THE INFANT-TODDLER CENTERS
AND PRESCHOOLS OF REGGIO EMILIA
HISTORICAL NOTES AND GENERAL INFORMATION
HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL NOTES ON THE REGGIO EMILIA EXPERIENCE
The experience of the municipal preschools of Reggio Emilia has now reached its fortieth year. This
long history is rich in significant moments and encounters that can only be offered here in a brief
summary, providing a sort of map of the most important events that have traced its identity.
The Municipality of Reggio Emilia established its network of educational services in 1963 with the
opening of the first preschools (for children from three to six years old). These schools were
inspired by and gave continuity to the experiences of a number of self-managed schools for young
children established by women’s organizations, as well as earlier schools opened just after the end
of World War II, particularly in the country villages and outlying areas of Reggio Emilia.
The most substantial development of the municipal preschools took place in the late 1960s,
followed by the first municipal infant-toddler centers in 1971. This strong expansion was the result
of the extraordinary mobilization of the women’s movements, the intuitions of Loris Malaguzzi, and
the activity of the Municipality, which felt duty-bound to respond to the needs of families. However,
this did not take place without conflicts within the administration, particularly between the political
forces which at that time were in opposition: the secular, left-leaning parties, which had the
majority in the municipal government of Reggio Emilia, and the Catholic parties. Here, too, a crucial
role was played by women, who were able to sustain these services through innovative actions that
sometimes placed them at odds with their own political parties.
The municipality built a number of new facilities, converted other buildings for this purpose, and
also accepted the requests for municipalization made by schools that had been established by
popular initiative at the end of the war but which, by this time, had become hard pressed to ensure
their day-to-day survival. The difficulty was finding sufficient economic resources to stay in
operation, given the need to improve the quality of the service with more teachers, didactic
materials, and improved environments. From the beginning, the guarantee of quality services was
recognized as the right of children and families, and as such continues to be the strong commitment
of all those (teachers, parents, community members, administrators, politicians) involved in
creating and developing these services.
From the beginning, the educational institutions of the Municipality of Reggio Emilia have been
characterized by progressive theoretical reflections and a firmly rooted commitment to research
and experimentation, sustained by ongoing staff development. Other distinctive features of the system
include: the organization of work strongly based on collegiality and interrelations; the importance given
to the environment as an educational interlocutor; the presence of the atelier; the essential and intensive
co-participation of the families and community members; and the synergistic relationships with the
All these aspects identify and sustain a comprehensive educational project for children from birth to six
years old based on the image of a child who has enormous potential and who is the subject of rights. The
aim of this project is to promote children’s education through the development of all their languages:
expressive, communicative, symbolic, cognitive, ethical, metaphorical, logical, imaginative, and relational.
For many years now, this strongly characterized experience has been a point of reference of intense
vitality, the focus of ongoing interest, study, and discussion among teachers, educational specialists,
researchers, administrators, and political and cultural figures in Italy and throughout the world. This
multiplicity of encounters continues to provide nourishment for the local experience, the development
of which has always relied heavily on dialogue, the sharing of ideas, and interactive exchange with other
As far back as March 1971, continuing the work of Bruno Ciari, Reggio Emilia was the site for a national
conference entitled “Experiences for a New School for Young Children,” the first secular event of its kind
in Italy dedicated to early childhood education. The conference was attended by over nine hundred
teachers at their own personal expense, and the proceedings were published in a book that for many
years was a basic reference work for the development of the early childhood services that were being
established all over Italy.
The following year, in a series of seminars with local teachers and children, the well-known poet and
writer Gianni Rodari tested and developed the ideas for his book Grammatica della fantasia (The
Grammar of Fantasy, English translation published by Teachers & Writers Collaborative, 1996), which was
then dedicated to the city of Reggio Emilia as its metaphorical “patron.”
In 1975, the Reggio Emilia experience contributed extensively to the success of a national conference
sponsored by the Emilia-Romagna Region and held in Bologna, entitled “The Child as Subject and Source
of Rights in the Family and in Society.” The initiative was important and far-reaching, and the published
proceedings still represent an important document for those who are interested in the events and
processes that led the way toward a new culture of childhood.
