Early Childhood curriculum is fascinating to me. There are many ways to provide interesting and meaningful activities and learning to young children. This is compounded by the endless number of Early Childhood educators who have been inspired by one or several curricula, taken what works for their particular group of children, and made it their own.
The Reggio Emilia approach has always impressed me, partly because of its pure dedication to emergent curriculum and how it evokes joy in young children. There is amazing bi-directional support and intermingling between the school and the city that has created a powerful sense of community that is enviable. And then, the fascination is also partly me. Even from the beginning, I was a “loose parts” kind of teacher. I’ve found that turning children loose with “stuff” opens up some incredible learning in directions only they could have imagined.
Every one of my excursions became a treasure hunt for new sensory materials. My basement was stacked with totes and when I no longer taught preschool, I found it ever-so-hard to part with my “stash”… even though it was warmly adopted by several child care programs. (In my mind's eye, I can see many readers nodding right now with mutual understanding!)There are still 3 containers I couldn’t part with and occasionally my husband would ask why I still needed them, but he has stopped asking. Oh, they’re not collecting dust! My students at the college use them to explore ideas for activities and when my grandchildren visit, they beg for Grandma to get out her “magic boxes.”
I had visited several traveling Reggio exhibitions in the past 15 years and it fed my fascination, but I wanted more. I wanted to see how educators in this country were taking these ideas and using them here.
So, I attended a 14-hour workshop this past weekend facilitated by Reggio staff from Italy, along with an American child care director who had, over a period of 10 years, merged the Reggio approach with a more traditional curriculum.
I was hopeful and anticipated learning what I longed to know.
The first ¾ of the workshop consisted of a review of everything wonderful (and what I already knew) about the Reggio Emilia approach, utilizing PowerPoint slides and videos… the joyful children, the curtain project, the Shadow Story.
Finally, the child care director’s story began to unfold. They first had to re-purpose some of the materials they had from the existing curriculum and get rid of the rest that they felt would not align with Reggio… everything made of plastic, for example. She showed slides of all that was removed, making it seem almost despicable that these items were ever considered learning materials. Next, all of the teacher-made items bit the dust. The director showed sincere embarrassment that she herself had been the one to cut out those brown and orange leaves that hung on the wall and had put up that alphabet border.
It was then I sat back in my chair and began to reflect on Early Childhood Education and more specifically, Early Childhood teachers in this country.
Every one of our educated and dedicated teachers is special and unique and has the right to follow his or her own direction. They can be influenced by certain curricula, but they don’t have to feel the need to copy it. Teachers have every right to make it their own. They can express emergent curriculum in ways that are valuable for the children in their programs and that align with and work under the restrictive guidelines set by our state child care licensing agencies… something that isn’t as much of an issue in other countries.
There should not be any shaming for what our teachers do. They should feel good and confident about how they are teaching, the materials they choose to use, how they are documenting the children’s learning, and how they set up their classrooms. We don’t have to feel pressured to have a program that is “inspired by” any other. We should feel empowered to be our own inspiration.
I think there is something more important to learn from Reggio Emilia… immersing young children in their communities. There is no reason why children cannot be at the center of our cities, as they are in Italy. This can be a wonderful goal for us all… bringing our children’s projects and documentation out of the classroom and into the neighborhoods… inviting the public into the world of children’s learning and letting them be a part of it. There are many places where this is already happening!
I envision a time when other places in the world are inspired by what our wonderful teachers are doing to bring joy to young children’s learning.