We hope everyone had a wonderful New Years! Our New Year's Day picnic in the garden event was big hit and we all had so much fun! Thank you to everyone who made it such a nice event. If you missed it, don't worry, now that the weather is perfect for being outdoors, we hope to have more events like this.
A little partner/acro yoga from some of our youngest yoginis!
Kids Group Yoga!
Some former students who came to support us! So great to see how much they've grown and blossomed!
Enjoying activities and the puppet show!
**In keeping with the wishes of the families of the schools I visited, I did not take pictures of their children or their work. Instead these are photos of my own son enjoying the Centers.**
During the International Study Group we got to tour three different working Reggio centers. It made all of the philosophy we had been hearing about concrete and most of all….doable! The way the educators speak about their beliefs sometimes seems beyond the reality of early childhood education. Yet, when we were in the schools seeing the staff and children interact it is clear that the philosophy is woven seamlessly into everyday realities. Teachers are documenting and photographing and providing beautiful provocations, but they are also tying shoes and wiping noses and cajoling grumpy children.
Being in the room and observing all the components working together I was struck by a few things that I think really bring to life the values of Reggio and make it possible for the values to be carried out in the ‘chaos’ of an actual school.
The environment as the third teacher.
The spaces are designed to foster independence and learning. The children are able to move from inside to outside, atelier to piazza, bathroom to classroom independently. Everything is set up to be basically ‘safe’ and to have a high degree of visibility so that a teacher does not need to follow the child to each new location, but at any moment could look up and see into many different parts of the school. This ability to see is reciprocal. The teacher is able to observe without hovering and the students feel the gaze of their teacher and peers without feeling confined. All of the spaces are also set-up in such a way that the students can help themselves. Things are not hidden away on high shelves or ‘tidied up’ and stacked. Things are out and in action. Students can explore the materials without the input of a teacher.
The trust among staff, parents, and students.
The main question that kept being whispered among the visiting educators was, “What if the children get hurt!?”. This question encompasses the question, “What if the parents blame the teacher for the child’s injury?”. We were constantly worried about sharp edges, fights, and erratic movements. Yet, the teachers were not. The parents were not. The children were not. The Reggio educators acknowledged that people are frequently concerned about safety when visiting their centers, and they do not have a prescriptive answer. They said that the biggest difference is the parents and teachers accept this level of risk but trust that everyone is working in the best interests of the children. Therefore if a child gets hurt, no one tries to assign blame.
Furthermore, the teachers give the children a level of freedom that makes the children realize and accept risk. In most schools the children are so contained and padded that they are constantly trying to break boundaries, to find out for themselves why something is ‘not allowed’. The Reggio children are not confronted with seemingly arbitrary boundaries and rules. Without this feeling of confinement, they proceed with more caution because there are no strict guidelines. In the words of the children themselves:
“Sometimes you need to disobey to learn new things.” Frederico 5
“To take a step forward you need to lose your balance.” Marco 4
The study of teaching practice and student learning.
What makes the things that take place in the Reggio schools so important and interesting is because the people doing them say they are important and interesting. The very act of documenting the children's experiences makes those experiences meaningful to the students and teachers. Then because the documentation exists other educators, parents, and students can examine it and find their own meaning in it. Teachers can ask questions about how their methods are working and can think of further questions for the students to explore. Students can look at this work and think of where to go next in their exploration. Parents and community members can see connections between the classroom and the child’s world at large.
I look forward to putting the above components into practice at the Kuwait Reggio Center!
Today we were immersed in the beautiful space of the atelier. Two atelieristas explained the long term projects they did with their students and the basic framework of a long term project. As they did, I will use the exploration I in which participated, The Secrets of Paper, to explain the Reggio framework for an atelier project.
Every project starts with a question or questions about a topic that has arisen among the staff, children, or community. The question for the on-going project I witnessed today was, what is the culture and what are the values surrounding paper despite it being one of the world’s most ‘disposable’ products? The first step for the staff of a school is to consider all aspects of this guiding question for themselves and decide what entry-points they can give children so they too can access a complex idea. These entry points will mainly be in the form of materials presented. As you can see from the pictures, we were presented with a plethora of different types of paper and tools with which to manipulate it. The atelierista had the materials organized and displayed in a beautiful way. She had carefully curated what types of paper and tools she presented. She specifically left out tape, staples, and writing instruments. She made sure to have paper in all of its forms, some that you might not immediately think of as paper, like boxes. She encouraged us not to make something, but to explore the properties of paper.
The experience of being an active member of the atelier was exciting and scary! Everyone was immediately self-conscious that we were supposedly innovative educators and being watched by our peers...we had to be creative! We had to show we were capable of doing what we asked our students to do! The atelierista let us explore and came around only to narrate what we were doing and offer extensions or suggestions. Mainly, she encouraged us to use more tools and materials. She was supportive (she fixed the sewing machine when I broke it), but also allowed us to struggle (she refused multiple people’s request for tape and staples).