In 1976, the Reggio Emilia municipal early childhood institutions came under attack by a nationally-
syndicated radio program, accused of being “anti-religious” and “anti-clerical.” In response to this, for
an entire year the municipal infant-toddler centers and preschools became an open forum for debate on
the themes of education in general and religious education in particular. The discussions involved
parents, teachers, and school administrators, as well as representatives of the cultural, political, and
religious spheres. It was an experience of progressive, liberating civility and cultural exchange,
concluding with the publication of a formal written statement entitled “Religious Education and the
Education of Children,” which was approved by all the participants. This document is still topical today,
also thanks to the subsequent and ongoing reflections and updates.
In 1980, a national early education research group, the Gruppo Nazionale Asili Nido (which later became
Gruppo Nazionale Nidi e Infanzia – National Infant-toddler/Early Childhood Group) was constituted in
Reggio Emilia as an independent organization composed of teachers, school workers, educational
specialists, researchers, and university professors. The group’s aim was to discuss and deepen
understandings on topics pertinent to the infant-toddler center as an institution and the issues of
childhood in general. This experience consolidated the ongoing dialogue between the Reggio Emilia
experience and other infant-toddler and preschool systems in Italy that shared the challenge to
guarantee high quality early childhood services.
By the mid-1980s, the municipal educational system comprised twenty-one preschools and thirteen
infant-toddler centers. Despite this expansion effort, many applicant families were still not able to obtain
a place for their children in the municipal institutions, particularly in the infant-toddler centers. Though
the demand was growing, the increasing management difficulties caused by new financial legislation
made it virtually impossible to expand the network. It thus became necessary to search for new ways to
respond to these important needs of the local community.
Perhaps the most critical moment was in the late ‘80s, when the progressive reduction in funding by the
state government to local governments created enormous problems for Reggio Emilia’s municipal
educational institutions, whose very existence was brought into question. In fact, there were those who
suggested that the entire municipal system be transferred to the Italian state preschool system, in line
with analogous trends that were gaining strength in many parts of Italy.
To find a way out of this crisis, the Municipality of Reggio Emilia chose its own original path. Following
extensive debate on early childhood educational services and their value as a cultural heritage and social
investment, the response of the community was once again positive, and the city’s “pedagogical
vocation” took on new impetus. With the creation of the Progetto Infanzia (Early Childhood Project), the
city administration demonstrated a decisive commitment to young children. The municipal network was
reorganized and, following the incorporation of two single-class preschools by the state system, the
infant-toddler services were expanded. In addition, the local administration undertook to reinforce the
offer of high quality early education by contributing, on the strength of its experience, to the growth of
all the existing early childhood institutions, creating a true mixed system comprising municipal, state, and
This orientation also led to another important decision. In 1987, the first two cooperative infant-toddler
centers were opened based on special agreements between the Municipality and a number of social
service cooperatives. This led to the opening of two more infant-toddler centers, with others added over
the years, to the extent that the network of cooperative services having special agreements with the
Municipality now includes nine infant-toddler centers and three infant-toddler/preschools. These
services are managed by four cooperatives: two large ones with extensive experience in this area, and
two smaller ones established more recently following professional training courses for young women
who wanted to open their own businesses in the field of education.
Starting in the 1990s, the problem of responding to the numerous families requesting places for their
children in the infant-toddler and preschool services reappeared, also due to a rise in the local birth rate.
It was at this time that a group of parents, forming the Agorà Association, decided to self-manage one
group of infant-toddler children at a municipal infant-toddler/preschool. The association now manages
two infant-toddler groups and one infant-toddler/preschool group at three different facilities: a
cooperative-run infant-toddler/preschool, a cooperative-run infant-toddler center, and a municipal
A further important step in this process was the stipulation of an agreement with the FISM (Italian
Federation of Catholic Preschools) in 1994, through which the Municipality of Reggio Emilia recognized
the service provided by schools with a religious orientation in the local territory and – the first of many
municipalities who have since initiated similar policies – allocated funds to these institutions aimed at
improving quality (staff training and professional development, the inclusion of children with special
needs, the enrichment of the school environments, support to families in difficulty, and so on).
Within the sphere of the Municipality’s initiatives aimed at improving and expanding its services, in 1997
the City Council approved an expansion plan for the year 2000 that began with three new infant-toddler
centers, to which other new facilities would be added in the following years in response to the city’s
strong demographic growth (an increase of more than 15,000 inhabitants from 1991 to 2001).
