The educational frame for the ECEC system is made up of three documents:
- the Educational guidelines for the integrated system (Linee pedagogiche per il sistema integrato zerosei) that apply to the whole ECEC system (0-6)
- the National guidelines for the early childhood education services (Orientamenti nazionali per i servizi educativi per l'infanzia) that apply to the ECEC services for younger children (0-3)
- the National guidelines for the curriculum for pre-primary school and the first cycle of education’ (Indicazioni nazionali per il curricolo della scuola dell'infanzia e del primo ciclo d'istruzione) that apply to the ECEC system for older children (3-6) as updated by the National guidelines and new scenarios (Indicazioni nazionali e nuovi scenari) of 2018.
The four documents are closely linked and must be read in an integrated way.
Integrated ECEC system (0-6)
The general framework for educational and organisational aspects of the whole ECEC system is given by the Educational guidelines for the integrated system (Linee pedagogiche per il sistema integrato zerosei) published in January 2022 (DM 334/2021). Even though the ECEC system is historically organised into two distinct segments and each ECEC phase has its own educational guidelines (please see below), the document offers the vision of a single educational path.
The educational guidelines for the integrated system are organised in six parts:
1) Childhood rights: the first part underlines that the aim of the integrated system is to guarantee children equal opportunities for the development of their social, cognitive, emotional, affective and relation potentials with the support of qualified staff.
2) A learning ecosystem: children live in multi-cultural environments. This means different cultures of origin but also different educational and familiar cultures, different values, lifestyles, and rules in general. All ECEC institutions should create a strong link with families and the territories where they operate to create an environment where all these cultural peculiarities can live together.
3) A centre-based system: childhood is not a 'pre-phase' of what will come later. It is a period of life with its own characteristics and children need to live childhood without anticipating steps established by adults.
4) Curriculum: although the concept of curriculum is not entirely adaptable to the ECEC phase 0-3, the idea of a curriculum for the whole ECEC phase favours a real continuity from 0 to 6 years and, to this end, the curriculum includes all the planning and organisational activities necessary to realise it (spaces, furniture, activities, organisation of groups, etc.).
5) Collegiate work: collaboration among educators, teachers and non-educational staff working in ECEC settings is the basis for panning and organising ECEC activities.
6) Governance: this part focuses on the importance of economic and cultural resources, on the need of strategic interventions on initial training and on the governance of ECEC settings to realise a real integrated system.
ECEC for younger children (0-3)
In 2022, the Ministry published the Decree no. 43 with the National guidelines for the early childhood education services (Orientamenti nazionali per i servizi educativi per l'infanzia). In fact, with the introduction of the integrated system in 2017, the Ministry has assumed some of the prerogatives that previously belonged to the regions, including the drafting of educational guidelines for the 0-3 segment. The document consists of six chapters covering the following topics:
- The history of childhood education services
- The rights and the potentials of the child in the first thousand days of life
- The educational alliance with parents, the relationships and participation
- The characteristics and actions of the educational profession
- The organisational aspects such as spaces, furniture, materials, etc.
- The continuity of the aims and curriculum in the integrated system from 0 to 6 years of age
(Source: Ministero dell'istruzione, Sistema integrato 0-6 (visited 20 settembre 2022))
Within this frame, ECEC settings draw up their own educational plan, based on the indication provided by regional and local regulations.
ECEC for older children (3-6)
The educational guidelines for the ECEC 3-6 level are integrated in the guidelines for the first cycle of education, which is made up of primary and lower secondary education.
The Ministry published the document ‘National guidelines for the curriculum for pre-primary school and the first cycle of education’ (Indicazioni nazionali per il curricolo della scuola dell'infanzia e del primo ciclo d'istruzione) in 2012. The national guidelines came officially in force in 2013/2014 and replaced the previous two editions of national guidelines of 2004 and 2007. In 2018, the scientific committee established by the Ministry to monitor the application of the National guidelines, submitted to the Ministry a new document called 'National guidelines and new scenarios' (Indicazioni nazionali e nuovi scenari). This new document focuses on aspects already existing in the National guidelines of 2012 giving them a renewed reading in the light of the competences of citizenship that involve all the teachings areas.
