I am busy preparing to publish a series of lesson plans and units of work on my soon to launch website: www.linchpineducation.com.au
In preparing the work I was reflecting on the process a teacher goes through when designing a unit of study and I got to thinking about my experiences of Reggio Emilia.
A city called Reggio Emilia in Northern Italy has given rise to a whole movement in early childhood education known commonly as the “reggio approach”. Some years ago I was fortunate enough to visit that city and the centre which gave rise to this educational change in many Australian pre schools.
My visit to Reggio Emilia was one which has remained with me for many years and has certainly added a new dimension to the way I teach. At the very heart of Reggio Emilia and its approach to education is the absolute and profound belief in the potential of the child. The teacher and the parents become guides on the child’s journey and the environment is regarded as the third teacher. The interrelationship between child, parent, teacher and the environment is fundamental to the success of this approach.
The rights of the child are celebrated and appreciated. The child is viewed as being competent, capable and full of potential. In Reggio Emilia I saw children socialising, learning, growing, developing and constructing knowledge with the support of the adults in their lives. These children demonstrated creativity, sensitivity and awareness of the world around them.
The presence of the parent in the child’s education is highly valued. Close collaboration between the parents and the school is believed to enable a broader and more complete picture of the child. Loris Malaguzzi of Reggio Emilia believes this is the best way to ensure a quality education.
The teacher in Reggio Emilia is a co-constructor of knowledge. Starting with the child’s own theories and questions it is the teacher’s task to challenge and provoke the child in order to facilitate new learning. The teacher at Reggio Emilia works alongside pedagogical coordinators and parent committees to ensure that educational content, standards and requirements are met. If the child shows an interest in a particular topic it is not simply the task of the teacher to assign it as a project for all students to complete. Rather, it is her/his job to discuss the topic with colleagues, explore its merits, map it against the educational outcomes and create a learning experience of value.
In Reggio Emilia schools are viewed as living organisms. Their physical layout and structure is believed to have a great influence on the learning that takes place. Students need space to gather in small groups. They need space to move and be free. They require an array of materials with which to work. Reggio Emilia is a place where a feeling of belonging is essential for all – child, teacher and parent.
Schools adopting a reggio approach often engage in a lot of project work. Whilst projects are important they are part of a much greater and more complex system. It is actually documentation that is the key in Reggio Emilia. Teachers are looking for ‘moments of value’ and it explained as watching for “the ants instead of always waiting for the elephants” (Amelia Gambetti-Reggio Children).
A school claiming to be adopting a reggio approach will provide endless samples of conversations, interactions between teacher and student, notes, recordings, work samples, photographs, drawings and illustrations. But far more important than that is the expert insight into those records offered by the teachers. Reggio teachers are skilled at observing children and use those observations to analyse understanding.
Documentation is the primary research tool for examining the child’s learning processes. In Reggio Emilia documentation takes place daily and it gives meaning to the children’s work. It also determines future projects, creates a log of work done and generates momentum to get the project done.
The walls of the classrooms that I visited in Reggio Emilia were covered with documentation of the current work. The interactions, recordings, images and objects were present and served as a daily reminder of the learning goals and processes in the school. The learning was alive and dynamic. There weren’t pristine posters and instructional texts adorning the walls. Rather there were plans for a bird house scribbled on the back of an envelope with a long transcript pasted next to it outlining the conversation between the teacher and the child about the need for a bird house and his ideas for the design. Below were a collection of photographs and pictures ripped from magazines showing birds and their homes across the world. Seated on the floor in front of the wall was a group of small boys busily trying to reconstruct a nest using drinking straws and twine. The teacher was recording them on the video camera in order to capture their conversation and plan accordingly for tomorrow.
What does it mean for me?
I was completely inspired by my visit to Reggio Emilia and excited by the decision of many schools to adopt this approach for the early learning centres. I believe that it celebrates children and empowers them without removing responsibility for their education from their teachers and parents. I still refer back to my experiences in Reggio Emilia when planning units of work to ensure I remain focused on who my work is for. The interest of the child and their wonder about the world is always a driving force. So too is my innate awareness of the individual needs of students and the opportunity all children need to show what they can do in their own way.
A little note for parents:
In exploring options for my daughter and faced with the task of choosing a school I would welcome a school that was empathetic with the reggio approach and inspired by it. After all, the heart of this approach is to encourage educators to question the very purpose of education and the way they do it. However, I don’t believe there can be a reggio school anywhere but in Northern Italy in a little city called Reggio Emilia and I would question any school claiming to be a “Reggio School”.
