The Nature-Infused City of Reggio Emilia, Italy

The municipal preschools of Reggio Emilia, Italy are studied by education professionals internationally; with good reason. Preschool students in these schools are seen as being capable and competent researchers of the world around them. Curricula of each school flows from the children’s interests and imaginations, incorporating rigorous academic concepts along their journeys. Celebrated productions of educational projects, including “The Amusement Park for Birds,” and “Dialogues with Places,” reflect the “hundred languages” of the children’s many profound forms of communication of their theories, knowledge and learning.

Last week educators from around the world attended professional development programs developed by Reggio Children. This organization manages the many learning opportunities and materials emanating from the schools. Although I didn’t attend the seminars, I met up with Diann Gano, who did. In past blog posts we have learned from Diann about “The Power of Trust,” and “Car Mittens vs. Snow Mittens.” I think it safe to say that the depth of Diann’s thinking and practice will only increase following her experiences in Reggio Emilia.

Children of these schools are citizens of their community. Not “future” citizens, but current citizens. They interact constantly with the social and environmental contexts of Reggio Emilia. And nature plays a central role in their preschool experience. To better understand why nature is so important to Reggio Emilia’s municipal preschools, one need only walk anywhere in this nature-infused city.

Here is a tiny sampling of Reggio Emilia’s profound relationship with nature.


This elementary school, next to a green space, is not part of the municipal preschool system. Flowers in over twenty individual pots and boxes greet the children as they enter the building.


Large trees in small public or private spaces are often seen rising above old walls.


Max Mara fashions set this display in what once might have been an interior courtyard. Large-leaved plants surround mannequins in the boutique’s street-facing windows. Its interior walls are painted with nature motifs.


Taken at night, this photo is of the cobbler’s shop in which each pair of shoes, boots or sandals is unique. Each pair is a work of art.


Two potted plants connect with each other, bringing visual distinction to this otherwise typical storefront.


This dramatic tree draws attention to a charming boutique. It grows from an impossibly small hole in the pavement. My tree expert tells me that it is somewhere around ten years old, that it was probably planted via a bird dropping, and that the damage it will eventually do to the building and pavement will someday require its removal. But until then…


Friday night in the park built following the French Revolution. It is based on Parisian parks in which trees are planted in rows, and spaced to welcome groups of people.


From a small collection of flower pots…


to carefully manicured and balanced displays, to…


full, lush gardens—every balcony seems to have plants.


Even metalwork, in doorways and windows, often has design incorporating natural elements.


Where whole trees can’t fit, parts of them can.


Turning a corner near my hotel, I saw this window in a very small boutique.


Look closely at the butterfly on the woman’s jacket and you’ll notice its shadow. It is sewn into the jacket only along its body, allowing the wings to lift free. This, and another butterfly on one arm, aren’t sewn into the jacket, they have landed on it.

From spaces public and private, large and small; from storefronts to store interiors; from architectural elements to fashion elements; nature is an omnipresent companion to the adults and children in Reggio Emilia. It’s no wonder that the municipal preschools of the city are themselves infused with a reverence for nature.  Both the preschools and the city have much to teach us.