Experiencing the Reggio Emilia approach at ISSP

Education - Saigon/HCMC: May 21, 2021

What is Reggio Emilia?

Reggio Emilia vs Montessori

Reggio Emilia in Action

Thanks to extensive research and better knowledge, many people are now aware of the positive impact a high-quality early years education programme has on the learning journey of a child. But for many people, understanding the difference between the variety of early years approaches can still be a challenge.

At ISSP we understand that simply reading about the different methodologies can cause confusion. That’s why we prefer to show parents and students what they can expect from life at ISSP. At our Virtual Open House on Friday, 4 June 2021, we invite you all to join us and see how our highly qualified and experienced Early Years teachers, provide Early Years students with an engaging and interactive, Reggio Emilia inspired, programme that allows them to not only construct their own learning, but to have fun as they do so.


If you’re ready to come and experience life at International School Saigon Pearl all you need to do is click this link and register your interest. But if you’d like to know more about Reggio Emilia and why ISSP is inspired by this philosophy, read on for our introduction to what you can expect. 

What is the ‘Reggio Emilia approach’ ?

Developed in Italy in the late 1970’s, the Reggio Emilia approach is an educational philosophy that is applied to preschool education. At the centre of the Reggio Emilia philosophy is the idea that children develop their own personality during the early years of development, and that children are born in possession of "a hundred languages" that can be used to express their ideas. Therefore, the aim of the Reggio Emilia approach is to teach children how to use these ‘languages’ (e.g. painting, drawing and drama) in everyday life.

At ISSP, our teachers act as a guide to our early years students. As the Reggio Emilia approach is student-centred, it means our students choose what, and how, they study. They are encouraged to learn by actively doing something, rather than hearing about it from a teacher or someone else. Teachers encourage students at ISSP to learn whilst building relationships with their classmates, and our students are always encouraged to explore, discover and play within the guiding principles of respect, responsibility and community.


By following the Reggio Emilia philosophy of ‘respecting the image of the child’, that is, believing that children are strong, capable and full of potential, our teachers allow students to make sense of the world around them in their own way. By observing and listening, rather than directing and instructing, teachers at ISSP fully support our students to find their own path as they take their first steps on their educational journey.

If that still sounds confusing, visitors on the open day will have the opportunity to experience real learning activities so that they can really understand how the Reggio Emilia approach works at ISSP, and explore if it is a suitable approach for your child’s learning needs.

What is the difference between Reggio Emilia and Montessori?

If you are a parent researching international schools in Ho Chi Minh City, you are sure to have come across the name ‘Montessori’. Like Reggio Emilia, Montessori is another educational philosophy, and at a glance, there are certainly similarities between the Reggio Emilia and Montessori approaches.

Both philosophies originate in Italy and both promote self-guided learning. Both approaches aim to develop students into well rounded, independent learners. However, there are some key differences between the two ideologies.


Firstly, Reggio Emilia focuses only on early years education whereas Montessori is also followed by younger teenagers (12-15 years). In addition, Reggio Emilia schools group children into traditional age ranges (year by year), whereas Montessori prefers children to work in classrooms with students in a particular age group (e.g. 4 to 7 year olds).

The environment of a Reggio Emilia classroom is also quite different to that of a Montessori classroom. Join our Virtual Open House on Friday, 4 June 2021, you will have the opportunity to see that our young learners enjoy a more flexible and open-ended learning space when compared to a more structured Montessori classroom. Also, in a Reggio Emilia inspired classroom, the culture and character of the children, their families and their local community is easy to see. The priority is to create a welcoming and warm atmosphere, where student progress can be seen through displays of the artwork and projects. 

The role of the teacher is also quite different within the two approaches. Reggio Emilia teachers are considered to be co-learners and observers. This means that they become involved with the student’s learning, and learn alongside them, whilst observing and monitoring the development of each child and the classroom community.

In contrast, Montessori teachers act as ‘directors’ of their students' learning. They generally work with only one or two students at a time, and may introduce a lesson or material that the students may enjoy. Montessori teachers observe children while they work at their own pace in a peaceful environment, rather than being a co-learner. 

Both approaches have been adopted by schools across the globe, and are regularly credited with developing high standards of social, emotional and academic skills in their students.

At International School Saigon Pearl, we have certainly seen that the Reggio Emilia approach allows our students to become better problem solvers, better community members and better communicators, all whilst having a smile on their faces! On Friday, 4 June, our teachers and Head of School Mr Lester Stephens will be available to answer any questions that you have about their role in your child’s education or about how the Reggio Emilia approach can benefit young learners. 

The Reggio Emilia approach in action

If you are not able to join our Virtual Open Day on Friday, 4 June 2021, we’d be happy to welcome you to visit the school, where a member of our Admissions Department will be able to talk you through everything you need to know about life at ISSP. However, if you are unable to attend in person, the following stories from our teachers can help to explain how the early years programme at ISSP, which is accredited by NEASC and CIS, embraces the Reggio Emilia approach. 

At ISSP our EY educators are focused on developing key skills in key areas, including communication and literacy, mathematics, science and the creative arts, in addition to physical, social and emotional development. It may seem difficult to believe that such skills can be developed whilst ‘playing’ but in a Reggio Emilia classroom, everything is an opportunity to learn.


‘One afternoon, two of my students found a caterpillar,’ explains EY team member Ms Lanie Nacario. ‘We were all excited to have a glimpse of it. The caterpillar was put in a jar with a leaf and a student suggested we should call it ‘Mr Caterpillar’ and everyone agreed. Everyone took a look at ‘Mr Caterpillar’ but two students asked if it might be a snake or a worm. To discover what type of creature it was, we observed it the next day and then looked at books about caterpillars, snakes and worms.’

This story is a great example of the Reggio Emilia approach in action.

‘In this learning exploration, we were able to explore and understand the things around us,’ Ms. Lanie explains. ‘The caterpillar investigation started because of the student’s curiosity (children are co-constructors of their learning). We were able to express our thinking in a variety of ways, for example, drawing what we had seen, describing what the caterpillar looked like, and acting out how it moved. (Using ‘a hundred languages’). The activity also increased our confidence in sharing ideas with friends because we listened to each other and practiced good listening in conversations.’ (communication and literacy)’.

The other EY team members agree that the Reggio Emilia approach at ISSP has had a positive impact on their students.

‘Since fully embracing the play-based approach to learning, the students have made great strides across all of the ISSP skills,’ reports Miss Alpha. ‘As they are encouraged to engage and interact with their environment, they are able to become a higher-level thinker. Innovation, collaboration, problem solving and self-management are all enhanced through our play-based approach. 


If you are interested in experiencing some of the real learning activities that teachers provide for students at ISSP, or hearing more about the Reggio Emilia approach please join our Virtual Open Day on Friday, 4 June 2021!

International School Saigon Pearl (ISSP) is a member of Cognita, a school group from the UK with more than 80 schools worldwide. With more than 10 years of experience of providing international education and learning in Ho Chi Minh City, International School Saigon Pearl is also accredited by NEASC and CIS, two international and prestigious orgranizations. For all admissions enquiries please register here and a member of our admissions team will contact you shortly.

Image source: ISSP