Being Reggio

Have you noticed that there are a ton of Pinterest and Facebook posts about 'doing Reggio' these days? In one way it's great that so many people are looking for inspiration, but I worry that the exquisite praxis we can see in the infant toddler centers and preschools in Reggio Emilia are being misinterpreted. Sometimes in talks educators from Reggio remind us to "look beyond the furniture", and I think that's good advice. At its root, the Reggio Emilia approach is a big old Ikea basket full of educational theory put into practice- put into beautiful, well considered and co-constructed practice, with lots of listening and the ethics that come from a deep respect for humankind backing it up. To me, the reason it's so worth looking to Reggio is that all of the beautiful work is carefully thought out and negotiated and presented so that it never, ever betrays the children.
Don't the practices and environments in all the beautiful photos of activities, tabletops and shelves lose their meaning if not accompanied by the careful thoughtfulness described in The Hundred Languages of Children? It seems to me that it's really all about ideas and relationships, rather than wood and wicker, fabric strips and bubble wrap. And no matter how many times I've arranged the materials in jars of rainbow colors, I know that they'll either stay up on the shelf in pristine sortedness, or get dumped out and mixed up, because that's what people do when they are looking for four matching bottle cap wheels for a cardboard batmobile.

How do you look for meaning in a learning experience?
I try to look for a big idea that can connect across time and subject area. Dewey's ideas about educative experiences (which connect) and mis-educative experiences (which are without context) can really help me. A mis-educative experience is one that doesn't connect the learner to the wider world. This lesson or experience might have some benefit for children (like practice with fine motor skills), might be "agreeable or exciting in itself" but doesn't lead to "richer experience in the future" (Dewey's words). By tying school experiences to relationships and big, universal ideas, the teachers in Reggio Emilia avoid banal, stifling mis-education. And so can all of us.

*(Praxis (process), the process by which a theory, lesson, or skill is enacted, practiced, embodied, or realized.) 


Beyond a nature shelf: Bringing the outside in

Teachers Elaine and Lisa (who teach 4 and 5 year old children) are interested in bringing the outside in to the classroom. Most classes at Sabot spend at least one day in the forest each week. The children in this classroom are taking care of some worms, snails, a turtle and an industrious tree frog that somehow scaled the building and wound up in their second floor sink. It's no wonder that the children have begun to talk about turning their classroom into a forest! Elaine and Lisa and I work hard to create a seamless flow between the studio and their classroom.
Here are some of the ways that I have tried to help with this project:
Children thought about what the animals might like
see and drew pictures for them to look at through their glass containers.

Building tiny forests with clay,
natural materials and cardboard



Making costumes and pretending to be worms, turtles, snails and frogs. 

Children transformed themselves into animals using photographs, drawing and computer. One of my research questions this year is how to use technology in a way that helps children take their ideas further. Below you can see a transformation in process.


If you want to read more about nature and children in wild places, check out this new book by the great David Sobel that features some work by me and another teacher at Sabot, Mauren Campbell. This represents a wonderful cycle as Marty Gravett was the first teacher at Sabot that took children outside the playground fence, and now her daughter Mauren has written about her experience with children out in the forest!


Dreams, Dreaming, the City, and Friends

Anna "let's think about the city."
Eleanor, while drawing "I'm making some skyscrapers, just like my dreams. I can hear my dreams. Sometimes I can't see them. but it's better if I can hear them. My dreams are like a house I'm in."

Her friend Riley, who was next to her said "My dreams are just my friends."
Anna Where are your dreams?
Riley "In my bed!"
What will happen in your dreams?
Riley "I can go to my friends. In my friends' dreams, I can go to their houses."

Eleanor "I have Richmond as my city. That means I sleep in it."
Riley "It’s like a town."
Anna -is the city the same as a town?
Eleanor "It’s a little different. Some things I don’t know about."
Luna "Well I don’t know a city."
Do you know about Richmond?
"They have so much stuff."
"They have bunk beds."
What does Richmond think about you? Does Richmond love you?
Luna "no..." (Looks at me like I'm silly)

Eleanor "but Richmond loves me!"