Since we opened in April 2015 we have been on a massive learning curve. Suddenly we were going to be a Reggio Emilia inspired centre. To be honest, I had heard of Reggio Emilia but I had absolutely no idea what it was all about. I thought it had to do with the use of natural materials, but that was about it. After almost 20 years in the industry I still had so much to learn. So I set to work. I needed to know more. Suddenly I was on Google, Google Scholar, my University library, Pinterest, Facebook interest groups and talking with colleagues who had also worked in the industry for many years. I had to get my head around it. After teaching a certain way for so long, I had to start reflecting on my own practices and ask myself if I actually believed in the philosophy that I was spending so much time researching.
It’s one thing to learn about something, and implement what you have learned, but if it contradicts with what you believe…. well, that involves a whole new level of reflection. So I did it. I researched. I actually took a semester off Uni so I could devote time to my new mission. Here is what I’d like to share with you. Reggio Emilia is the name of a village in Italy, where their ‘style’ of learning has become highly sought after. The history dates back to World War II when Loris Malaguzzi developed a new way of teaching. He did this in conjunction with parents and his community. He said that children were viewed as capable and full of potential, whilst they are able to guide their own learning (with a little guidance from the educators and the environment of course). Gone are the days when a teacher would sit in front of a class, with flash cards, having the children recite the letter, number, shape or colour. We know that children learn when they are allowed to play, work in groups with other children, where their thoughts, opinions and questions are all valued. Each child’s question is relevant. Each child’s opinion is respected. And each child is encouraged to express themselves and make sense of the world in which they live.
In a Reggio Emilia inspired centre the adult is not the giver of knowledge, rather they encourage curiosity, problem solving and risk taking through the use of open ended experiences, experimentation and group research. The adult is a partner in learning, encouraging each child to participate at their individual level and in their own way, whilst using the environment to inspire curiosity and wonder.
Children are encouraged to ponder, they are encouraged to be curious and they are encouraged to be experimenters. Why? Because We, the facilitators of their learning, know that they are capable, strong and curious individuals with immense potential. Their knowledge and experiences they bring with them are valued and they are encouraged to share their wealth of knowledge with their peers.
It’s funny, I now view myself as a co-learner in our Kinder room. In all the years I’ve been working with children I was always of the opinion that “I know all the information and I need to instil this information into the minds of children. They know nothing, I need to fill their heads with the right knowledge”…. Wow, how absurd is that? If we always teach children in the same way (by giving them the correct answers) how on earth will they learn to problem solve by themselves? How often have you heard a child ask a question and you answer it? Perhaps they are just thinking out loud. Wait, they might be able to process the information and come up with a solution all by themselves. Do you ever answer their question with another question? Do you ever tell them that you aren’t too sure either, and then ask them “how can we find out?”
Society and technology is leaping forward everyday. We need to guide our children to be prepared for ‘future problem solving’. The best way we can do this is to give them time. Un-rushed. Let them wonder, ask, experiment and reflect. So does this mean Early Childhood Educators don’t interact with children? Does it mean it’s a ‘free for all’ where children can do whatever they like? No, it certainly doesn’t mean that. If anything, it means we are more intentional in our interactions with children. Our actions, conversations and interactions are more thoughtful, purposeful and deliberate. We encourage children to reflect on their own learning. We revisit past topics, as we provide children with the opportunity to learn at a deeper level, and we encourage children to work together to combine all of their knowledge, as they build relationships. We guide children in their understanding of their community, their role within society and how they can be actively involved in matters that affect them.
So am I glad I devoted my time to learning more about the Reggio Emilia approach to learning? Yes. But, more importantly, does the Reggio philosophy of teaching align with my own views of early childhood learning? Most definitely!