It was fascinating and inspiring to see how everyone worked. I have always liked doing tasks. So I naturally chose a box to build and then enjoyed the satisfying hum of the sewing machine as I joined tissue paper together to make a long scarf. Others wanted to get messy. They were scraping, soaking, tearing, and cutting. Some people naturally formed groups. Others worked alone. At the end we were told to ‘come to a stopping place’ and reminded again that we did not need to finish anything.
During the group discussion each person explained their piece by explaining their process, their problems, their solutions, and their emotions. The atelierista’s comments were never that something was ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but simply validating what we had done and how we felt, and suggesting how we could extend it or how we could relate it back to the guiding question. Despite not giving us a certain task and encouraging us to explore, almost every person had a product. There were carpets, stories, statues, and mobiles made out paper. Some were more abstract than others, but all had a name and a story. It was clear we had all been educated to make a product.
Then we were taken upstairs to see what the Reggio children had done with this same provocation. Instead of objects there were experiments. Different types of paper were folded, crumpled, and twisted. Different opacities of paper were on top of the light table. Paper was strung from the ceiling. Paper was left to deteriorate in buckets of oil. Wads of paper in any other context would have been seen as a soggy piece of trash were actually the subject of an afternoon where students explored what would happen when paper interacts with snow. There was no purpose to the end products, even though some of them were unique and aesthetically pleasing sculptures.The purpose was the act of creating them. It was a great example of how the atelierista had explained to us that the importance of any piece of art is embedded in its process.
The atelierista explained that this comparison between the adults’ projects and the children's’ explorations provided some of the most interesting answers to the original question. She said this comparison was similar to when all the ideas and answers that different classes and schools come up with during a project are compared. Out of all the ‘messiness’ and individual processes comes a synthesis.
Twice a year the town and municipal schools of Reggio Emilia welcome educators from around the globe to see their unique approach to early childhood education. As someone who has devoted my adult life to early childhood education and has spent the last 2 years immersed in research on the Reggio approach, finally arriving in the town where it all began is an awesome experience. It feels much like a pilgrimage (complete with a grueling journey) where like-minded people who believe in the power of this place come together to be inspired, share ideas, and try to take back a piece of the ‘magic’ to their communities.
The first day was an introduction to the core values espoused by the educators of Reggio. I will not go into specifics because you can read all about the Kuwait Reggio Center’s interpretation of these values on our website. I must say though that I was struck by how poetically the presenters described their pedagogy. They gave weight and gravity to a profession that many consider ‘babysitting’. They gave respect and dignity to the thoughts and lives of children at an age when many think they need only be wiped clean and kept out of trouble.
It was validating to be spoken to as a professional, a scientist, a researcher, an explorer, an artist, and above all someone who is responsible for shaping the values that make up the foundation of our culture and community. I felt what the children in Reggio feel. We are important and we are powerful.
I read a quote recently that sums up my philosophy about the outdoors and early childhood, “nature is the best playground.” It is that simple! Children don’t need lots of fancy toys or gadgets to learn, create, have fun or discover. Instead, children gain knowledge, cognitive skills, confidence, physical skills, and self-regulation through hands-on outdoor explorations. The natural world can not be replicated on a computer screen or in a classroom and it most definitely shouldn’t be cast aside.
Outdoor play helps with:
When choosing a location for Kuwait Reggio Center, one of my main concerns was that we have a large yard to allow for outdoor play, gardening and exploration. Luckily, we found a place that met all our needs. Each day, our students get to enjoy 45 minutes of outdoor free play and additional time working in the vegetable garden. In Kuwait, it can be difficult to find such a location. Most houses have small yards or no yard, so it is very important that children are brought somewhere they can explore the outdoors. It is also fun for parents to play with their kids outside! It helps relieve stress and allows for wonderful bonding.
Below are some suggested outdoor areas to visit in Kuwait:
You might have heard the term “process art,” but what does that mean? How is it different from the “typical” art projects your child brings home from school? And what are the developmental benefits of process based art for your child?
Process art allows a child to be creative and explore with materials at their own pace, using their own ideas. There is no example or master copy that they are expected to follow. There won’t be 25 of the same project at the end of a class. Instead, children will have creative freedom, and because of this, they will ask questions about what they are doing and become more involved. The important part of the experience is the process and not the product. This allows for growth and development rather than just learning how to follow directions.
Product art usually follows a teacher model. All the crafts end up looking the same and children will often have a difficult time picking out the one they made. The teacher has already pre-cut or arranged the materials for the students and their only job is to “assemble” their craft by following the teacher’s directions. If the child makes a mistake the teacher will often “fix” their work. What you get at the end of a project like this, is uniformity. The result looks nice for mom or dad to put on the fridge or show off to family members, but what did the child learn? Really, they only learned to follow directions and during the project their creativity was put on the back burner.
When children can explore a variety of materials and test things out on their own, they will become more engaged. They will also learn more. You will often hear children talk to their teachers and their peers about what they are making. For example, a child might say, “look at what I am making! I’m adding more paint. Oh, what’s that?” By asking questions and explaining their thought processes, children are developing their language skills. They improve fine motor skills naturally by working with different materials. Finally, they gain valuable cognitive skills when they plan, predict and execute a project on their own.
