Posted By: Kristen Smith

The Reggio-style of teaching has truly captivated my heart. Over the past year I have tried to implement many  “Reggio” methods into my teaching style while teaching in a “traditional school setting.” It has been of great benefit to me as a teacher as well as my students. Since many of y’all expressed interest in hearing how I found the time to implement these activities and how I did it, I would love to share a little bit more on what has worked for me.

A Little Background 

The Reggio Emilia approach to education originated in Reggio Emilia, Italy. It places emphasis on child led, project based learning projects. One of the motivating principles of the approach is that children are full of creativity and wonder. They are not simply “banks waiting to be filled with facts, figures, and dates.” {Source: http://www.chevychasereggio.com/reggio%20emilia%20approach.htm}  In this approach, teachers help children discover answers to their questions through hands-on exploration, artistic avenues, in which students creatively represent the knowledge they are learning.

Instead of the teacher ‘imparting’ knowledge to the children, children play a key role in researching and making discoveries.

Reggio-inspired Units/Exploration Centers

This past year, through observation, conversation, and student questions, a few “units” emerged in my classroom. Through listening to my students it became very clear that they were very interested in animals and animal habitats. How did I determine this? I listened. One key aspect of the Reggio- model is that students can freely engage with materials in their classroom environment. I have seen some classrooms call this time, “thinking and learning time” and others call it “exploration centers.” I love both of these terms and I am sure there are many other labels for this open ended time. In my classroom, we have exploration centers at the end of each day. It is in essence “free play.” However, I feel like that term gets a bad rap and people question what children are learning. Yet, play, as Maria Montessori said, “is the work of the child.” It is where children practice their social skills. It is where children master what they are learning. It is where they build language skills, math skills, and science skills. It is essential!

So during these exploration centers, I set up activities called “provocations.” A provocation is designed to provoke! It is an open ended way for children to engage with materials and an opportunity for me to observe, document, and listen to what my student’s interests and questions are. You will notice that some of the provocations were ways to encourage our language and math concepts being taught and others were used to go along with units of study. As I do teach in a “traditional school setting” there were units/concepts that I had to cover. Therefore, some of the units were “teacher-directed” but I still used the Reggio “style” to bring the units to life.

Here are a few pictures to show you a few of our provocations this year:

Language Provocations:

Incorporating Reggio methods in a "traditional" school setting Incorporating Reggio methods in a "traditional" school setting

Incorporating Reggio methods in a "traditional" school setting Incorporating Reggio methods in a "traditional" school setting

Math Provocations

Incorporating Reggio methods in a "traditional" school setting Incorporating Reggio methods in a "traditional" school setting Incorporating Reggio methods in a "traditional" school setting Incorporating Reggio methods in a "traditional" school setting Incorporating Reggio methods in a "traditional" school setting

Art Provocations

Can you paint the Statue Of Liberty?

Incorporating Reggio methods in a "traditional" school setting Incorporating Reggio methods in a "traditional" school setting

Can you paint the Earth with your hands?

Incorporating Reggio methods in a "traditional" school setting Incorporating Reggio methods in a "traditional" school setting Incorporating Reggio methods in a "traditional" school setting

Can you paint “Starry Night”?
Incorporating Reggio methods in a "traditional" school setting

Science Provocations

Incorporating Reggio methods in a "traditional" school setting

Incorporating Reggio methods in a "traditional" school setting

Incorporating Reggio methods in a "traditional" school setting

Can you create a frog habitat?

Incorporating Reggio methods in a "traditional" school setting

Social Studies Provocations

Incorporating Reggio-inspired methods in a "traditional" school setting Incorporating Reggio-inspired methods in a "traditional" school setting

During “exploration centers” along with provocations, students also can choose to use any of our “exploration baskets,” blocks, the sensory table, the light table, and art supplies.

Incorporating Reggio-inspired methods in a "traditional" school setting

The baskets make it super simple to clean up and store the materials. Four baskets fit perfectly underneath our sensory table. I change out the materials when students seem to not gravitate towards them anymore.