Another objective was to improve quality by differentiating the services offered also from an organizational
perspective: families can choose between the full-time service (8.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m., with the extended
day option up to 6.20 p.m.) or part-time service (from 8.00 a.m. to 1 p.m.), but also special play groups
for children and adults together (called Encounter Space).
These innovations gave continuity and consistency to the goal of maintaining a close connection
between the quality and quantity aspects that has been a constant in the experience since its inception,
strengthening not only the network of services but also the identity of the infant-toddler centers and
preschools themselves. Based on this goal, in addition to the extended day option for families who need
the assurance of a welcoming place for their children during the hours these services are traditionally
closed, the idea was to create a new identity of the service by including infant-toddler centers that close
at 1.00 p.m. and the afternoon play group experience designed for children and families who are not
enrolled at the infant-toddler center but who seek opportunities for dialogue and play with other children,
families, and qualified teachers.
While the first interest in the Reggio Emilia experience from abroad was shown by visiting delegations
from Cuba, Spain, Japan, Bulgaria, Switzerland, and France, in 1979 an intensive exchange began with
Swedish educators and researchers which led to the 1981 showing of the exhibit called “If the Eye Jumps
Over the Wall” at the Modern Museet in Stockholm. Conceived and organized as a testimony to the work
of the Reggio Emilia infant-toddler centers and preschools, the exhibit had debuted locally the previous
year. The Stockholm showing was accompanied by a television documentary on the Reggio Emilia
experience produced by Swedish TV and a book on the same topic with contributions from educators,
journalists, and writers from Stockholm.
From here, the exhibit enjoyed widespread success and was subsequently updated to arrive at its current
version, “The Hundred Languages of Children.” The exhibit has been touring the world for twenty-five
years with a message of hope for children and for their rights and potentials.
The exhibit attests to and fosters the ongoing process of research that characterizes the identity of the
overall educational project and of each infant-toddler center and preschool. The attitude of research
guarantees the identity and originality of the experience while at the same time fostering its change.
Other research projects have been carried out at the national and international level, including:
“Children, Spaces, Relations. Metaproject for an environment for young children,” with Domus Academy
“Making Learning Visible. Children as Individual and Group Learners”, with Harvard University/Project
“The Sociocultural Construction of Home-School Relations: the Case of Reggio Emilia and Contemporary
Italy,” with the University of New Hampshire and Bicocca University of Milan
“CAB: Construction kits made of atoms and bits,” in collaboration with the Lego Group (Denmark), the
School of Education and Communication at Jönköping University (Sweden), and the Didactic Technologies
Institute at CNR (Italian National Research Center)
“Children in dialogue with nature and nature in dialogue with children,” with the Swedish partners
Stockholm Institute of Education, Reggio Emilia Institutet, Carpe Vitam Foundation, and Lemshaga
“The Hundred Languages of Children” exhibit also led to an intensification of international exchange.
Year after year, increasing numbers of people from all over the world and from all walks of life have
become familiar with the Reggio Emilia educational experience, exponentially increasing its worldwide
notoriety. Educators from Reggio Emilia have participated in numerous international conferences and
seminars, and important initiatives have been organized in Reggio Emilia, including the international
conference of 1990 entitled “Who am I then? Tell me that first”; the international symposium “Learning
about Learning” in 1999; and the international conference “Crossing Boundaries” held in February 2004.
The growing international notoriety of the experience also became evident when, in 1991, a panel of
experts commissioned by the prestigious American magazine Newsweek identified the Diana municipal
preschool of Reggio Emilia, representing the network of municipal services, as the most avant-garde
early childhood institution in the world.
