**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!