Last night I watched a documentary titled, “Hyper Parenting –Coddled Kids” with keen interest and a lot of self-reflection. After years of being the teacher in this situation…
Could I now be a blossoming Hyper Parent?
The Hyper parent also known as the Helicopter Parent is commonly referred to as a parent who pays extremely close attention to his or her child. In particular the Hyper parent focuses on the child’s problems and educational institutions. Similarly, Lawnmower parents given the chance would smooth the path before their children and mow down any obstacles they may come across.
Am I a Hyper Parent? If so, is that such a bad thing?
My Mum came to visit yesterday and quoted a doctor who advised that if a child has not eaten a bucket of dirt by the time they are five they have missed the chance to develop resistance to all kinds of allergies and illnesses. Now by no means is he suggesting we serve up bowls of dirt for dinner but the message is that perhaps we are protecting our children from too much.
At a time when my daughter is now completely mobile and into everything I am given cause to stop and assess my responses to the danger she faces.
As a parent I see danger everywhere. Dangers I didn’t know existed prior to giving birth. Suddenly the whole world seems to be made up of sharp edges, pointy ends and uneven surfaces. I constantly feel the need to protect my baby girl from the big, bad world but I am also educated to know the value of making mistakes so that she may develop resilience and empathy for others.
Last night’s documentary quoted the findings of Sergio Pellis who has researched the role of rough-housing and such play in brain development. The research has shown that children allowed to engage in a little rough housing develop more skills in decision making relating to social situations. They have a greater understanding of the nuances of social interaction. Another message that it’s okay to spend a little time getting down and dirty when playing. It seems in our current society our children are engaged in more adult enforced play and less child-oriented free play. It is a symptom of helicopter or hyper parenting and it’s not doing our children any favours.
Organised activities make us feel that we are doing the right thing by our children. Our weeks consist of swimming lessons, music classes, soccer clubs, playgroups and school. All that we feel we must do to enrich our children’s lives so that they may achieve / succeed / thrive. A few weeks ago I was at one such activity watching the end of term Soccer game. At the end everyone received a medal for the game. One of the little four-year old boys started crying and I heard him say to his Mum, “It’s not fair I kicked three goals and I got the same medal as them and they weren’t playing.” And he was right… the boys he referred to were sitting in the middle of the pitch watching ants returning to their colony whilst the game went on around them. It begs the question, Should kids get a trophy just for showing up?
At 11 months of age my daughter has two activities that she participates in on a weekly basis. The first is Swimming and the second is Music. She loves them and I wouldn’t miss them for anything because she beams with the broadest smile when doing both. I was recently challenged though when all her little friends were enrolled in a play class and she didn’t like it. She didn’t respond to the teacher and showed no enthusiasm or delight. And believe me…when she likes something you know it! I had to make the call… keep going to a class that was of no benefit or pull out and risk that she was not enriched by something that the others in her peer group were getting. After last night’s documentary and what they had to say on a similar situation, I am proud to say we withdrew from the class, I got over my guilt and can honestly say she hasn’t missed out. Perhaps I am not a complete Hyper Parent after all?
In recent times there has been an explosion of products on sale to develop early learning. We are all pressured to spend up big to ensure our kids have the right educational toys, learn to read before they can walk and listen to the right music from conception. Parents are spending more and more in efforts to stimulate their babies as much as possible. No wonder those same parents are then turning in desperation to experts for help in getting their babies to sleep! These mini-geniuses in the making are so over-stimulated they can’t switch their brains to sleep mode. I would hate to think that good parenting is equated with purchasing power. Yet we all fall into the trap at one time or another. What if I don’t buy the Fisher Price Shape Sorter? Will my baby never be able to put a shape into the right hole? My wise friend has made a wonderful toy for her baby – it’s a cardboard tissue box with the plastic removed. Her beautiful baby spends ages placing objects into the box and then shaking them out. How clever! And the best thing about it is that it’s not for lack of money, it’s because her daughter did it by chance one day and Mum embraced it. Child directed play and a golden learning moment.
There is no doubt about the pressure we all feel as parents today. The right preschool leads to the right primary school then the right high school and then gets you the right life! Once you buy into the logic it’s hard to argue the price. But this potential Helicopter parent is going to touch down on the helipad for a little while and take a breather.
Our baby is happy. Our baby is healthy. Our baby is safe. Our baby is loved.
Everything else will follow on from that.