Beyond its blending of established best practices with current research, the Wilmington Friends early years program (preschool and pre-kindergarten) is guided by Quaker values and draws from complementary components of the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education. The program emphasizes community and responsibility, with respect for each individual, through practices that encourage student-initiated exploration.
The knowledge construction method is integral to both the philosophy of Quaker education and complementary components of the Reggio Emilia approach that guide the Friends early years program (preschool and pre-kindergarten). Emergent curriculum is also a shared and integrated feature.
In the Reggio Emilia approach, students’ interests and questions help determine the course of the learning process, with the teacher as a partner. Opportunities for self-expression are frequent and varied, and student work is documented regularly. It is a program that encourages students to reflect on and to inquire more deeply into what they are thinking and doing.
Recent research in neuroscience and long-term outcomes of early childhood programs has reinforced the value of this approach as a foundation for future learning and the development of so-called 21st century skills.
One of the designs that structures a Reggio Emilia class is the environment. Students have choices, but the choices available to them are carefully planned. The classroom is designed to encourage creative thinking and collaboration, and there is tremendous focus on building a learning community with a sense of mutual respect and responsibility. Again, research into outcomes of early childhood experiences confirms that relationship-building skills overlap with and are a critical foundation for cognitive skills – including cognitive integration and executive function–skills essential to future learning and well-being, to problem-solving and innovation.