​The 100 Languages of Children

‘They steal ninety-nine’

Who are ‘they’? Ninety-nine what?

In many classrooms, the traditional approach is instructional. Educators are the providers of knowledge, in charge and in control of designing and deciding outcomes for the children who are empty vessels waiting to learn.

But that’s not how teacher and psychologist, Loris Malaguzzi, saw childhood education, back in the mid 1990s.

Malaguzzi is acknowledged as the founder of the acclaimed Reggio Emilia Approach where children are seen as capable of constructing their own learning. He believed that the school curriculum was emergent and unique, co-constructed by an educational community comprising educators, the children themselves and their families and he passionately believed children had endless potentials for discovering and understanding the world around them, and for communicating and learning.

He called these the ‘100 languages of children’ and he penned a now-famous poem of the same name which talks about these infinite ways that children express themselves creatively. The line ‘They steal ninety-nine’ is a criticism of those adults and traditional educators who follow strict standard protocols for early childhood education that don’t allow for this journey of self-discovery, exploration and creative expression.

Malaguzzi believed that traditional methods of early education could suppress children’s creative expression. He encouraged children to depict their own understanding of the world through their ‘100 languages’ which included drawing, painting, sculpting, construction, pretend play and dramatic play, dancing and making music – all of which was done in a nurturing, safe and trusting environment which has become a hallmark of Reggio Emilia early childhood centres around the world.

‘They tell the child:
To discover the world already there’

These lines from his poem reinforce his view that teaching children in traditional ways can suppress a child’s creative expression and that the right way for children to learn is for them to use all their senses on a voyage of joyous self-discovery. Children are knowledge makers and they direct their own learning.

‘A hundred worlds
To discover
A hundred worlds
To invent
A hundred worlds
To dream’

Read the full poem here.

The Reggia Emilia approach encourages hands-on learning experiences so that children develop various skills and problem-solving abilities. As the poem suggests, there are infinite ways that children discover, invent and dream – and the educational approach encourages a seamless blend of playing and learning which isn’t constricted by the limits and expectations of conventional teaching methods. We are passionate about the Reggio Emilia approach, but have you ever wondered what the difference is between Reggio Emilia and Montessori, read our article to find out more.