Using the Reggio Emilia approach to learn through play

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Teachers learn and play alongside children.

At Canadian International School of Phnom Penh (CIS) preschools, the Reggio Emilia methodology is applied in classrooms to encourage interpersonal communication among children and between teachers, teacher assistants and children.

The Reggio Emilia approach is an educational philosophy focused on preschool and primary education. It is a student-centred and constructivist pedagogy that uses self-directed, experiential learning in relationship-driven environments.

Preschool principal Karen Holmes said that children are born with natural dispositions and it is in their nature to learn and to be curious.

“What we are doing through play (activities) is giving them all sorts of opportunities (to learn) that they might not have at their own home,” she said.

Holmes said: “At CIS, we provide physical environments and ensure teachers are aware of what needs to be done to get the children involved in play.

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She said that adults who had experienced more formal schooling as youngsters, where they waited for teachers to tell them what to do, tended not to be inquisitive when presented with interesting objects. Children, given the opportunity, will eagerly interact with materials and will find all sorts of creative things to do with them.

Holmes said that all teachers in CIS preschools are certified early childhood educators. As the teachers had been professionally trained, they know how to interact with children.

It is known that interpersonal communication with children to encourage their thinking skills. At CIS, teaching assistants work alongside the children by initiating interactive conversations.

In educational terms, we have a “scaffolding” approach is used. It is a process in which teachers model or demonstrate how to solve a problem, and then step back, offering support as needed.

“If we know a child has never used a pair of scissors before, then that student will need one-on-one assistance to show them how to hold the scissors. And, we would have them cut things like rolls of play dough,” said Holmes.

“Not all of the children are going to be at the same level at the same time, so that is where working in small groups is helpful,”

Holmes said CIS teachers are constantly learning and they base their teaching on the latest research on brain development.

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“Educators are also familiar with Bloom’s taxonomy, which shows different levels of thinking in a pyramid. It categorises what type of thinking is low-level and what is more advanced. At the very bottom of the pyramid is remembering or memorising. That is the easiest thing to do.

“We use in-depth note taking to keep track and monitor each child’s development. We are also trying to see what are the needs of each child and give them things that will expand their thinking and curiosity.”

CIS has preschool campuses in Bassac Garden and Olympia City (OC).

The OC campus is the first specifically-built Reggio Emilia-inspired facility in Cambodia. The Reggio Emilia approach blends well with the Alberta curriculum taught at CIS’s main campus on Koh Pich, and it is envisioned that students in CIS preschools will continue their education there.