The reference for these new guidelines is the Framework for Key Competences for Lifelong Learning set up by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union through the Recommendation of 18 December 2006.
National guidelines are binding for State pre-primary schools as well as for all paritarie schools, which are public and private independent school that, under certain circumstances, are equal to State schools.
Areas of learning and development
ECEC for younger children (0-3)
Usually, activities at this ECEC level follow a ‘routine’ consisting of play, rest, meals, children’s care and cleaning. In addition, plans may foresee activities with the involvement of families (e.g. grandparents reading stories) or other subjects (e.g. association for the pet-therapy).
The National guidelines for the early childhood education services (Orientamenti nazionali per i servizi educativi per l'infanzia) indicate the goals of the educative action in ECEC settings for children up to the age of three:
- building of the child's identity (the first sense of self of well-being and safety) in an environment in which one is recognized and learn to recognize others
- developing autonomy, in an environment that encourages children in the pursuit of progressive mastery of their bodies and emotions, without haste, in the belief that proceeding in autonomy fosters self-awareness, openness to others, a desire to do and to learning
- keeping curiosity, desire and motivation to learn alive, through the enjoyment and challenges of the early experiences of learning to learn and the perception of what the child knows how to do, what does not yet know how to do, and what she/he has the pleasure in doing
- learning to live together in serenity and harmony, through early experiences in a community that supports the natural drive for sociability and respect for differences.
These four purposes are intertwined and underlie every educational proposal and the organization of the environment and are consistent with those outlined in the National guidelines for the curriculum in pre-primary education.
(Source: Ministero dell'istruzione, Orientamenti nazionali per i servizi educativi per l'infanzia)
ECEC for older children (3-6)
As for ECEC for children aged 3 and over, the reference document is the National guidelines for the curriculum of 2012 (Indicazioni nazionali per il curricolo della scuola dell'infanzia e del primo ciclo d'istruzione) updated by the National guidelines and new scenarios (Indicazioni nazionali e nuovi scenari) of 2018.
According to the National guidelines for the curriculum, the general aim of school education is the harmonious and comprehensive development of the individual, in keeping with the principles of the Italian Constitution and European cultural tradition. Such goals are achieved through the promotion of knowledge, respect of individual diversity and the active involvement of students and their families.
Specifically, the aim of ECEC for children aged 3 and over, is to promote the development of identity, autonomy and competence in children and to give them the first knowledge of citizenship.
The National guidelines indicate five different fields of experience: the self and others; body and movement; images, sounds and colours; speech and words; knowledge of the world. Each field of experience provides a range of objects, situations, images and languages related to the symbolic systems of our culture, as well as its own specific goals for the development of competences.
The National guidelines for the curriculum establish that, at the end of the three years of pre-primary education, children are expected to have developed some basic competences useful for their personal growth:
- to recognise and express their emotions, to be aware of their desires and fears, feel theirs and other peoples’ moods
- to have a positive relationship with their corporeity, have developed sufficient self-confidence
- to be progressively aware of their own resources and limits and to able to call for help when necessary
- to express curiosity and desire of experimentation, interact with things, environment and people, perceiving their changes and reactions
- to share experiences and games, use common materials and resources, gradually face conflicts and start recognising the rules of behaviour in private and public contexts
- to have an aptitude to put questions on ethical or moral issues and to consider different points of view, reflect on meanings, and use mistakes as a source of knowledge
- to be able to tell, narrate, describe situations and experiences, communicate and speak using a variety of languages, speak Italian with more and more propriety of language
- to show initial logical skills, start internalising space-time coordinates and orientating in the world of symbols, representations, media, technologies
- to individuate the main features of events, objects and situations, formulate hypothesis, and search for solutions of problematic daily life situations
- to pay attention to orders, become passionate, and bring to a close their work being aware of the process
- to express themselves in a personal way, with creativity and participation and to be sensitive to cultural, language and experience diversity.’