Through trial and error, children will learn to self-regulate and use proper amounts of paint, glue, paper, etc. In the beginning they might dump blobs of paint all over a tiny piece of paper, or use too much glue to paste something together, but eventually they will learn how to use correct amounts. They will feel more accomplished and independent because a teacher won’t be constantly over their shoulder telling them they are using too much or too little of something. A teacher won’t be there holding their hand, basically completing a project for them. The students will truly be the creators of their own work. They will remember what they did and talk about it more freely and with a stronger vocabulary than if they were just “told” what to do.
Check out these links to learn more about process art and to get some great ideas of activities to do at home with your child!
“The kitchen is a place of life and of possible relationships, a vital space inhabited on a daily basis by adults and children, a space for thinking and research and learning.”
-Madedalena Tedeschi The Languages of Food: Recipes, experiences, thoughts
The most basic part of your relationship with your child is that you are their food provider. It is the first thing they come out of the womb wanting from you, and for the first few months it seems it is all they want from you! You create your child’s relationship with food because you are their food. Their relationship with food and their relationship with you are one and the same. This is why we will always have such a strong emotional attachment to food no matter how much we try to look at it as nothing more than fuel. The more we ‘perfect’, package, and process our calories, the more empty they feel. But that doesn't mean those calories don't taste good going in.
This is the problem for parents of small children, the bad stuff is delicious. How do you explain that something that tastes good is bad? How do you do this while also avoiding the pitfall of body shaming? How do you do this while fulfilling your primal desire for them to EAT SOMETHING. One way is to return to making food about relationships and bonding, not just about fueling up. This may seem contrary to the current trend of treating food as medicine; that we should try to make our diet biologically and chemically perfect and independent of culture, emotions, and even taste. Food should still not be used as a reward, punishment, or comfort, but it should be a special experience.
You can never compete with the taste and quick satisfaction of a Hostess Cupcake or a Happy Meal, but you can create more exciting experiences centered around healthy food. Keep fast food fast. When you do have time to spend with your child, spend it in the kitchen. Children are drawn to the kitchen because it is a sensory paradise full of textures, smells, tastes, and tools. It is also a place where they see you spending a lot of your time. Or maybe it isn't...even more reason to make an effort to cook more with your child. Unlike coloring or building blocks, cooking is an activity where you and your child can both improve your skill-set.
I am a testament to that. I was not a cook. I am still not a cook. But the beautiful thing is, my son does not know that. He enjoys the slightly-overdone, spinach muffins because he got to be the one to wash the spinach. He doesn’t care that all of his baked goods are sugar-free, because there are still plenty of other ingredients he gets to scoop and pour. He’s enjoying the process, which means that even if the product isn’t good, he is still associating positive emotions with whole, healthy foods. As am I! I love a quick sugary pick-me-up, but now that I have become comfortable in the kitchen, I find myself whipping up a snack instead of grabbing a candy bar.
The other bad habit that I have broken for my son’s sake is eating on the couch in front
of the TV. I place more importance on meal times, and even if I am not eating with him, I will sit at the table with him. We both practice switching-off and focusing on food, conversation, and each other. When we eat out I also focus on table manners and trying new foods, instead of distracting him with a screen. This does not make for a relaxing meal, but it does mean that my son is learning that eating is an experience in itself, not something to do mindlessly.
My hope is that by focusing on food as something that brings us closer together, just like it has since he was first placed on my chest as a baby, that he will have a healthy relationship with food.
A great article about gardening in preschools can be found here:
Gardening is a wonderful way to engage children and teach them about the natural world. Nature is beneficial for their development in many ways and it teaches them to respect the environment as well as come together as a community. At Kuwait Reggio Center, we have incorporated gardening into our curriculum. Students learn to grow their own vegetables and then sell them or use them in their own cooking.
A few of the ways that gardening is beneficial for young children are outlined below:
Creating a literacy rich environment is important in the home as well as in an early childhood classroom. Literacy is much more than just decoding print or using phonics. Reading and writing are only two ways of many, to express oneself. In traditional school settings, they are often boxed into limited time slots and taught in a very dry, calculated way. This method limits the child’s creativity and can lead to frustration. The Reggio approach aims to create meaningful opportunities for children to explore literacy in a holistic way. Communication with peers and adults during play or inquiries, allows children to explore letters, reading, writing, and self-expression in many ways. Below are just a few ways to help create a literacy rich environment for your child or students. Just remember, that the activities should be meaningful to YOUR child or YOUR students, so these can be adapted to fit their interests.
Make sure there is a cozy and inviting spot for reading! I like to have multiple areas with books available.
Dramatic play areas are a great place for literacy! Children are already using so much vocabulary and language to talk about what they are doing and there's also so many fun ways to add text as well!
Does your child like to dress up? Try to add opportunities for them to write. Here I put a notepad and pen, to be used for "doctors notes" in the pocket of the doctor's coat.
A few more ideas...
*Remember: Young children will explore with mark making. To us it might just look like scribbles, but this is the first step in learning how to write! Don't try to force your child to write letters or full words. Let them experiment on their own and just encourage any work they do!