As an educator who has been following the Reggio Emilia project for about ten years now, Dancing with Reggio Emilia has been a great delight and inspiration to read. I read it on my return from the Reggio Emilia International Study Week in 2015. During the week the book was given to Robin Duckett as a gift from our Australian friends and it fell to me to write a review. I consider myself fortunate. Immersed in the ethos and principles of the Reggio Emilia project and having visited several of the Pre schools and Infant and Toddler centres, I longed to understand how the values and themes explored on the study week, worked on a daily basis. Dancing with Reggio Emilia does just this! It is a 'fly on the wall' insight into life and learning in two Reggio Schools – and much more.
As part of her doctoral studies, the author, Stefania Giamminuti who is half Italian and half American and who now lives in Australia, spent six months as a listener/researcher in two Reggio schools. Her aims were to listen and observe daily events at the two schools, analyse the processes of pedagogical documentation and instances of community-building and relationship-forming. The overall aim of her thesis, as I understand it, was to arrive at a deeper understanding how we can broaden and interpret the term 'Quality' in Early Childhood education.
Dancing with Reggio Emilia is a very elegantly written and well-structured book. Although the content is complex, the narrative is personal and invitational which makes it very accessible. Each chapter is laid out like plate of beautiful fruits for us to consider and savour. In the first chapter she invites us '… to share my experience of Reggio Emilia, to live the place and its citizens through my eyes, ears, heart and memories. Having explored what it means to enter and to belong she ends the chapter with 'So welcome to Reggio Emilia; together with the children you can cross the threshold, enter and belong.' The next chapter is devoted to setting the scene for her research. She takes us into the historical and cultural context of the Reggio approach. She succinctly highlights pedagogical documentation as a process, which among other things, helps a school to 'speak', listen in a visible way and become transparent. She discusses the importance of dialogue and being a community of learners.
After a chapter called Entering Reggio Emilia, in which we get to understand the context for the two schools, there follow eight wonderful chapters on the values she finds occurring and supporting the daily lives of the Reggio school communities. There are the values of: rich normality, narrative, memory, locality, identity and relationship, transparency and democracy language and beauty. She calls them the local 'interdependent values' in that they are responsive to eachother and specific to what she saw in the schools. The section on the value of language and the story of how children learn each other's language was especially moving. Another section I particularly enjoyed was the one on aesthetics as it helped me to understand why aesthetic values are so important in the Reggio approach.
The second part of the book is about making links between the local interdependent values explored earlier and how we can learn from and apply them more globally in our own situations. She does this by introducing and exploring what she calls 'connective values'. These are the values of: encounter, interdependency, interconnectedness, difference, transformation, intent, research, uncertainty, complexity and possibility. This really helps us to unpick what underlies the Reggio approach – how we might promote 'encounter' in our own way for example, rather than replicate the stories of encounter we see in the Reggio approach.This part of the book also helps us to think afresh about the culture of childhood in our own situations and beyond.
Stefania Giamminuti finishes with her proposition for a richer way to understand the term 'quality' in early childhood education.
Through my encounter with Reggio Emilia, I propose that 'Quality' be conceptualised as a complex cultural and value-laden construct (a metaphor) rather than a fairly unproblematic and measurable 'truth'.
She argues that while structural things like ratios and qualifications are significant determiners of quality, the term 'Quality' needs to be understood by policy makers and educators, in a much wider and more metaphorical way – as a dance perhaps, between local and global values. She advocates a shared global understanding of the culture of childhood. She argues for the term ''Quality' to be re-framed within a worldview of relatedness and interconnectedness.'
If all this sounds somewhat dry, rest assured! While she is dealing with highly relevant and complex matters, the whole book of full of inspiring stories, quotes and drawings from the children, photographs as well as many insightful quotes from educators and thinker such as Malaguzzi, Rinaldi and Alain de Botton. It is a book you can dip into or read straight through.
Perhaps the best thing for me is how Stefania Giamminuti models in her own writing a process which as an educator I feel drawn to try to emulate – a mind, heart and body which enquires, notices, pays attention, looks for patterns, communicates and reflects. I found the book a 'masterclass' in this respect and enormously inspiring.
To summarise this is a hefty book in the sense that it is born out of a doctoral thesis. It deals with complex and wide ranging philosophical subjects. Yet at the same time it presents a rich and personal experience of the philosophies in action, which make it easy to relate to and learn from. It is very well researched, crystal clear and beautifully written and illustrated. It is also hefty in weight being 348 pages long, nine inches square and heavy to hold. The only thing I did not like about reading the book is that about half way through it literally started to fall apart in my hands! I only hope the publishers can remedy this. I believe we could all benefit from having this subtle, inspiring and beautiful gift of a book, ready to hand on our shelves.
At the moment the book is only available from Australia. It can be ordered from and costs £52 and costs between £25 and £35 to ship. We are currently discussing discounts for Sightlines Members, and UK distribution, with the Publisher.
Pademelon press Pty Ltd. PO Box 42, Mt Victoria, New South Wales, 2786. www.pademelonpress.co.au
Author: Stefania Giamminuti
Title: Dancing with Reggio Emilia: Metaphors for Quality
ISBN: 9781876138400Dewey Number: 372.94543