What is the Reggio Emilia approach?

Reggio Emilia is a town in northern Italy where community members and former educators came together in the wake of World War II to redesign early childhood education.

Reflecting on the hopes they had for their children, this group of community leaders constructed one of the first schools from the rubble of the war. It was created to be different than the norm, where children could gain critical thinking and collaboration skills that would be essential to rebuilding a war torn city and its community. Education and care became a social right, ensuring that every child would be in a nurturing, beautiful environment curated by caring adults.

“It’s not something you can put in a box, it’s not a packaged curriculum. It really takes into account the culture and environment. No program can be Reggio. You can be inspired by the Reggio approach.” – Alyssa Tongue, Learning Experiences Director

Greentrike is inspired by many philosophies, but the fundamentals of the Reggio Emilia approach are present in our mission. We focus on people, not stuff, and believe in cultivating the wonder and curiosity of children to promote their independent thinking and exploring.

We’ve invited our Learning Experiences Director, Alyssa Tongue, to speak on how we incorporate these fundamentals into our programs and Museums.

Reggio Emilia Fundamentals

Image of the child

Holding a strong image of children is integral to the Reggio approach. It asks, “What is the image of children we carry with us, and how does that image inform the environment, the interactions, and the decisions we make with children?”

At Greentrike, we honor children and youth and champion play. We believe children and youth are inquisitive, capable, compassionate, creative, authentic, and leaders. We honor them as the protagonists of their learning journeys, and believe they should be at the helm of what they engage with.

“Children have limitless possibilities in which they are receptive and expressive in their world, but we, as a society, really limit learning to auditory, visual, and verbal communication,” Alyssa said. She added, “The child might be communicating their ideas and their feelings while dancing, or elbow-deep in a clump of clay, or stomping in a mud puddle.”

Reggio Child

Environment as a third teacher

The learning environment plays an active role in evoking children’s curiosity and creativity. A thoughtful learning environment suits children’s interests and developmental stages.

At our Museums, we curate our playscapes to maximize wonder and engage children as active protagonists. In our programs, we incorporate authentic materials like hammers, watercolors, glass, pinecones, shells, light, and mirrors for children to explore.

Reggio Emilia

Thinking about the environments we create for our programs, Alyssa said, “Our walls are fairly stark because we want the children to have ownership over what goes up on those walls. We ask ourselves, does what we’re putting up on the walls add value and beauty, or is it just there because we think it should be?” To summarize her point, she said, “We want the environment to be a teacher that doesn’t have to say anything, and offers children agency and authority to make their navigation of the room a YES!”

Reggio - Walls

Family Engagement

The Reggio approach partners with the adults in a child’s life, and acknowledges that the caregiver is a child’s first and forever teacher.

In our enrichment programming, we aim to create a community of learners. We do this by providing adults with ways to interact with teachers/facilitators and directly with the community at large, sharing articles and resources, holding family nights, exchanging ideas, and offering varied communication tools to support all caregivers.

Reggio Family Reggio Family


Ensuring consistent and transparent communication with the child, the family, the community of learners, and the community at large allows educators to present the significance of what’s happening and what learning is taking place.

Our Preschool Powered by Play teachers walk around with journals to jot down observations on the skills children are learning, and anything else that helps make individual learning more visible. This documentation deepens our teachers’ understanding of the children they serve and is regularly shared back with the children in everyday conversation and with their caregivers in learning portfolios.

Alyssa considers documentation a powerful tool, saying, “It’s research that informs our understanding of who that child is in that moment, where they’ve been and where they’re going. It also informs the new experiences we make available in our classrooms.”

Reggio Documentation Reggio Documentation

Image of the Teacher

The Reggio approach honors the role that adult educators play in learning environments and suggests that teachers should be learners and researchers to actively engage in the learning process with children.

“As teachers, we do not consider ourselves superior beings. We consider ourselves part of the community at large. We are a partner, a nurturer, a guide, a researcher. We feel that we do our best when we’re not needing to do anything at all,” Alyssa shared.

Image of the Teacher Reggio Emilia

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Q & A- Ish with Alyssa Tongue

Reggio - Alyssa Tongue

Alyssa Tongue facilitates and oversees the Children’s Museums of Tacoma and at JBLM, Play to Learn Pierce County, enrichment camps, family engagement workshops, group visits, and Preschool Powered by Play. She has a B.A. in Elementary Education with a Reading endorsement from Western Washington University and over ten years of experience working with preschool and elementary children. Her deep appreciation for the abilities of each child sparks meaningful and enjoyable learning for a variety of ages. Alyssa loves camping and hiking with her family, singing, messy collaborative art experiences, cooking, and snuggling up to read with her two children.

When was the first time you saw the Reggio approach actively incorporated at Greentrike?

“Probably as we were preparing to move into the third home of the Children’s Museum of Tacoma. It was the first time we were truly able to conceptualize from the front to the back, the lobby to the museum playscapes, what the visitor experience would be like. We really wanted to take a side-step from the traditional experiences you might find at a children’s museum, and do more. We workshopped with children and adults to think through the ways in which they come alive in play, and those core environments are what you see reflected in the children’s museums now: woods, water, journey, creativity, kinesthetic exploration. We were thinking, we don’t have to have a pizzeria or a veterinarian clinic, we can have environments, which we intentionally call playscapes, because they’re familiar enough that children know how to enter into them, but they’re that jumping off point for what the child needs in their play. We want to trust children to transform the environment. Woods has been a veterinarian clinic, it has been a pizzeria, but it’s also been a coffee shop, and Mount Rainier, and a rock climbing gym.”

“Our spaces are beautiful, but they’re also not alive until children are there with their imaginations, hearts, and hands.”

Do you take home the Reggio approach? Does it affect the way you parent?

“A recent moment explains it best: My son was home and his teacher sent some homework. One piece was a book going into classroom expectations, and their writing assignment in first grade was to talk about what they think is a right for every child. And my son, who’s grown up in Greentrike his whole life, he was like well I think a right and an expectation for every child is that we have the right to PLAY.”

“Right after coming back from visiting Reggio Emilia was when I decided that I was ready to be a mom. It’s given me freedom to trust and follow my children’s lead, and nurture their sparks.”