Other important recognitions followed shortly thereafter. In 1992, the late Loris Malaguzzi, the cultural
founder and mentor of this educational experience, was awarded the Danish LEGO Prize for his work in
early childhood education. In 1993, an analogous award was made to the Reggio Emilia municipal infant-
toddler centers and preschools by the Kohl Foundation of Chicago. In 1994, just after Malaguzzi’s death,
the Hans Christian Andersen Prize was awarded to the Reggio Emilia institutions in honor of his lifetime
of work. That same year, a similar recognition was given by the Mediterranean Association of International
Schools. In 2001, the Municipal Infant-toddler Centers and Preschools of Reggio Emilia received two
special awards: one from the city of Blois, France, in recognition of the quality of the educational
experience, and the other from the Next Generation Forum/Lego Company as a significant example of
an educational context that promotes and fosters creativity. In 2002, the 27th Nonino Award for “An
Italian Master of our Times” was given to the Early Childhood Education Project of the Municipality of
All this contributed to the growing interest abroad in the Reggio Emilia experience, increasingly oriented
toward collaborative ventures for the creation of schools in other countries that would be directly
inspired by that which is commonly known as the “Reggio Approach” to early childhood education.
In order to respond to the growing number of requests but realizing the organizational impossibility of
doing so directly, in the early ‘90s the municipal administration began to promote the establishment of
a public company that would support this aspect of its work. As a result, Reggio Children – International
Center for the Defense and Development of the Rights and Potential of All Children – was incorporated
in 1994. This initiative was based on an idea expressed by Loris Malaguzzi, who unfortunately did not live
to see it come to fruition, and the support of a group of citizens and administrators. Reggio Children today
is a limited company with predominantly public shareholdings (54% owned by the Municipality of Reggio
Emilia and 3% by the Emilia-Romagna Region), but also extensive participation of the private sector,
including social service cooperatives and a bank foundation, as well as private individuals such as teachers
and parents, most of whom who are grouped together as shareholders in the international Friends of
Reggio Children Association, which is based on the work of volunteers. The association promotes and
collaborates on many initiatives in conjunction with the infant-toddler centers and preschools and with
Reggio Children, including the management of the hospitality aspects for the Italian and foreign delegations
who come to Reggio Emilia to study the “Reggio Approach.” The association also manages the Remida
creative recycling center, which collects discard materials from businesses and industries and makes them
available to infant-toddler centers, preschools, play centers, sheltered workshops, and so on.
Working in close connection with the infant-toddler centers and preschools, Reggio Children is primarily
engaged in the dissemination of a strong idea of young children and their rights, potentials, and resources,
which still so often go unrecognized or denied. In line with the company mission and through a vast network
of cultural agreements, Reggio Children’s activities are carried out in a number of areas: research, training
and professional development, consultancy and collaborations, exhibits, and publishing, as well as projects
of international cooperation, which hold particular value.
Over the years, the consulting, exchange, and collaboration with other educational experiences in
dialogue with the Reggio Emilia experience have intensified in Albania, Australia, Brazil, Canada,
Denmark, Finland, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, the United
Kingdom, the United States, and other countries.
In 1995, an exceptional dialogue began with Dr. Jerome Bruner, and since this initial encounter the
illustrious psychologist has come to Reggio Emilia for various initiatives and meetings. In 1997, Dr. Bruner
was awarded the Key to the City and in June 2003 an honorary degree from the University of Modena
and Reggio Emilia.
During the same period, Reggio Emilia consolidated its longstanding relationship with Howard Gardner
and Harvard University’s Project Zero, with whom collaborative research projects have been carried out.
Other prestigious and privileged dialogues have been established with authoritative scholars and
researchers such as Irene Balaguer, Gunilla Dahlberg, George Forman, Lella Gandini, Lilian Katz, Susanna
Mantovani, Peter Moss, Tullia Musatti, and numerous others.
During the 1990s, new areas opened up focusing on the quality of life, not only of young children but of
the new generations in general, in everyday life and beyond the school walls. This commitment became
concrete in the dialogue with other areas of competency and knowledge, and research projects were
carried out in conjunction with companies in various sectors, including Alessi, IKEA, and Play+.
The ‘90s were also the period of a special relationship with the Italian Ministry of Education, which, for
the first time in the thirty years of the Reggio Emilia early childhood experience, officially recognized the
value of this innovative experience and stipulated an agreement with the Municipality of Reggio Emilia
for the development of the state preschool system in Italy. The Ministry also became patron of the exhibit
“The Hundred Languages of Children,” thus initiating an experience in Italy that strengthened the existing
bonds between Reggio Emilia and certain cities as well as creating new ones (Palermo, Naples, Rome, Turin,
Ascoli Piceno, Bari, Varese). This special relationship with the Ministry of Education thus became the
impetus for initiatives that have now taken autonomous paths of collaboration between cities, schools,
educators and administrators.
