"Nothing Without Joy" - Reggio Emilia Explained

If you've been following me on Instagram (first of all - thank you!), you would have heard me talking about the Reggio Emilia approach and how we are incorporating this teaching philosophy into our Early Years classrooms this year. I am so excited about this path we are heading down, and I really want to share more about it with you all!

Back in 2016, I had three lovely guests join me here on the blog, to explain the Montessori, Reggio Emilia and Waldorf educational practices, and it turned out to be my second most viewed post EVER! (Here it is again incase you hadn't seen it - but after you'd read it please come back!).

So there are three key principals to Reggio Emilia which I will outline below.

Nothing Without Joy

To me, this statement means that every single activity, lesson or experience you plan for your children should bring them "joy". It should be inviting, exciting, interesting and thought provoking. It should encourage creativity, critical thinking, collaboration.

If learning is child led and based on their interests, they are far more likely to be engaged in what they are doing. It's the teacher's job to facilitate their learning, and go on their journey with them, building and scaffolding on what they already know, and stretching them further. Plus, the children may have a whole different end result to what you initially planned or imagined - but that's ok! Embrace it!


In a Reggio Emilia space, children's work is presented with great care, almost like an art gallery. Self identity panels are an important addition to the space, as children will develop a sense of belonging and ownership of their classroom.

The Environment as the Third Teacher

In the Reggio Emilia philosophy, there are believed to be three teachers. The teacher, the child and the environment, which is how the idea of "the environment as the third teacher" came about. It should be set up to encourage independent and collaborative learning, inquiry, hands on activities, sensory experience, discovery, learning through play and so much more!

The beginnings of our "discovery table"

Here's just a few key dot points as to what makes a Reggio inspired learning environment
  • Lots of natural light; think light bright and airy. 
  • Try to keen the space uncluttered and minimal. You'll find that the children create less mess when there is less stuff, and they'll use the materials more purposefully with less to choose from. 
  • Avoid bright colours and stick with natural tones. Wood, cane, hessian, white and greenery is a good colour pallet to begin with.
  • Include items from nature like sticks and stones, cane baskets, wood and things you might find at an op shop (here's just a few of the items I've been gathering lately - how awesome are those leaf platters for sorting?)
  • Add some living things to the space, whether it be a pot plant or a class pet. 
  • Make the classroom feel homey, with rugs, cushions, soft furnishings, lamps, curtains, couches etc.
  • Photography is a great way to capture, record and document the student's learning journey. 
  • Set up invitations and provocations for the children to do (we like to do this first thing in the morning as they arrive before we begin our "formal" lessons). These activities could involve loose parts, sorting, patterns, transient art, sensory play...anything really! But above all it should look inviting to the child, and should require no explanation. Here's a couple of examples from our classroom...
Sort the pebbles into big and small, count how many and make a pattern.

Place the correct number of gems on to each number

Loose parts for sorting, patterning or transient art. 

The 100 Languages of Children

Every teacher knows that children learn differently, and that there is no "one size fits all" approach. Reggio Emilia not only acknowledges this, but celebrates it! And this is what is meant by "the 100 languages of children". In short there could be 100 different possibly ways to complete the same task or master the same skills. As teachers it's our job to get to know our students, figure out how best they learn, and cater for their needs. Are they a visual learner? A kinesthetic learner? A read and write learner? An auditory learner? Opened ended activities are the perfect way to ensure that all your student's needs are being met.

Further Reading

There are some other fantastic articles I've come across if you'd like to read more about this approach to educating our youngest learners. Reggio Emilia has been around for decades (it was originally developed in Italy), however it is becoming more popular across schools and early learning centres these days, as teachers are embracing it with open arms, and are seeing the benefits!


Teach Starter explains some simple ways for you to incorporate this approach into a typical everyday classroom (because of course you can pick and choose the elements which suit you, and come up with a blended approach. There is no rule that you must dive in head first and completely reinvent the way you teach).

Kate is a homeschooler from An Everyday Story and she explains the main principles of Reggio Emilia in a bit more detail than what I have here.

This video sums it up really really well (and it's so sweet). Worth a watch if you have time!

And of course some of my favourite Instagram friends have some amazing ideas over on their pages;

  • Suze at Invitation to Play was probably the one person who started me on this journey (so thank you Suze!). She knows all things Reggio, and has even developed her own hashtag #invitationtoopshop and shows us how we can use thrifted items to create gorgeous Reggio inspired learning spaces at home! She also has some fantastic products in her shop!
  • Casey at Little Lifelong Learners is so talented at setting up play spaces in her home and is the expert in toy rotation. She also has some fantastic Junior Primary printables available - which all relate to the Australian curriculum.
  • Little Pine Learners is one that I only came across recently, but I love everything Tara posts! She has fantastic resources you can use in the classroom for provocations in her TpT store
  • Naturally Curious Children has some fantastic ideas to use natural materials in your teaching and learning. 

Throughout the term I'll be sharing heaps more on Instagram, in particular, the way we set up our morning provocations. So stay tuned for that!

Lauren x

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