Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Sharing BHCP's Work in Reggio

Part of the internationality day provided an opportunity for us to share work from BHCP with our fellow workshop participants. Not knowing what kind of format or space would be available until that day, prior to leaving for Reggio we copied reflections, pictures, art work and other forms of documentation and brought it all with us. It turned out that a limited number of tables were set up and that we could use some of their display areas for our contributions. We could not take the entire space over with our wares, so we chose to feature the Green class’s bird project and the Blue class’s philosophy night story making from this year to show others the ways we work with both children and their families. Here is what we heard:

“The parent story is a great way to explain your thinking about the very difficult task of collaboration without standing in front and talking. It makes evident the challenges we offer children everyday – we ask them to do things beyond their comfort zones and take risks (the only way to learn). But we, as adults, are not often challenged that way. If something is too difficult for us, we don’t choose to do it (or we hire someone to do it for us!). Thank you for sharing this fabulous idea.” –Debbie from New York City

“I love the connection and continuity you achieved when the Green class invited the younger students to take over this much cherished task. The instruction manual? Wow!” –Josefina, Mexico City

“The ‘take home’ lesson for me was the importance and benefit of the parents being able to experience the same type of learning process that their children experience. Putting themselves in that position would, hopefully, make them more supportive of the teachers and build community among parents as they have the chance to brainstorm and work together. Very inspiring! Thank you.” –Karen from Winston-Salem

As we visited the other participant’s work, we were moved by the images of children from different nations learning in the ways we also value. We are including pictures here from Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.

We also realize the impact that internationality has had on our experience here, as we unpack the sessions with our new friends from all over the world. Our capacity for understanding has grown because we hear how children are approached in many different countries and we also learn how the other participants will approach children after being in Reggio Emilia. We are including a picture of Lani from Minnesota, Elisabeth and Emelie from Sweden, and Man-Wing from Vancouver to highlight our special relationship with them. BHCP is now a member of a much larger community of learners.

Friends, friends
Ett, tva, tre

All my friends are here with me!

--Swedish version

Internationality Helps Us Construct Our Learning

A topic that has been discussed frequently during the conference and had an entire day of focus was the subject of internationality. This topic is valued by the Reggio organization because as we begin to learn how the Reggio approach plays out in different contexts, we can reflect on our own practices and perhaps construct new meanings for what we do in our school.

In Reggio Emilia, internationality is celebrated and honored for its examination of differences; it’s not an attempt to find commonalities or melt everyone together. If we choose to focus on differences, this offers the opportunity to broaden our view points.

Several participants from around the world were selected to present information from their contexts.

Clare from Australia shared a story about a community’s shift in its image of children when an organization wanted to make a public library more accessible for families. The prevailing sentiment among the library officials was that children were loud, destructive, and messy and did not have a place at the library. And, you want to let them do art there? Clare and her organization worked to bring change in the library: providing parents information to help them plan their visit, enlarging the entrance to allow strollers to pass through, providing spaces for families to gather, and developing themes with artistic possibilities to provide a thread. Through this work, the image of the child has shifted among the library officials and children are now welcome visitors in all parts of the library, even the “white glove” special collection section.

Krystin from Iceland shared a change in the way children in her school transitioned from home to the preschool classroom at the beginning of their preschool journey. The school had been allowing a graduated start for the children, which would result in a period of 7-14 days for children to attend a full school day. (In Iceland full day/week preschool is available at age 3 and almost everyone takes advantage of it). The teachers reflected on this practice of having a graduated start and realized that it was rooted in trying to help children practice being away from their parents. Instead, they decided that they wanted children to practice doing school comfortably. They also took into consideration that starting school was a huge change for the entire family. So, in the first weeks of school last year, teachers carried out a regular program and invited parents to be in the classrooms and stay as long as they needed to help everyone adjust to the change. It took families about 3-4 days to transition to preschool, with children staying the full day without their parents.