(Source: Ministry of education, university and research, Indicazioni nazionali per il curricolo della scuola dell'infanzia e del primo ciclo d'istruzione, 2012)
Starting from school year 2020/2021, the compulsory and cross-curricular subject ‘Civic education’ replaces 'Citizenship and Constitution', introduced in 2009. Civic education will also be taught in pre-primary schools with a focus on identity development, respect, health, and well-being of oneself and others. The Guidelines on civic education (Annex A to Ministerial Decree 35/2020) recommend the use of play, as well as of educational, didactic and routine activities to lead children in knowledge and respect for the natural and human environment in which they live, for all forms of life and for common goods. Teachers will also introduce children to digital devices by recalling positive examples and the risks linked to their use, taking into account children’s age and competences.
Catholic religion is mandatory for schools but optional for pupils. Families make their choice the first year of pre-primary school but are allowed to modify their choice at any time before starting a new school year. The specific learning objectives for Catholic religion are established by State regulations (DPR 11 February 2010) in agreement with the Italian Catholic Church. Pupils not attending Catholic religion carry out extra-curricular activities linked to the values of citizenship with the support of teachers. Schools include the alternative activities in their own curriculum. The teaching of Catholic religion/alternative activities has a specific annual timetable of 60 hours (DPR 175/2012). Teachers are specialists and need to pass a specific initial training according to both the State and the Church legislation.
ECEC for younger children (0-3)
Settings run by local authorities were established in the early 70’s with the aim of helping families with working parents (law n. 1044/1971). In the subsequent years, national policies have boosted the educational function of public settings, as opposed to the merely utilitarian aspect of the service they provide for families.
Law 107/2015 and the Decree 65/2017, with the establishment of the integrated system from birth to six years, recognized the educational character of all places that welcome children up to three years of age and work in synergy with the educational action of parents
In this perspective, activities are aimed at helping socialisation and allowing children’s learning development through playing, both individual and in small groups.
ECEC for older children (3-6)
Teachers are free to choose their teaching methods. However, the Indicazioni nazionali per il curricolo establish some general criteria for the organisation of the learning environment:
- balanced integration of the time dedicated to care, relationships and learning, with routines (reception, meal, body care, rest/sleep, etc.) regulating the pace of the day and representing a ‘safe foundation’ for new experiences and stimuli
- promotion of learning through action, exploration, contact with objects, nature, art, territory, in a playful dimension, as a typical form of relationship and knowledge
- provision of cosy, warm, tidy rooms with an attention to aesthetics
- unstrained management of time, so that children can spend the day serenely, play, explore, speak, understand, feel self-confident and secure in the activities they experiment
- educational approach of teachers oriented towards listening, guiding, interaction, communication mediation, continuous observation of the child, making themselves responsible for the child’s ‘world’, interpreting the child’s discoveries, offering support and encouragement to his/her learning developments.
Schools are usually equipped with laboratories and learning materials that are bought by the schools through their own financial resources allocated by the State for these purposes. However, the availability and use of educational materials may vary considerably in the country.
Children in nurseries are not assessed. Educators observe children’s development, always involving parents.
In ECEC settings for children between 3 and 6 years, teachers do not test children's educational performance. Children's development is assessed through observation and interpretation. According to the Indicazioni nazionali per il curricolo, teachers observe children occasionally and systematically in order to better understand their needs and to make balanced educational suggestions to be shared with the children's parents. Indeed, the task of pre-primary school is to promote, support and strengthen processes which allow children to develop their abilities in the best way possible.
Observation of the levels attained includes the following:
- an initial period, aimed at outlining the child's abilities when entering pre-primary education;
- time within teaching activities aimed at adjusting and individualising the educational and learning process;
- a final period, aimed at verifying learning outcomes, the quality of the educational and teaching activity and the entire educational experience.
Record-taking enables both adults and children to keep a trace of performance, thus making the development processes visible and progress in individual and group learning more valuable.
Teachers, in their observation, refer to the National guidelines for the curriculum that indicate the competences children are expected to have developed for each field of experience at the end of the three years of pre-primary education.
Transition to primary school
There are no specific transition measures established at national level that pre-primary schools are expected to apply. The application of transition measures depends on single schools.
However, taking into account learning measures, the reference steering document for the curriculum Indicazioni nazionali per il curricolo, align the educational guidelines for the ECEC level 3-6 to the guidelines of the subsequent two levels of the education system and, in particular, to those for primary education.