In October 2003, in concurrence with the fortieth anniversary of the first municipal preschools (Robinson
and Anna Frank), the Municipality of Reggio Emilia launched a new project for managing the educational
services called “Istituzione” (Institution). With this project, which had been in the planning stages for
some time, the municipal administration reaffirmed its commitment to keep these services under public
management while at the same time having a tool that would enable greater autonomy and responsibility
in managing the human and economic resources.
Within this context of constantly seeking innovative tools for managing the present, while always looking
toward the future, lies the creation of the International Malaguzzi Center, dedicated to enhancing and
promoting the creativity of children and youth.
The new center will be a place dedicated to the encounter of children, youth, and families with
opportunities for learning and training, study and research.
An international place where every culture, welcomed with its own particularities, can dialogue with
other identities and cultures in a productive reciprocal exchange.
Since October 2003 early childhood centers have been managed by a specific body called the Istituzione.
The Istituzione is a specific and instrumental body of the Municipality with teaching, pedagogical and
administrative autonomy, its own financial budget and its own board of directors nominated by the
Board of Directors
Lucio Guasti, professor at the Università Cattolica, Piacenza
Amelia Gambetti, teachers for over 20 years at the Villetta preschool,
and currently Reggio Children International Network Coordinator
Germano Artioli, lawyer
Giancarlo Lombardi, engeneer, former Minister for Education
The Istituzione is responsible for:
direct management of municipal infant-toddler centers and preschools and for relations with: affiliated
schools, schools belonging to FISM (Italian Federation of Catholic Preschools), state preschools.
The Istituzione is also responsible for the Remida creative recycling center, Gianni Rodari Theatre
workshop and the Documentation and Educational research Center.
City schools for early childhood have places for almost 6.000 children:
4.323 in preschools,
1.539 in municipal infant-toddler centers, affiliated centers and “Primavera” classes in FISM centers.
Budget for 2005
The Istituzione has a budget of about 25 million Euro of which 16 million covers staffing costs and 9
million covers other costs and services.
The Municipality transfers 19 million to the Istituzione and other funds come from fees paid by families
(about 5 million Euro) or supplied by other official bodies: state, regional and provincial governments
(1 million Euro).
EARLY CHILDHOOD SERVICES IN REGGIO EMILIA
The network of early childhood educational services directly operated by the Istituzione includes 24
preschools (among which 4 managed by cooperatives who has a special agreement with the local
administration) and 26 infant-toddler centers (13 managed directly by the Istituzione and 13 managed by
cooperatives with special agreement). The preschools serve a total of 1787 children between 3 and 6
years old, and the infant-toddler centers serve 1392 children between 3 months and 3 years old.
In Reggio Emilia there is also a parent association who has a special agreement with the city, which
manages 2 classes of preschool (54 children) and 1 class of infant-toddler center (21 children).
With the presence of other early childhood facilities in addition to the municipal schools in the local territory,
including state preschools and private preschools (most of which are operated by religious orders), 91.6%
of resident children from 3 to 6 years and 40% of children from 3 months to 3 years are served.
