An Integrated Art Approach in a Preschool
by Giordana Rabitti


The Setting: The Reggio Preschools

The municipal preschools in Reggio Emilia, Italy, have developed a particular pedagogical approach, increasingly known around the world as the Reggio Emilia approach. A traveling exhibit, the Hundred Languages of Children, which has been touring Italy and abroad, depicts the complexity of the experience and the richness of the children's products. For a long time and increasingly in the last four to five years, these schools have captured the interest of international educational experts such as Howard Gardner, David Hawkins, and Lilian Katz. Many excellent publications have been printed on the subject.

Chance brought me into contact with the Reggio preschools. I was born in that town in northern Italy and have lived there all my life; there too I worked as a teacher of English for twenty years. Since 1985, I have been working at IRRSAE-Emilia Romagna. In 1989, I had the opportunity to enroll in the master's degree program in education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. As partial fulfillment of the requirements for my degree, Dr. Robert Stake, my graduate adviser, suggested I conduct a case study of the Reggio schools, with a focus on art.

The [Reggio] staff advocates that project work reflects their idea of schooling as a holistic process that should address "a child's need to feel a whole," with an integration of all activities. On the other hand, the schools have a feature that distinguishes them from all other preschools in Italy: atelier (art studio, a place devoted to the development of visual and graphic arts) and an atelierista a specialized art teacher).

How the educators use a specialized person and specialized place to accomplish this general educational aim seemed to me a problem worth investigating in my thesis, where I stressed the operational curriculum. My questions concerned how staff and children act in the atelier and in the classrooms, what links exist between projects and daily activities, how these beautiful products are accomplished, what the creativity-skills relationship is, how the environment is set, what the relations with parents are, what idea of art project participants share, and which "expressive languages" they favor. My thesis also covered general aspects of the school program.


I used a naturalistic case-study method, concentrating my attention mainly on one school, La Villetta. The case-study method is particularly responsive to the situation and attentive to the meanings and perceptions of all the people involved.

In line with this approach, I collected data through the following:


  • Repeated observations of the activities in the atelier and in the classroom. For my thesis, I visited the school twenty times and stayed for full school days from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and three mornings from 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. I also attended four different types of staff-parent meetings, three inservice training sessions, and one school board meeting.
  • Formal and informal interviews with school staff and all those involved with the schools.
  • Analysis of the material (published material, children's work and portfolios, series of pictures, slides, documentation of the work in the school archives).

Continue to the excerpt from the next section of the Reggio publication.

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