Josephine and Yvonne from Mexico City shared a project about trees. They work in an inner city private preschool without much open green space. However, there was a small tree growing fruit in their yard. The children noticed this and thought it was a lemon tree since the fruit was yellow. A few weeks later the fruit ripened and the children realized they were peaches. Someone wondered if trees grow many kinds of fruits. A project about fruits, trees, cacti and flowers grew from this conversation. Because of the school’s urban setting, the teachers showed the value of planning visits to places like orchards so children could collect “field notes” and hear from experts.

Finally, Anshul from India offered his perspective on the many recent changes in India, which include a growing positive image of the country in the global economy. However, leaders there have begun to realize that a new kind of talent must be grown among the society to continue its participation. Only recently did a law pass that makes education compulsory at age 6—a great step for India. Anshul acknowledges that it will take a huge mind shift among Indian leaders (and perhaps a life changing event) to bring about significant changes to the educational system there, but he sees the Minister of Education as a person who actively works to make change. Anshul has opened 3 Reggio inspired preschools in India and is using his connections to the media industry to get the word out to the Indian people about the aspects of quality programs.

Stayed tuned for more—coming up soon—about the poster session where we shared BHCP work with our international community here!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Image of the Child

The discussion about the image of the child began by talking about the many possible ways to view children (you can never cut to the chase here!). Some perspectives mentioned include:
• Children are empty vessels, waiting for adults to fill them with knowledge. The knowledge has been decided by the adults.
• Children are innocent and need to be protected.
• Children are born with a predetermined capacity and the teacher's job is to draw it out.
Of course, the above beliefs are contrary to how the teachers in Reggio view children. In Reggio schools, a child is thought of as capable and competent and should experience an education that allows him or her to predict, test and construct complex ideas through multiple languages. This is why the mayor and others have expressed how proud they are that so many children in Reggio attend preschool (40%). They believe that the school environment provides the context for such powerful children to have opportunities for significant stimulation.

In the same discussion about the image of the child, the presenters chose to share the experience of a "special rights" child named Francesco. In Reggio Emilia, a child is identified by the local agencies as having a disability. An additional teacher is assigned to a class for every identified child. In this circumstance, Francesco was a boy who participated in the 4s and 5s classes with a diagnosis of mental retardation. He had no language and had difficulty with mobility.

As in many scenarios we have heard or read about, the teachers were upfront about their concerns and doubts about their own abilities to work with a child like Francesco. Would they be able to help him? But through careful observation, they notice that Francesco sought social interaction with his classmates, and soon the other children in the class realized what he could do. In one example, the children were building a tower and offered Francesco a block to hand to another child. The expectation for Francesco’s participation was never questioned by the children. The other children became problem solvers as they modified tasks for him and they grew their capacity for compassion and understanding of differences. Viewing the tenderness and sincerity in the children was quite moving for everyone in the room.

Another emotional discussion came when Amelia Gambetti proudly shared how her involvement with the Model Early Learning Center (MELC) forever changed her life. The MELC was a school founded by Ann Lewin-Benham in the 1980s and housed in the Capitol Children’s Museum when it was near Union Station. The center served children aged 3 – 6 in a Reggio inspired program. One of the school’s teachers was Jennifer Azzariti, who has helped develop the BHCP teaching staff over the years. As Amelia put it, the MELC offered the best to children who had nothing. Instead of viewing the children as disadvantaged victims of their horrible home lives, the visionary teachers built a community where the adults trusted the children and the children trusted back. We were extremely proud to hear Amelia talk about the important work done at the MELC, illustrating to everyone in the summer institute that if you view children as capable, they can do anything.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

In Harmony With Nature

You are only fully aware of a space when you have lived it in all weather.

We visited Allende School where children spend as much time outside as possible. They use the outdoors as the classroom and many natural materials are present. It reminded Kelley and me a lot of BHCP because of the value they place on outdoor play.

Life in Reggio

Every day, we take a 20 minute walk to the Loris Malaguzzi Centre. The streets are pedestrian and bike friendly with few cars in the city. Many people are on bikes--the very young and very old. There are no Vespas zooming around like other Italian cities.