Early childhood services in Reggio Emilia for children from 3 to 6 years old (2006-2007)
managing organization no. of centers no. of children served
Municipality 20 1625
State 13 850
Private F.I.S.M. 21 1632
Cooperatives 4 162
Parent Association 2 classes 54
Private 4 198
Total 62 centers + 2 classes 4521
Early childhood services in Reggio Emilia for children from 3 months to 3 years old (2006-2007)
managing organization no. of centers no. of children served
Municipality 13 823
Cooperatives 13 569
Private F.I.S.M. 7 classes 126
Parent Association 1 class 21
Private 2 66
Total 28 centers + 8 classes 1605
LIST OF THE REGGIO EMILIA PRESCHOOLS
MUNICIPAL PRESCHOOLS Dante Alighieri - via Puccini 4
Allende - via Gattalupa 5 Aquilone - via Pascal 55 - Rivalta
Andersen - via delle Ortolane 5/b Pezzani - via Wibickj 30
Anna Frank - via Mutilati del Lavoro 7/a Maria Immacolata - v. Tromba 9 - Marmirolo
Balducci - via della Canalina 36 Gavasseto - via Comparoni 33
Belvedere - via Mart. della Bettola 51 S.Domenico Savio - via Catellani 2 - Villa Sesso
Diana - viale Allegri 12 Leonardo - via L. da Vinci 1
P. Freire - Via Tassoni 136/A
Girotondo - via S.Allende 1 PRIVATE FISM (Catholic) PRESCHOOLS
Gulliver - via Pasteur 17 Miro - via Cecati 26
Iqbal Masih - via Verdi 2 Regina Mundi - via Samoggia 50
Michelangelo - via M.Buonarroti 3 S.Pio X - via Kennedy 11
B. Munari - via Vasco da Gama 10 S.Giovanni Battista - via Lasagni 4 - Bagno
Neruda - via Passo Buole 17 Gastinelli - via V. da Feltre 3 - Coviolo
8 Marzo - via Tarassov 19 Don Morsiani - via Beethoven 33 - Massenzatico
Robinson - via Pastrengo 20 Elisa Lari - via Paradisi 4
Tondelli - via Volta 3 Pio VI - via Ferraroni 5
XXV Aprile - via Cella all’Oldo 6 Don Carretti - via Maria del Rio 10
Villetta - via Emilia Ospizio 93 Figlie di Gesù - piazza Ugolini 1
Sacro Cuore - via Milazzo 9
◊ GREEN Villa SessoPRESCHOOLS - Villa Sesso
- via Miselli 36
S.Giuseppe - via F.lli Rosselli 31
S.Teresa - vicolo Braghiroli 1
Prampolini - via L. Spagni 26 - Pratofontana S.Vincenzo - via Franchetti 4
S.Ambrogio - via Repubblica 21/1 - Rivalta
* PRESCHOOLSGramsciSPECIAL AGREEMENT
Choreia - via 5/d
Ettore Barchi - via dei Templari 2/a
Campi Soncini - via Veneri 94
Faber - via Brigata Reggio 20 Divina Provvidenza - via Don Torreggiani 1
Codemondo - via Teggi 35 S.Pellegrino - via Tassoni 1
Don Grazioli - Via Fleming 8 - Gavassa
STATE PRESCHOOLS Ente Veneri - via Fermi 5 - Fogliano
S.Agostino - via Reverberi 4
G.Pascoli - v.le Isonzo 36 PRIVATE EARLY CHILDHOOD SERVICES
B.Ciari - via Casel di Ferro 2 - Gaida Ass. for Steinerian Pedagogy - via Tassoni - Canali
Ghiardello - via D.Freddi 89 Happy Social Coop. - via Sani 13/L, Galleria “Il castello”
Don Milani 1 - via Gandhi 17 Totem - via Mameli 11
Don Milani 2 - via della Canalina 21
LIST OF THE REGGIO EMILIA INFANT-TODDLER CENTERS
MUNICIPAL INFANT-TODDLER CENTERS
Rodari - via Cecati 3/5
Rivieri - via Balzac 2
Bellelli - via Puccini 28
Peter Pan - via Pradarena 14
Cervi - via Fucini 1
Picasso - via Pascal 55
Panda - via M.L.King 2
Arcobaleno - via Patti 9
Sole - via Caravaggio 2
Allende - via Gattalupa 5
Alice - via Pitagora 10/2
Nido-Scuola Girotondo - via S.Allende 1
Nilde Iotti - via F.lli Bandiera 12/C
Spazio Bambini L’Oasi - Via Paradisi 6/b,c,d
INFANT-TODDLERS CENTERS WITH SPECIAL AGREEMENT
Giobi - via Verdi 2
Linus - via Rivoluzione d’Ottobre 29
Airone - via delle Ortolane 5/b
Arca - via Fanti - angolo Via Dal. Verme
Agorà: classes c/o Haikù, Iotti, Faber
Choreia - via Gramsci 5/d
La Gabbianella - via Settembrini
Girasole - via Martiri della Bettola 51
Otello Sarzi - Via Guasco
Haiku - Via Brigata Reggio 29
Faber - Via Brigata Reggio
Codemondo - via Teggi 35