The achievements, the pedagogy, the values

Pedagogical Evolution: from ONMI to the "revolution" of Nursery Schools

The ONMI (National Organization for the Protection of Maternity and Infancy) survived fascism, and the nursery schools managed by the organization remained unchanged even in the 1950s. However, faced with a now real, widespread, and consolidated phenomenon, politics, starting from the 1960s, also attempted legislative intervention in pedagogical activities.

1960: UDI (Union of Italian Women) promotes a bill for the dissolution of ONMI (which will only happen in 1975).

1962: The PCI (Italian Communist Party) formulates a bill proposal (by Deputy Angiola Minella) for the establishment of nursery schools for the supervision and care of children up to 3 years.

1968: Law March 18, 1968, No. 444 on the Organization of State Nursery Schools (but only with Law No. 53 of March 28, 2003, is the term "kindergarten" replaced with "infant school").

Law No. 1028 of 1970 defined the tasks of nursery nurses, but these professional figures were still more akin to nurses than teachers or social workers, and there was no specific role dedicated to the psycho-physical development of the child.

Only with Law No. 1044 of December 6, 1971, were new-concept nurseries born, entrusted to the Regions, responsible for drafting Technical Standards that would promote the harmonious development of the child. The law stipulated that nurseries should be managed with the participation of families and social representatives, staffed with qualified personnel, and equipped with suitable technical, building, and organizational requirements.

The first nurseries in Emilia-Romagna opened in Modena and Bologna in 1969, and in Reggio in 1971. The first regional law on the matter was approved in 1973.

A new pedagogy: Malaguzzi

I punti di forza del nuovo progetto educativo (la figura del pedagogista, l’organizzazione degli spazi e dei tempi per i nidi e le scuole per l’infanzia, la partecipazione attiva delle famiglie) si affermarono nel tempo attraverso l’opera soprattutto di Loris Malaguzzi e delle sue collaboratrici.

Malaguzzi, a teacher and psychologist, had worked in the 1950s as the director of the "Psychopedagogical Medical Center" in Reggio before moving on to direct experimentation in the field in the following decade. From the beginning, those strengths constituted the conceptual and practical framework of an evolving project. Anticipating subsequent regulations, in 1965 Malaguzzi introduced the figure of the "atelierista."

Simultaneously with the years of economic boom, Italy experienced epochal social and economic phenomena: the expansion of the labor market, mass schooling, and the growing spread of feminist and union movements active in promoting social welfare.

The increasing urbanization of entire communities, previously rural, and the rapid growth of women in the workforce required appropriate care services, leading to the establishment of nurseries, made possible by a new awareness of collective responsibility towards education.

Coming out of '68, we felt invested with an important role. We participated in the growth of nurseries and preschools during their golden period, which was experienced with great enthusiasm, aware that we were changing obsolete educational models represented by ONMI. We had a new space, all to be built with great responsibilities and great passion. The administration and even the families believed a lot in a shared educational project, and participation in public moments was sometimes so extensive that it was challenging to manage.(Manuela Davoli, Educator at the "Birillo" nursery, Novellara)

Already in 1972, the City Council of Reggio Emilia approved the Regulations for preschools on the design of nurseries (drafted by a Commission chaired by Loris Malaguzzi and composed of teachers, technicians, and councilors).

They worked on a cultural and pedagogical project that allowed a connection between the nursery and the school, hoping for a connection to subsequent school classes (supported in the Bassa Reggiana but absent in the legislation of the 1970s).

Bassa Reggiana

The 1970s were years of great ferment and commitment in the Bassa Reggiana:

1951: "Soliani Scutellari" nursery school opened in Brescello.

1966: "Arcobaleno" nursery school opened in Novellara.

1969: "La Ginestra" nursery school opened in Poviglio.

UDI collected 50,000 signatures for a bill on the establishment of nurseries for children up to three years old.

When I entered the nursery school in Luzzara in 1970, the atmosphere was different. For a year, I had an experience with an old-fashioned teacher: the children marched, sang like soldiers, and the treatment was also very strict. But the demands and sensitivity that led to the approval of Law 1044 were felt immediately. The seeds of the Pedagogical Coordination were sown from then on. We young teachers felt unprepared to grow children with competence, and the need for ongoing training imposed itself, even in collaboration with the social worker, psychologist, speech therapist, and doctor who made up the health team. (Paola Massari, Educator at the nursery school in Luzzara from 1970 to 1984, later responsible for the Educational Service of the Municipality of Luzzara)

1970: In the "Arcobaleno" nursery school in Guastalla, managed by the Ursulines and founded in 1883, replacement of religious personnel with lay personnel.

1971: Opening of the first municipal nursery in the Bassa Reggiana: "Birillo" in Novellara, followed by "Aquilone" in 1974.

1972: Opening of "La stella" nursery in the municipality of Luzzara.

1974: Transfer of the Boretto nursery, managed by ONMI since 1964, to a new location and entrusted to the direct management of the Municipality.

The history of the Boretto nursery began in 1964... It was a service mainly aimed at the physical well-being and care of boys and girls. From 1975, it became a municipal nursery, and thanks, especially to the arrival of pedagogists, we began to understand and discover that even very young children could be considered competent and capable of learning because they had an active mind capable of producing thoughts. (Sandra Covi, Nursery and Zenit school teacher, Boretto)

1975: Reopening in Guastalla as the "Pollicino" nursery of the nursery inaugurated in 1936 with the name "Maternità" and reactivated in 1947 by ONMI.

1976: Opening of the "Gianni Rodari" nursery in Poviglio.

1977-1980: Start of nursery activities: "La rondine" (Guastalla), "Il Ciliegio" (Gualtieri), "Bambi" (Reggiolo), and "Carmen Zanti" (Brescello).

After the approval of Law No. 1044 on December 6, 1971, the "National Plan for Nursery Schools" of 1971 was an important first step, accompanied by normative and managerial decentralization to the newly established Regions and Municipalities. This allowed for a quick and efficient organization of the service in Emilia-Romagna.

The experiences of Malaguzzi also influenced the surrounding territory, which, however, was also dealing with other contemporary educational experiences, such as those of Franco Frabboni in Bologna. Local administrations found collaborations even among Malaguzzi's collaborators, as in the case of Carla Rinaldi, a part-time pedagogical consultant for the municipality of Novellara (1972-1975).

In 1988, after concluding her experience in Reggio Emilia initiated in 1974, pedagogue Pina Tromellini began her collaboration for the establishment of an inter-municipal Pedagogical Coordination in the Bassa Reggiana. She remembers the experience as follows:

There was a lot of work to do... the schools were beautiful, and the staff was curious and motivated. In the Bassa Reggiana, they were aware of the Reggio experience but did not want to be its copy. They were interested in enhancing educational principles while safeguarding their own identity... respecting differences... Unlike the city, from the early years, the Bassa Reggiana was characterized by a different territorial and social context, more rural and composite, requiring tools for the development of a tailor-made educational path. There was a tangible aspiration to progress, to build a common and recognized project, albeit with the times, needs, and resources that the context could express.