A local perspective of an international approach to early learning


July 18, 2011 · Todays Family ·

A local perspective of an international approach to early learning

In the spring of 2011, an opportunity presented itself to participate in a Canadian Study tour: Dialogues in Education in Reggio Emilia Italy. The community of Reggio Emilia is internationally renowned for their approach to early childhood education. Although familiar with the approach from both a theoretical, philosophical (and a practical) standpoint; the opportunity to visit the preschool programs and immerse oneself in the culture of the community was an opportunity not to be missed.

The first opportunity to gain a perspective of the community was a walking tour of the town of Reggio Emilia.  Volunteers from the Friends of Reggio Children, an International Association, took us on the walking tour of the village. The beautiful architecture of the town hall, cathedrals, theatre and hotels that was evident and preserved with the utmost of care.  Many citizens, both young and old wind through the town on their bicycles as their main mode of transportation.  The pride of community was evident everywhere.  The rhythm of the city was harmonious. People filled the streets and cafés all hours of the day. The tour guide that led our walking tour extended his hospitality further for an opportunity for conversation at a local café. From conversation, it was evident the role and importance of democracy (in the city and the country) played in the community; leading to the responsibility of active citizenry. This role includes the importance of children as citizens.

The study group met at the Loris Malaguzzi International Centre.  Lectures from the pedagogistas and atelieristas from the Reggio Preschools were both rich and thought provoking.  More than 200 participants from across Canada came to partake in the opportunity. This included around ten participants from the Hamilton community.  Discussions evolved around the view of the child.

Our personal idea of a child determines how we will connect or relate to children. It is important as educators to be responsible and declare what our image is of the child. This influences our learning and educational choices as well as the image of the child in our community.  The pedagogistas from the Reggio Preschools described children as competent always prepared to discuss and answer questions and effective at building relationships.  A child is viewed as a researcher and socially constructs meaning in the world around them together with other children, adults, or things.  Children learn by doing, but also by reflecting on what they are doing. The journey of learning is never linear or made up of a defined sequence.  One of the main purposes of learning for educators is to try and understand how children learn.

In addition to the importance and understanding of the view of the child, much time and energy was given to the importance of the environment in which we learn. The question of whether epistemology and aesthetics are synonymous was deep. Visiting four of the preschools (in addition to exploring the town) stressed the link between the environment and the role it plays in learning.  The values of transparency and reflection were part of each school. Natural light illuminated brightly through very large windows (in some classrooms were floor to ceiling). Within each Reggio preschool great attention was given to the set up and aesthetics of the classrooms; which were created collaboratively with the children and parents and reflected the culture of the community. Every aspect of the environment has a purpose and was thoughtfully arranged in partnership with the children and families and acts as the third teacher.  Each Reggio preschool had a large space in the main foyer of the preschool called a piazza. The piazzas served as places for dialogue and are set up to encourage working together in small groups.

Further supporting the environment and the role it plays in education, was the addition of the ateliers as part of the program. The atelier is similar to an art studio with a variety of real art materials and media. The arts are used as a symbolic language for the children to express and represent what they know in different ways. Concepts and hypotheses are presented via print, art, construction, drama, music and puppetry. This is referred to as the 100 Languages in Reggio Emilia. The atelierista is an artist who works with a small group of children in the atelier to challenge the children to express and represent what they know in different ways. The artist also teaches the children how to use the different art tools and media and plays a key role in facilitating collaboration between the children as they work together on their projects.

Making the children’s learning visible is of significant importance in the preschools. Thinking was made visible in various media. From photos and scripts, to the use of technology (slide shows, videos, etc.), the knowledge of children was both well documented and represented. “Documentation is not only the process of gathering evidence and artifacts, but it is also a physical collection of evidence and artifacts, the reflection on an analysis of that collection, or part of it, in a way that makes learning visible to the children, to the teachers and other adults including families and visitors” Carlina Rinaldi (1994). Documentation identifies the problem or learning questions that a child or children or teacher may have and illustrates with evidence how that the problem or question was solved.  It includes the children’s representations as well as the teacher interpretations and parent’s reflections.

What does this mean to our community? We have the aspiration of making our city the best place to raise a child. We have embraced the importance of the philosophy- that children should participate in the direction of their learning; they must have ways and opportunities to express themselves; they are already full of knowledge and wonder. It is our role to be co-learners with them and provide rich and thought provoking experiences.

The ideas are big, but possible. Our identity as a country and as a community is unique. We have accomplished a great deal as a community that supports children and families, but there is room to grow. As an agency we will be sharing the learning with our staff and out to the community. Provocation and discussions are forthcoming.



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