Incorporating Reggio-inspired methods in a "traditional" school setting

At the light table, I stored the materials on the shelf that is below the light fixture. I changed out these materials about once a month.

Incorporating Reggio-inspired methods in a "traditional" school setting

Incorporating Reggio-inspired methods in a "traditional" school setting

Students also had the opportunity to engage in “dramatic play.”

Incorporating Reggio-inspired methods in a "traditional" school setting

Incorporating Reggio-inspired methods in a "traditional" school setting

Through setting up a variety of provocations, play based centers, and books, throughout the year, I noticed a few specific interests emerging.

Incorporating Reggio-inspired methods in a "traditional" school setting

The pictures above are from that first child-led unit. Through listening to my students, this unit evolved into a study on the forest which then turned into learning about forest animals. During exploration centers, my students loved building with the tree logs and adding the animals to their habitats. They also loved creating art from real life objects and also creating an artist model of a deciduous forest. You can read more about the process of creating the forest here

Other units that were 100% child led/inspired were our units on weather, rocks and geodes, dinosaurs, endangered animals, light and sound, and castles. These inquires came out of student questions, play, and discussions. What was a truly significant “ah ha! moment” for me was during our dinosaur inquiry. My students’ language and math skills skyrocketed during this unit because they were so engrossed in learning as much as they could about the dinosaurs. Their vocabulary grew to using words like the Jurassic period,  the Cretaceous period, prehistoric, herbivores, carnivores, extinct, layers, sedimentary, igneous, eruption, camouflage, and so many more! They discussed, researched, and recorded observations in ways far beyond the skill level of many kindergarten students. Their DRA levels jumped because they were reading multisyllabic words and words with difficult prefixes and suffixes. Their writing improved because they loved the concept. It was a truly wonderful time in our classroom.

I would very strongly recommend reading more about this pedagogy over the summer. Due to using this style of teaching, my students took ownership of their learning. They grew not only as students but as life-long learners.

A few tips on getting started…

I’ll be honest, when I first discovered this method of teaching, I loved it but I was a bit overwhelmed. I got lost in “Reggio-inspired” blogs and read tons of books but I was trying to grasp how to use this “free flowing” “child led” method in a traditional setting with specific goals and outcomes required by the end of the year.

What I did to make the two worlds mesh was to look at my day and determine where I could fit in a time to allow student choice. Our school day is from 7:55-3:00. At our school we do not have any pull outs. We have all of our students all day except for specials. We eat lunch with them and take them to recess each day. Therefore, my daily schedule (generally) followed this routine:

8:00 Morning Meeting

8:30 Phonics/Language/Handwriting Lesson

8:45 Guided Reading (Language Centers)

10:00 Specials

11:00 Recess

11:30 Writer’s Workshop

12:00 Lunch

12:30 BUILD (Math block)

1:30 Quiet Time

1:45 Exploration Centers/Writing Reflection

2:40 Bible (I teach at a Christian school)

3:00 Pack Up

I begin exploration centers typically with a non-fiction book that goes along with what my students have been asking about or our unit. I also typically have 1-2 special table activities each day. (For example, when we were studying rocks, a table activity that week was creating volcanoes out of modeling clay and paint to represent what they were learning.) We also might start exploration centers with a science experiment. (During our arctic unit, after reading a book on blubber, we completed the “blubber experiment.”) As students complete the experiment, they can choose other exploration centers.

To end our exploration time, my students journal about what they learned or did that day. This helped my students take ownership of their learning. It also helped me see what was “sticking” with my students and what they enjoyed doing.

Incorporating Reggio-inspired methods in a "traditional" school setting

I also incorporated our units into other aspects of our day. For example, during Morning Meeting, when studying castles, our activity was labeling the parts of a castle.

Incorporating Reggio-inspired methods in a "traditional" school setting

During guided reading, our warm up was reading “castle” words and clapping out the syllables in the words.

Incorporating Reggio-inspired methods in a "traditional" school setting

During a phonics lesson, our king helped us mark the vowels to help us read words with two vowels in them.

