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Image of the Child: Reggio-inspired practice shapes the Infant School on East Campus

Ben Morley, Former Vice Principal, Infant School, East Campus

Everything that takes place within the Infant School on East Campus, in terms of teaching and learning, building relationships, even professional development for the staff, all stems from one overriding factor – our Image of the Child.

Our Image of the Child is rooted in a firm belief in a child with unlimited potential who is eager to interact with and contribute to the world, rather than seeing that child as an empty vessel waiting to be filled with knowledge by teachers. A child who arrives on our doorstep in August brings an enormous amount of existing understanding and knowledge and so many experiences ready to share.

The idea of the Image of the Child has come through our ongoing research in recent years of the Reggio Emilia approach. Our decision to create our own Image of the Child was a direct response to the work of Loris Malaguzzi (1920-1994), founder of the Reggio Emilia approach. Above all, he believed “Each one of you has inside yourself an image of the child that directs you as you begin to relate to a child. This theory within you pushes you to behave in certain ways; it orients you as you talk to the child, listen to the child, observe the child. It is very difficult for you to act contrary to this internal image. For example, if your image is that boys and girls are very different from one another, you will behave differently in your interactions with each of them.”

About Reggio Emilia

In educational terms, the northern Italian town of Reggio Emilia has a firmly established worldwide reputation for forward thinking and excellence in its approach to Early Childhood education. It embraces what is called a socio-constructivist model in that children co-construct their theories and develop understanding through the relationships that they build with other people, their peers and teachers, and also the environment.

The approach is distinguished by a deeply embedded commitment to the role of research in teaching and learning. Much attention is given to detailed observation and documentation of learning and, significantly, the learning process takes priority over the final product.

It is a model that demonstrates a strong relationship between school and community. After the Second World War, it was the parents and citizens of Reggio Emilia who, in a show of collective responsibility and the desire to create a better society for their children, occupied a disused building and turned it into the first school. This and the other schools that followed were, quite literally, built by the people. From the start, the schools have been committed to progressive thinking that focuses on the child. For these reasons the Reggio schools have attracted significant global interest and received international accolades.
The education that Reggio schools provide is the result of a long and gradual process that continues to evolve. In the East Infant School, we are still very much in the early stages of our own process, as we explore what it means to be “Reggio inspired.” We believe many of the associated elements help us to articulate the UWCSEA Learning Principles in the Early Years.

Constructing our Image of the Child

Our Image of the Child is something we have constructed together as an Infant School staff and is, ultimately, the basis of everything we are striving for and everything we believe is important about an Early Years education.

We hope to promote an Image of the Child as a strong, capable protagonist in his or her own learning. A child who is driven by curiosity and imagination, a child who listens and is listened to and, significantly, a child who is valued.

We value the contributions of the children in our care and, as much as possible, we want them to be a part of co-constructing the learning in the classrooms. We listen to what they have to say. We observe how they interact with each other and with provocations in the environment and we use this to guide teaching and learning. When we listen to the children, we are then able to identify concepts and skills that are appropriate as next steps.

The learning environment

Our Image of the Child also continues to have a profound impact on our learning environment across the Infant School. The physical environment of the Reggio schools is one of the most well known aspects of the approach and, perhaps, one of the most misunderstood.

It is a common misconception that to ‘do Reggio’ entails whitewashing walls and introducing elements such as mirrors, three-dimensional pyramids or light tables into the classrooms…and that is it. Of course, you will find those things in an Infant classroom at East but the reality is far more complex.

We strive to create learning spaces that invite and promote research and autonomous discovery, both for individual children and for groups of children working together. Everything we set up is done with intentionality: a desire to provoke the children’s thinking; to build on their existing understanding or ongoing dialogue we hear in and around the classroom.

We believe the physical environment of our school is much more than a simple container for teaching and learning. Instead, the environment is a central component of learning. This is why Reggio educators often refer to the environment as ‘the third teacher.’

When you visit a K1, K2 or Grade 1 classroom at East, you will see a flexible space with different arrangements of furniture and resources. You will see evidence of the children’s voice on displays or in blog postings as we want to make their thinking visible. You will see interesting and creative provocations, with a variety of resources being used and reused in inviting ways. You will see spaces for endless dialogue, nooks and crannies for children to have conversations and interact in different sized groups. You will not see 22 children sitting in rows at 22 desks!

Again, quoting Malaguzzi, “The environment you construct around you and the children also reflects this image you have about the child. There’s a difference between the environment that you are able to build based on a preconceived image of the child and the environment that you can build that is based on the child you see in front of you — the relationship you build with the child, the games you play. An environment that grows out of your relationship with the child is unique and fluid.”

Earlier this year, we decided it was time to share our Image of the Child (at right) and it is now displayed throughout the Infant School and referenced in communications with the wider community. As we continue to integrate the principles of Reggio into the environment and curriculum of the Infant School, this image will inform each step and support us in creating a school recognises, respects, supports and nurtures each child.

Our Image of the Child

Children are unique. They are capable, curious and insightful and able to express this through many and varied ways. We value what they have to share and offer and we seek to work together with them to develop shared understandings.


Every child who comes to us brings unique, rich and complex understandings of the world they have already formed and are constantly reforming based on their individual families, experiences, cultures, relationships and thoughts, which we seek to listen to and honour. They have hopes, dreams, history, knowledge and understanding that they can share with and offer others.  


Children express and create their knowledge, understanding, feelings and ideas in a wide variety of ways, which we seek to celebrate, understand and enable.

Children learn from the perspective of those around them and through collaboration.

Seeking to make their understanding visible honours their thinking and allows us to listen and have dialogue with the children as learners. 

Our curriculum represents important shared language we can use in dialogue, but we should also be willing to be surprised, open to possibilities in children’s thinking and the ways they make meaning of the world.

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