The historic part of the city feels like a maze with 4-5 story buildings lining the streets and alleys. We pass churches, museums and the many shops that sell food, clothing and of course, shoes. Businesses and cultural landmarks seem to open around 9:00 am and close for siesta from 1 pm to 4 pm. They re-open in the late afternoon and close for the day around 7:30 pm. Our sessions seem to run during these business hours, so it has been difficult to experience all the city has to offer.

Last night, as we hear is true of every Wednesday, there was a festival in the town called Reggio in Rosa. Every piazza and restaurant was transformed with pinks and purples and cultural opportunities to provide a place for the citizens to gather and enjoy the city. Bands and duets were playing live music at every turn. Historic images of the town projected on screens and we even saw a belly dancer. People also gathered to watch the semi-final game of the World Cup. The shops and restaurants stayed open until 11 pm but the party in the streets lasted well into the night.

Italian fashion right now seems to be infused with purple, raspberry and lavender, in both men's and women's clothing. Other popular styles include shoes with ankle cuffs (like a combination boot/sandal); linen clothing; shirts, skirts and pants that poof like a bubble at the hem; and men wearing colorful scarves. The people watching in Reggio has been most enjoyable!

Drawing as a Graphic Language

I (Susan) attended a lecture entitled “At The Cinema: Drawing as a Research Tool”. This subject was very interesting to me since the 2009-2010 intention at Beverley Hills Church Preschool was “Why do we draw?”

The presenter explained that a group of teachers wanted to focus on the language of drawing. He said, “Children just draw, they just do. We don’t have to ask them. What can we discover and confirm about children and their drawing?” The presenter then described how these questions influenced the experiences of the children.

In the 4-5 year old class at one school, they have a block of time for drop-off in the morning. So, some children come earlier than others. While they wait for the whole class to be present, they have time to explore the classroom.
One day, a group of 4 children gathered at the drawing table. This was a spontaneous group, not a planned group. The teacher happened to be near enough to the table to document the children’s discussions but was not directly involved at their table. She overheard Alex say, “I went to the cinema the other day.”

At the end of the day, the teachers discussed the work done in the classroom. One teacher had drawings that the children had done. The other teacher had the conversation and the teachers connected the pieces together.

The presenter showed us photos of the drawings. There were up-side-down figures with their feet touching a flat rectangle. Alex was not satisfied with his work and said, “I wanted to do children at the cinema but…it looks like they’re attached to the roof.” This study goes on and many different techniques are used among the 4 children to show the idea of going to the cinema but nobody seems happy with their results.

The teachers decide to consult previous drawings to see if the subject of drawing the cinema had come up before. It had. The teachers see that this is a great opportunity for a class project. The teachers took what they had found and brought it to the whole group. They showed the works of the children in the spontaneous morning group. The whole class observed the drawings and made comments. They also used their bodies to imitate what they saw in the drawings. Then the teachers asked, “Would you like to try to draw children watching a film at the cinema?”

The supplies were carefully selected. The children started trying. They spoke as they drew and their comments were captured by the teachers. They were experimenting with perspective. There was some struggle with placement of the screen in relation to the way the people in the drawings were facing. One child said, “We need to think about it a little bit. It isn’t easy at all to make a drawing of the cinema.”
There was a trip planned to the theater. This was a wonderful opportunity to see the rows of chairs with children in them. This changed some drawings. The placement of heads and feet were considered more carefully. The experience of going to the theater provided another perspective for the children.

The teachers wondered why the children had drawn faces and then scratched through them. More research was done to discover that the scratching over of a face represented the backs of head because from the back of the theater you don’t see the face, only hair.

Hearing about this project made me more deeply regard drawing as a method for me to understand the children’s thoughts and ideas. There are communications within drawings if we only listen.

A Visit to ReMida

In typing up this reflection on my visit to ReMida, I realized that 4 pages was probably too long for the blog. I want to share with you that the experiences Kelley and I have had the opportunity to participate in are packed with rich philosophy and content. I think that the best thing that I can do is offer a slice of my experience but I will have to hold some material for future sharing. In this particular entry, I also want to share that there is a lot of philosophy/theory involved but I will be telling you about the events.

