This spring a group of early educators had the opportunity to travel to Reggio Emilia, a small city in northern Italy, to study their world-renowned schools for young children. Our curriculum director, Mary Lynn Riggs, has had a dream to make this trip to better understand the cultural influences on how we choose to educate our young children, and thanks to her work in procuring a grant, five teachers from our school district were able participate in this year’s Reggio Emilia Student Professor Study Tour through the University of Vermont.
Our group began preparing for this trip last fall through shared readings and discussions which were led by Professor Jeanne Goldhaber of UVM, who has visited Reggio Emilia numerous times since 1991. Hundreds of educators travel each year to Reggio Emilia to observe and learn from their schools for young children, returning home to deeply reflect on these experiences. More and more schools throughout the United States have adopted a “Reggio Inspired Approach”, adapting Reggios’ guiding principles within the context of their own individual communities.
We were truly inspired by the fundamental principles of The Reggio Emilia Approach to education which promote the image of children as competent and curious learners, driven by their interests while seeking to understand more about the world around them. Visiting some of the schools gave us a chance to see how teachers observe children and respond in ways which support individual interests while also expanding their knowledge. Teachers take on the role of guide and mentor, listening to the sharing of ideas from all children in small groups, and building different meanings to support children’s questions. Often teachers actively participate along with children as they become researchers who ask questions, explore, and investigate together. Ideas shared within a group may lead to a project which could last days, weeks, or months, as teachers provide opportunities for children to further explore their thoughts, theories, and interests.
The Hundred Languages of Children refers to the belief that children have many, many different ways to express their thoughts, ideas, and creativity. These “hundred languages” are all equally valued, supported, and nurtured. Children’s thoughts are made visible through the many ways they express themselves, and it is through detailed and ongoing documentation that we can understand their learning process. While visiting the schools we viewed documentation of children’s work through their drawings, photographs and written thoughts, which allowed us to get closer to children’s representation and thinking.
The physical environments we saw in each of the schools were especially powerful reminders of the importance of providing spaces that invite children’s interactions with each other, while building relationships among children, families, and teachers. We were often in awe of the beautiful materials in these various spaces throughout the schools, encouraging children’s discoveries and problem solving during their explorations.
Our traveling group gathered again after our return to Vermont. We discussed the role of our feeling of disequilibrium, noticing how challenging it is to process all that we had experienced in Italy. We agreed that it is important to pause and reflect, taking time to collaborate with our colleagues while also connecting with our community. Appreciating that this will be an ongoing process, we are reminded of the words of a young child from Reggio Emilia, “To take a step forward, you have to lose your balance.”
Nancy Hurt and Jennifer Blackman at Loris Malaguzzi International Children’s Center in Reggio Emilia, Italy
The above reflection is Part I of a two-part series shared by FWSU early education teachers Nancy Hurt and Jennifer Blackman.