Last night, while I was playing with our puppy Apollo in our front yard, I finally had the chance to meet our neighbour. As he explored our flowers, shrubs and grass, our neighbour came over and began gushing at how adorable he was. I was curious to observe how he reacted to meeting someone new, and to my delight, he happily walked over and began playing with her. He was the perfect icebreaker. My neighbour and I began chatting about pets (she has two cats), the weather, the neighbourhood, and finally, got around to the classic introduction question “What do you do for a living?”. It turns out she teaches kindergarten also! We instantly bonded and began chatting about the Full Day Early Learning Kindergarten (FDELK) curriculum. We agreed that the FDELK program is incredibly flexible, giving educators the opportunity to tailor a learning program according to student interests, and shared our experiences of planning for such a busy learning environment. Then she made a really interesting comment: “My program is all Reggio, with the wood baskets and toys. I must have spent a fortune on that stuff!”.
I paused, and politely agreed that classroom materials can sometimes cost a fortune. Our chat was interrupted by Apollo, who at this point, began nipping her feet. After realizing his chew toys were in the backyard, and that distracting him without them would be fruitless, we decided to save our conversation for another time.
Our conversation got me thinking. As teachers, our understanding of ‘best practice’ evolves as we are exposed to new ideas, conversations with colleagues, social media, professional development – the list goes on and on. I remember my first visit to a demonstration class as a new kindergarten teacher several years ago – The Daily Five was all the rage. I observed carefully planned charts, activities and well timed transitions as groups of students rotated from one activity to the next. I took notes, created ‘centres’, made activity icons, and began to replicate what I saw in the classrooms around me. What I find most interesting about that experience is that my idea of the ‘right’ way to teach was greatly influenced by factors such as authority (demonstration class), buzz words (in this case, it was The Daily Five), and a desire to replicate what others were doing (if everyone is doing it, it has to be ‘right’!).
Similarly, my journey of being Reggio inspired began with a classroom overhaul. Over time, I replaced all of the colourful, pre-made posters that I had collected over the years with student created resources, changed our ‘toys’ to open ended learning materials, and yes, I also bought lots of wood baskets. What I didn’t realize at the time was that the wood baskets, toys, learning materials and furniture were not “Reggio”, it was my philosophy of early childhood education that was becoming Reggio inspired.
The Reggio Emilia philosophy of early childhood education has historical roots in community participation, shaped by the politics and culture of post World War II Italy. Schools are considered first and foremost, to be public spaces – sites for ethical, political and democratic practice which is inclusive of all citizens, including infants, toddlers and young children. The philosophy challenges the belief learning and teaching occur through transmission, and instead suggests learning is a co-operative and communicative process through which children construct knowledge and make meaning of the world together with adults and other children (Moss, Dahlberg & Pence, 1999; Rinaldi, 2006). Central to the Reggio philosophy is the image of the child – as a strong, confident, and powerful member of society who has rights and is capable of participating in decision making. This construction of the child recognizes children as having an independent place in society, capable of contributing their learning and experiences to the societies in which they live (Moss, Dahlberg & Pence, 1999).
As educators, our image of the child forms the foundation of how we teach, what we teach, and why we teach. So what then, does it mean to ‘be’ Reggio? Can we ‘be’ a philosophy, or rather, are we inspired by the values and ethics found within it?
Childhood is the loveliest metaphor for describing the possibilities of mankind, on the understanding that we let it exist, that we recognize it and that we cease all the processes of acceleration and imitation, that in denying childhood, destroy not childhood but man. Carlina Rinaldi
Dahlberg, G., Moss, P., & Pence, A. R. (1999). Beyond quality in early childhood education and care: Postmodern perspectives. Psychology Press.
Rinaldi, C. (2006). In dialogue with Reggio Emilia: Listening, researching and learning. Psychology Press.