Early Childhood Education

Malaguzzi, Loris (1920-1994)

 

Loris Malaguzzi was founder of the public system of preschools and infant- toddler centers in Reggio Emilia, Italy. A tirelessly innovator and influential thinker, he placed great value on practice, both for the transformation of theory and in turn the generation of new ideas.

Malaguzzi was born on February 23, 1920, in Correggio in the Emilia Romagna region of northern Italy. He moved with his family to the nearby city of Reggio Emilia in 1923, when his father assumed a post as railway stationmaster. He married in 1944 and had one son, Antonio, who became an architect. Malaguzzi traveled to many places throughout his life on behalf of early childhood education, but he remained a loyal citizen of Reggio Emilia until his death on January 30, 1994.

As a young man in wartime Italy, Malaguzzi taught elementary school in Sologno, a village in the Appennines (1939-1941) and both elementary and middle school in Reggio Emilia(1942-1947). In the meanwhile, he completed an educational degree from the University of Urbino (1946) and threw his energies into supporting the cooperative preschool movement that sprang up just after the Second World War. This movement involved the enormous efforts of women’s groups as well as other citizens and carried into the early seventies, when other cities with politically progressive administrations opened municipal preschools. Inspired by ideas of (among others) John Dewey, Friedrich Froebel, Freinet, and his contemporary, Bruno Ciari, an influential activist in the city of Bologna who unfortunately died young, Malaguzzi became prominent in the progressive political circles then actively transforming Italian thinking about education and schooling. In 1951, after completing a six-month specialization course in the first Italian school psychology program at the Center for National Research in Rome, he became Director of Children’s Psycho-Pedagogical Services for Reggio Emilia. In 1963, when the first official city preschool was established, he was named Director of Early Childhood Programs, a post he held for thirty years.

In the late 1960s and all during the 1970s, Malaguzzi worked with colleagues to expand the system of family-centered public early care and education programs serving children under age 6, including children with disabilities. He led the city in establishing preschool regulations that included the provision of two teachers (a coteaching team) within each classroom, as well as a special studio (atelier) within each school staffed by a teacher (atelierista) with a degree in the visual arts. These two innovations, along with continuous study and reflection on the daily experience of children (the strategy of educational documentation), contributed to the development of a distinctive and innovative system of early childhood pedagogy and organization now known as the Reggio Emilia Approach. Malaguzzi believed that creativity is a characteristic way of thinking and responding and that the growth of knowledge involves increasing the power of imagination. The adult’s role is to discover and nurture all children’s “expressive, communicative, and cognitive languages,” sometimes referred to as children’s multiple symbolic languages. Indeed, the 100 Languages of Children is the name of the exhibit conceptualized and designed by Malaguzzi and colleagues in the early 1980s, and that, in several successive editions, has carried the message about young children’s potential and rights to many countries in the world and more than thirty-eight states of the United States.

Malaguzzi was a charismatic leader and powerful communicator. He founded Italy’s National Organization for the Study and Support of Early Childhood Education, still active today, and in the 1970s and 1980s served as director of the educational magazine Zerosix (later called Bambini). As his ideas reached larger and wider audiences, the influence and significance of the Reggio Emilia experience increased. Newsweek magazine (December 2, 1991) rated Reggio Emilia as having the “best preschools in the world,” and Malaguzzi began to receive many awards and recognitions, including the Lego Prize in Denmark (1992), the Kohl Prize in Chicago (1993), the Hans Christian Andersen Prize (1994), the Mediterranean Association of International Schools Prize (1995), the Gold Medal awarded by the President of the Italian Republic (2001), and the Nonino Prize (2002). In 1996, two years after his death, his long-time colleague Susanna Mantovani organized a conference in Malaguzzi’s honor at the University of Milan called Nostalgia del Futuro (Nostalgia of the Future). Speakers came from all over Europe and the United States to address his influence and the legacy of his ideas. In 2006, Reggio Emilia dedicated the International Loris Malaguzzi Center “to the future, to different cultures, to ideas, hopes, and imagination.”

Further Readings: Barazzoni, R. Mattone su Mattone (1985). Distributed by Reggio Children S. r. l. Translation Brick by Brick (2001); Edwards, C. P., L. Gandiniand G. Forman, eds. (1998). The hundred languages of children: The Reggio Emilia approach—advanced reflections. Second Edition. Westport, CT: Ablex Publishing Company; Gandini, L. (1993). History, ideas, and basic philosophy: An interview with Loris Malaguzzi. In C. P. Edwards, L. Gandini, and G. Forman, eds., The hundred languages of children: The Reggio Emilia approach to Early Childhood Education. Westport, CT: Ablex Publishing Company, pp. 41-89; Malaguzzi, L. (1993). For an education based on relationships. Young Children 49(1), 9-12; Malaguzzi, L. (1994). Our image of the child: Here teaching begins. Child Care Information Exchange, March/April (96), 52-61. Beginnings Workshop on Special places for children: Schools in Reggio Emilia. Exchange Press; A Message from Loris Malaguzzi (1995). Video interview conducted in 1992 by L. Gandini and G. Forman on the evolution of projects. Distributed by Reggio Children S. r. l.; Mantovani, S., ed. (1997). Nostalgia del Futuro: Liberare speranze per una nuova cultura dell’ infanzia. Bergamo, Italy: Edizioni Junior; Not Just Anyplace (2005). Video on the history of the Reggio preschools. Produced by Reggio Children, S. r. l.

Lella Gandini