Incorporating Reggio-inspired methods in a "traditional" school setting

Also, when completing our BIG projects, our schedule occasionally looked different. When we created our castle, we researched, planned, and constructed it together. During guided reading, I met with the different groups (masons, ditch diggers, etc.) and taught them how to research and plan. We looked at books, read sentences, used our classroom technology, drew and labeled diagrams, and then implemented our plans.

This helped us learn how to use books as resources.

Incorporating Reggio-inspired methods in a "traditional" school setting

Incorporating Reggio-inspired methods in a "traditional" school setting

It encouraged my students to use great observational skills.

Incorporating Reggio-inspired methods in a "traditional" school setting

And it also helped my students learn how to work together!

Incorporating Reggio-inspired methods in a "traditional" school setting Incorporating Reggio-inspired methods in a "traditional" school setting

It also taught my students that not everything can be accomplished in one day. This was a great lesson on perseverance and not giving up!

I can’t speak highly enough about the Reggio-method and I hope that you will try it in your classroom! Remember, if you have ANY questions, I am happy to answer them. Comment on the blog or on my Facebook page! I’d love to talk with y’all more about this topic! :)

(Disclosure: I am in NO WAY an expert in the “Reggio  Way.” This is simply a reflection on what worked for me in my classroom and how I interpreted it in our school setting.)

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26 Comments
  1. I love this approach to teaching young children and am eager to begin my year next year using these units and meshing them with the district mandated scope and sequence. I teach in a title one school and I have to adjust some things because of the large amount of theft in the room. My poor children steal everything and so I had to adjust some of the activities that I used this year and check everyone’s pockets everyday before dismissal.

  2. Can you suggest books that helped get you started. There are so many out there and I would love to learn more about this approach.

    • I really enjoyed the book “Working In The Reggio Way.” There are MANY books out there. This summer I have a few on my reading list!
      Young Investigators: The Project Approach in the Early Years (Early Childhood Education) by Judy Harris Helm is one of them! I hope it’s good! I also want to re-read the 100 languages of children.

  3. I absolutely loved your post. I have “known” about Reggio for many, many years but struggle because I do not control content and there is SO much content in my day. I am excited now, though, because next year I am teaching a Young 5s class (SO sad that we need such a thing!) and there is much more flexibility. I have renewed interest in posts like yours because I think I will be able to actually do more, and I hope I have more to share on my own blog next year. You have done a beautiful job of incorporating many of the elements and it is inspirational! Your students are very fortunate! Thank you! Kathleen Kidpeople Classroom

  4. The most excellent examples of how to incorporate- LOVE this blog!

  5. Heidi -

    You are me new favorite blogger and I’ve been eargerly awaiting your next post. I’ve also been trying to get up the nerve to ask you what your favorite Reggio professional books are, so this post is perfect timing. If I could only choose one (or two) to read this summer, what would you recommend?

    • Heidi -

      Sorry, *my* new favorite…

    • Heidi- Thanks so much!!! :) What a great question. I am currently re-reading “Working In The Reggio Way” by Julianne P. Wurm and it is a great place to start. On my summer reading list is the book:
      Young Investigators: The Project Approach in the Early Years (Early Childhood Education) by Judy Harris Helm I’m excited to read it!

  6. I love your post and how it you’re able to incorporate it into a traditional school day! I too have tried to incorporate the Reggio approach with provocation centers. How often do you switch our centers (weekly /bi weekly)? Also, how many centers do you have set up total?

    • I’m so glad that you enjoyed this blog post! When it comes to exploration centers, I tend to have the 4 choice baskets, the light table, the sensory table, our large discovery table, an easel, and then table activities. In total, my students tend to have about 10-16 choices. I also have a few large Grimm sets that my students love to play with. We call them our “Asian blocks” (http://amzn.to/22GNVyU) and “Roman blocks.” (http://amzn.to/1PwSjy4) These large activities can stay the same for long periods of time because they are open ended and students use their imaginations to turn them into different things. Our tree blocks stayed in the baskets all year because every day students took them out! Another favorite in our classroom was Magnatiles. They stayed in a basket all year long, too. I set up the table activities during quiet time. (In my class the kids bring in blankets and lie down for 15 minutes while I play soft music or a story from Sparkle Stories.) Sometimes the tray activities stay the same for an entire week and other times students might request items to come out. (play dough, clay, paint, beads, etc.) It really depends on the week/unit/topic. I hope that helps and makes sense! :)

  7. Am so excited about teaching this way next year! Will you let us know where to purchase the logs shown in the forest building center?

