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One Hundred Languages: The Way to Know

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It started when I gave my students a passage from The Hundred Languages of Children to analyze and discuss. It was, I confess, rather abstruse, and they were speechless when I asked for opinions. In frustration, I blurted out: Malaguzzi took it one step further. Vygotsky said that language was interdependent with growth and development. He was talking about verbal language. Malaguzzi asserted that the hundred languages at children’s disposal were interdependent with their development. All of these languages helped them express what they knew and furthermore, changed them and those around them. I was rather emphatic, as I can be, sometimes when talking about children. But I gave them this example:

At a NAREA conference, George Forman showed a video of mobile infants, sitting on the floor, watching teachers spin pot lids like tops. The babies watched, and then expressed their understanding of what they saw: They began undulating their bodies as they sat! The babies were being playful, but their behavior was purposeful. This is how a baby expresses a concept. I believe there was a combination of physical, intellectual and emotional intent inherent in their behavior. Teachers provided the “provocation”, and the babies went for it.  So much cognitive development going on, and in an artistic language—dance!

Similarly, older children at play are exploring concepts through different modes of expression. Stomping around to imitate dinosaurs demonstrates a three’s understanding of force, as well as their understanding of psychological intent (intimidation, power). Painting a picture demonstrates a four’s understanding of light and dark, one’s day, or the universe. Sharing work with each other can bring more learning and development. My boys, last year, began drawing from a picture of a T-Rex. Every day they took time to gather and draw, pointing out different parts of the picture to each other, arguing about perspective, detail and color (Constructive arguing, I like to call it). This was interdependent learning at its finest.

Teachers in a center situation can be a potent resource, asking questions that bring out the intent of play (“Oh, I see you are making a house” doesn’t cut it!).  A teacher must be a grounding presence; an advocate for the individual child’s intent, even when the child doesn’t yet know what that intent is. To continually look for the intent through listening, observing, and collaboration is to be the “intentional teacher” that we all seek to be. This teacher (and other members of the team) provides what is necessary for children to seek the experiences they need, and to express their learning in powerful ways. A teacher moves with the children; s/he collaborates with them.

All along, documentation validates children’s playful work; a combination of purposeful collaboration between adults and children. Anything a child has to share along the way is a valid contribution to that ongoing documentation. Thus the children see their own evolving concepts in art, language, photography, and three-dimensional models. They see photographs of their amazing exploits on the playground, or in the woods. Discussing where they’ve been, they plan where they are going. There is a deep connection to a learning community that respects and seeks to understand their process. The hundred languages are vehicles for their growth and development, so teachers shouldn’t be shy about providing just what the children need in any given moment, looking for the intent (see above). All of this, it goes without saying, happens in an atmosphere of joy and humor. 

What began, for me, as a brainstorm—Malaguzzi went further than Vygotsky—ends in a plea for respectful community among children, teachers and parents. Listen and watch the children. They are expressing and leading their own development and learning. 

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Gail teaches Early Childhood Education as an Adjunct Associate Professor for Northern Virginia Community College, one of the largest community college systems in the country. She is a popular trainer in the DC area, leading workshops on such topics as Engaging, Arts-Based and Outdoor Learning, and Guiding Behavior. She is a member of the Virginia Community College Peer Group which collaborates with the Virginia Department of Social Services to train and license childcare professionals throughout the state. Her blog on BAM's EdWords is referenced in several arts websites, and is used in Early Childhood courses throughout Virginia. She is also a member of NAREA, the North American Reggio Emilia Alliance. You can contact her for more information about Professional Development opportunities. 


Gail lives and works in Northern Virginia. Her special interests include arts-integration, play, Reggio Emilia, music and yoga. 

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Guest Saturday, 18 November 2017