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Instructional Approach

The instructional approach adopted by University Primary School is based on principles of practice derived from the best available knowledge of how children grow, develop, and learn. These principles are generally accepted by the early childhood and elementary education profession, and gifted and special education profession, as appropriate to the age groups served. The basic assumption derived from developmental research is that in the early years, children learn best from active rather than passive experiences and from being in interactive rather than receptive roles in the learning context.

Reggio Emilia as Inspiration for Research,Teaching, and Learning

University Primary School is a proud member of the North American Reggio Emilia Alliance (NAREA). The following overview of the Reggio Emilia approach is from a packet of information available at The Hundred Languages of Children traveling exhibit.

University Primary School's Reggio-inspired interpretations from this overview packet are written by us in italics.

The Reggio Emilia approach to education is committed to the creation of conditions for learning that will enhance and facilitate children's construction of "his or her own powers of thinking through the synthesis of all the expressive, communicative and cognitive languages" (Edwards and Forman, 1993). Loris Malaguzzi (1920-1994) founded the 'Reggio Emilia' approach at a city in northern Italy called Reggio Emilia. The approach requires children to be seen as competent, resourceful, curious, imaginative, and inventive. Also central to the approach is that children possess a desire to interact and communicate with others. The Reggio Emilia approach can be viewed as a resource and inspiration to help educators, parents, and children as they work together to further develop their own educational programs.

Students Reading

The Reggio Emilia approach is based upon the following principles:

Emergent Curriculum

At University Primary School, we support a model of emergent curriculum for project work, where common core standards are addressed through thoughtful planning around strengths and interests of our students. "An emergent curriculum is one that builds upon the interests of children. Topics for study are captured from the talk of children, through community or family events, as well as the known interests of children (puddles, shadow, dinosaurs, etc.)." -Hundred Languages Exhibit

Project Work

At University Primary School, students, teachers, and families engage in project studies through both short and long term investigations. The Project Approach compliments Reggio as an approach to inquiry about the world around them, asking questions and seeking answers with their peers, teachers, and families. As children grow older, often project studies grow more abstract. Children begin to apply their concrete knowledge and experiences in more abstract ways, and have honed their skill work in literacy and mathematics to communicate and critically think. Children make decisions and are guided by teachers who challenge and share new  ways of understanding topics and ideas. Throughout a project, teachers help children make decisions about the direction of study, the ways in which the group will research the topic, the representational medium that will demonstrate and showcase the topic and the selection of materials needed to represent the work. Long-term projects enhance lifelong learning." -Hundred Languages Exhibit

Representational Development

Multiple representations of learning are honored in the children at Uni Primary. Emphasis on process and the ability to transfer pieces of understanding from context to context demonstrates authentic understandings of concepts. Presentation of concepts and hypotheses in multiple forms of representation -- print, art, construction, drama, music, puppetry, and shadow play -- are viewed as essential to children's understanding of experience." -Hundred Languages Exhibit


University Primary School children frequently engage in collaborative learning opportunities to resolve intellectual and social challenges. Each students’ perspective and ability is valued as each student is a unique thinker with unique lived-experiences. "Collaborative group work, both large and small, is considered valuable and necessary to advance cognitive development. Children are encouraged to dialogue, critique, compare, negotiate, hypothesize, and problem solve through group work. Within the Reggio Emilia approach multiple perspectives promote both a sense of group membership and the uniqueness of self. High emphasis on the collaboration among home-school-community partnerships supports the learning of the child." -Hundred Languages Exhibit

Teachers as Researchers

Love of learning is truly lived out amongst the teaching staff at Uni Primary! An energetic exchange of ideas and questioning permeates the professional atmosphere and teacher dialogue abounds. Action-research and reflection are a daily part of the teacher's role and ways of thinking. "The teacher's role within the Reggio Emilia approach is complex. Working as co-teachers, the role of the teacher is first and foremost to be that of a learner alongside the children. The teacher is a teacher-researcher, a resource and guide as she/he lends expertise to children. Within such a teacher-researcher role, educators carefully listen, observe, and document children's work and the growth of community in their classroom and are to provoke, co-construct, and stimulate thinking, and children's collaboration with peers. Teachers are committed to reflection about their own teaching and learning." -Hundred Languages Exhibit.


At Uni Primary, teachers document to share the story of a child’s learning through photos, transcription of spoken word, and authentic artifacts and varied media. Rather than a traditional “report card” and rating system, student progress documents thinking and re-thinking (an on-going story of understandings). Child and teacher selected portfolio samples are collected and shared with families in the form of a holistic assessments during parent-teacher conferences and at family events. "Similar to the portfolio approach, documentation of children's work in progress is viewed as an important tool in the learning process for children, teachers, and parents. Pictures of children engaged in experiences, their words as they discuss what they are doing, feeling and thinking, and the children's interpretation of experience through the visual media are displayed as a graphic presentation of the dynamics of learning. Documentation is used as assessment and advocacy." -Hundred Languages Exhibit


University Primary School classrooms use natural materials and a calm color palette to create a peaceful aesthetic. Teachers plan intentional small and large spaces for dialogue, work, and play, display work created by children rather than teacher-created/store bought displays, and attune to the perspective of the children as co-creators of the classroom environment. Within the Reggio Emilia schools in Italy, great attention is given to the look and feel of the classroom. "Environment is considered the "third teacher." Teachers carefully organize space for small and large group projects and small intimate spaces for one, two or three children. Documentation of children's work, plants, and collections that children have made from former outings are displayed both at the children's and adult eye level. Common space available to all children in the school includes dramatic play areas and worktables for children from different classrooms to come together." -Hundred Languages Exhibit

Features of The Reggio Emilia Approach which inspire Uni Primary from the Hundred Languages Exhibit

Teacher Role

  • to co-explore the learning experience with the children
  • to solve problems and conflict, and take, explore, and provoke ideas
  • to organize the classroom and materials to be aesthetically pleasing and help children make thoughtful decisions
  • to document children's progress: visual, videotape, tape recording, portfolios
  • to help children see the connections in learning and experiences and express their knowledge
  • to form a dialogue and collective with parents and other teachers
  • to discuss projects with parents
  • to foster the connection between home, school and community


  • can emerge from children's ideas and/or interests
  • can be provoked by teachers
  • can be introduced by teachers knowing what is of interest to children: shadows, tools, tall buildings, music, nature, etc.
  • should be concrete, personal, important, and long enough to develop over time, to discuss new ideas, to negotiate over, to induce conflicts, to revisit, to see progress, to see movement of ideas
  • should be "large" enough for diversity of ideas and rich in interpretive/representational expression


  • explore first: what is this material?, what does it do?, as a bridge to: what can I do with the material? what else can I do?
  • should have variation in color, texture, pattern: help children "see" the colors, tones, hues; help children "feel" the texture, the similarities and differences
  • should be presented in an artistic manner--it too should be aesthetically pleasing to look at--it should invite you to touch, admire, inspire
  • should be revisited throughout many projects to help children see the possibilities