    Thanks!

  8. I adore your blog and all the amazing activities you incorporate in your classroom! I am excited to try provocations and exploration centers in my kindergarten class this school year. Do you set up provocations before the school day begins or right before the students will use them? When you have to do indoor recess do your students use the exploration centers or separate activities and games? Thanks!

    • Amber, I am so glad that you enjoy my blog! :) Our exploration time is after quiet time. During quiet time my students take out their blankets and rest for 15 minutes while I play quiet music or a story from Sparkle Stories. This gives me about 15 minutes to set up any table activities that I need to. When we have indoor recess we use the same exploration centers. The beauty of the items I have in the baskets are that they are open ended and can be turned into anything the children imagine. This prevents boredom with the materials and the kids really love playing with them!

  9. Hi there! I was wondering where you got some of your picture resources (color words on your cabinets & statue of liberty pictures) & ideas from for your stations? I’m sure they’re simple to create by oneself but I was just curious if you had a place you got them from. I LOVE this post and the ideas you shared & I’m really interested in starting this in my classroom!
    Any information you have would be great! Thanks so much!
    :)

  10. Hi Kristen,
    Thanks for sharing your ideas, reflections and passion for teaching! I have been looking for ideas on how to teach IBL in kindergarten and a friend recommended your blog and she was right: you are a great source and an inspiration to new kinder teachers like me 😉 I was wondering how long do you keep your exploration(provocation) centers (are they the same?)or if you incorporate them in your learning centers…Thanks in advance!

  11. Where are the letter formation blocks from? The ones in the sight word activity! Would love to buy them!

  12. Awesome!!! I’d love to see how you have set up your classroom. Were are your desks? Do you have certain “stations” for example, that are set up permanently such as art? Thanks for sharing!

    Nancy

  13. Ilke -

    I love the Reggio way and I’m starting my teacher career next year. I want to know if it’s possible to implement this in a traditional school system? Does it work? How does the layout of your class look like?

    Thanks
    Ilke

  14. What a great post! I have to say, your photography is beautiful too!

  15. I really admire your integration of the Reggio style with the common teaching style at your school. How do your children cope when they go back into the ‘common’ style when they leave your classroom? Have you started to convert the rest of the school?!😄

26 Comments

  • I love this approach to teaching young children and am eager to begin my year next year using these units and meshing them with the district mandated scope and sequence. I teach in a title one school and I have to adjust some things because of the large amount of theft in the room. My poor children steal everything and so I had to adjust some of the activities that I used this year and check everyone’s pockets everyday before dismissal.

  • Can you suggest books that helped get you started. There are so many out there and I would love to learn more about this approach.

    • I really enjoyed the book “Working In The Reggio Way.” There are MANY books out there. This summer I have a few on my reading list!
      Young Investigators: The Project Approach in the Early Years (Early Childhood Education) by Judy Harris Helm is one of them! I hope it’s good! I also want to re-read the 100 languages of children.

  • I absolutely loved your post. I have “known” about Reggio for many, many years but struggle because I do not control content and there is SO much content in my day. I am excited now, though, because next year I am teaching a Young 5s class (SO sad that we need such a thing!) and there is much more flexibility. I have renewed interest in posts like yours because I think I will be able to actually do more, and I hope I have more to share on my own blog next year. You have done a beautiful job of incorporating many of the elements and it is inspirational! Your students are very fortunate! Thank you! Kathleen Kidpeople Classroom

  • The most excellent examples of how to incorporate- LOVE this blog!

  • Heidi -

    You are me new favorite blogger and I’ve been eargerly awaiting your next post. I’ve also been trying to get up the nerve to ask you what your favorite Reggio professional books are, so this post is perfect timing. If I could only choose one (or two) to read this summer, what would you recommend?

    • Heidi -

      Sorry, *my* new favorite…

    • Heidi- Thanks so much!!! :) What a great question. I am currently re-reading “Working In The Reggio Way” by Julianne P. Wurm and it is a great place to start. On my summer reading list is the book:
      Young Investigators: The Project Approach in the Early Years (Early Childhood Education) by Judy Harris Helm I’m excited to read it!

  • I love your post and how it you’re able to incorporate it into a traditional school day! I too have tried to incorporate the Reggio approach with provocation centers. How often do you switch our centers (weekly /bi weekly)? Also, how many centers do you have set up total?

    • I’m so glad that you enjoyed this blog post! When it comes to exploration centers, I tend to have the 4 choice baskets, the light table, the sensory table, our large discovery table, an easel, and then table activities. In total, my students tend to have about 10-16 choices. I also have a few large Grimm sets that my students love to play with. We call them our “Asian blocks” (http://amzn.to/22GNVyU) and “Roman blocks.” (http://amzn.to/1PwSjy4) These large activities can stay the same for long periods of time because they are open ended and students use their imaginations to turn them into different things. Our tree blocks stayed in the baskets all year because every day students took them out! Another favorite in our classroom was Magnatiles. They stayed in a basket all year long, too. I set up the table activities during quiet time. (In my class the kids bring in blankets and lie down for 15 minutes while I play soft music or a story from Sparkle Stories.) Sometimes the tray activities stay the same for an entire week and other times students might request items to come out. (play dough, clay, paint, beads, etc.) It really depends on the week/unit/topic. I hope that helps and makes sense! :)

  • Am so excited about teaching this way next year! Will you let us know where to purchase the logs shown in the forest building center?

    Thanks!

  • I adore your blog and all the amazing activities you incorporate in your classroom! I am excited to try provocations and exploration centers in my kindergarten class this school year. Do you set up provocations before the school day begins or right before the students will use them? When you have to do indoor recess do your students use the exploration centers or separate activities and games? Thanks!

    • Amber, I am so glad that you enjoy my blog! :) Our exploration time is after quiet time. During quiet time my students take out their blankets and rest for 15 minutes while I play quiet music or a story from Sparkle Stories. This gives me about 15 minutes to set up any table activities that I need to. When we have indoor recess we use the same exploration centers. The beauty of the items I have in the baskets are that they are open ended and can be turned into anything the children imagine. This prevents boredom with the materials and the kids really love playing with them!

  • Hi there! I was wondering where you got some of your picture resources (color words on your cabinets & statue of liberty pictures) & ideas from for your stations? I’m sure they’re simple to create by oneself but I was just curious if you had a place you got them from. I LOVE this post and the ideas you shared & I’m really interested in starting this in my classroom!
    Any information you have would be great! Thanks so much!
    :)

  • Hi Kristen,
    Thanks for sharing your ideas, reflections and passion for teaching! I have been looking for ideas on how to teach IBL in kindergarten and a friend recommended your blog and she was right: you are a great source and an inspiration to new kinder teachers like me 😉 I was wondering how long do you keep your exploration(provocation) centers (are they the same?)or if you incorporate them in your learning centers…Thanks in advance!

  • Where are the letter formation blocks from? The ones in the sight word activity! Would love to buy them!

  • Awesome!!! I’d love to see how you have set up your classroom. Were are your desks? Do you have certain “stations” for example, that are set up permanently such as art? Thanks for sharing!

    Nancy

  • Ilke -

    I love the Reggio way and I’m starting my teacher career next year. I want to know if it’s possible to implement this in a traditional school system? Does it work? How does the layout of your class look like?

    Thanks
    Ilke

  • What a great post! I have to say, your photography is beautiful too!

  • I really admire your integration of the Reggio style with the common teaching style at your school. How do your children cope when they go back into the ‘common’ style when they leave your classroom? Have you started to convert the rest of the school?!😄

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