I had the opportunity to go to a facility called ReMida. The center collects, exhibits, and offers alternative and reclaimed materials, obtained from unsold stock and rejects or discard materials from industrial and handicraft production, with the aim to reinvent their use and meaning. This facility is a project run through the Municipality of Reggio Emilia. It is a resource for teachers, parents and artists.

The name of the workshop I attended was "Material books: Intrinsic Possibilities in Materials Fashioned into Books" by Alba Ferrari and Luisa Cigni. We had a tour of the facility. You can see the pictures. They also had many aesthetically beautiful ways to display their recaptured materials. The instructors provided examples of their work, and one parent workshop involved storytelling. The provocation involved working in small groups to tell a story from a fabric color swatch book with no words. The story the parents told was so interesting and creative that I simply enjoyed hearing the story.

Alba and Luisa provided my study group with the challenge of creating an “unreadable book” like the one used in this parent group. We were encouraged to use any materials we found in ReMida. There were two rules. First, the book should be unusual, without words, curious, attractive and no more than 8 pages. Second, it should fall into one of the following categories: mono-chrome (one color), olfactory (smell), square, bi-chrome (two colors), sound, rectangular, black/white or round. In walking around to look at the various materials, I listened to another participant named Elizabeth who was viewing the materials. She was talking to herself as she looked. And, if you know me, you know that I was also doing the same thing. In listening, I realized that we were saying the same things. I suggested that we might want to work together and Elizabeth agreed. We fashioned a square book that is meant to be read with the sense of touch and without the sense of vision. We proved a blind fold that read, “Touch. No Look.”

The possibilities are endless when you give new life to discarded materials.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

“Numbers Never Stop” –Annalisa; age 5,6

Kelley attended a break-out session today about math contexts in preschools. Children are naturally attracted to the relationships between objects, which is really the basis of math. For example, you may have noticed young children putting objects in a line and enhancing these sequences by adding more materials or creating variations. Children also rely on gestures and their body to become aware of space, i.e. - placing both feet inside a floor tile or extending their arms as they pass through a hallway. It is important for us to observe children carefully, pay attention to how they express themselves mathematically, hypothesize about their mathematical exploration, and provide an environment to continue experiences.

The Hundred Languages of Children from Reggio

Today’s focus was on the hundred languages of children. Here are some thoughts on this fundamental theory here:

• Children know the world around them largely through non-verbal languages; their way of knowing is multi-sensory and multidisciplinary by nature.
• The capacity for children’s expression through many languages is often unrecognized and/or underestimated.
• From their careful observations of children, the educators in Reggio Emilia maintain that the aesthetics IS the way of knowing and the arts offer poly-sensory ways to explore and make sense of the world.

An example described children building trees out of clay. To make the trunk balance and stand upright, children make connections to the properties of real trees and what is necessary for trees to sustain life. When the teacher watches to see what the children do to make the tree stand up, different forms for different solutions to this problem are noted. The learning becomes visible.

When we consider the multiple ways children show their understanding, we focus on making connections and not separating knowledge.

A challenge for teachers of very young children is to understand their thinking when they have so few words with which to tell us. Children give us messages with their bodies. The body IS the mind. We should watch children closely to gain insight into their thinking.

This is all still highly theoretical and will be the source of good discussion as we unpack with you upon our return. We can’t believe this is only day two of our time here—the amount of information we have taken in makes it feel like two weeks! Phew!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

We Hit the Ground Running!

Today was a full day with morning lectures about the cultural project that is the Loris Malaguzzi International Center, which is located in a former cheese warehouse. Carla Rinaldi spoke about the need for educators to have an international perspective, recognizing that the best pedagogy comes from the outside and that it is important to keep looking outward in a mode of “permanent research”. If you don’t research, you become stagnant and stuck in the status quo.

We also heard from the principal architect in charge of the building and renovation of the International Center as well as the graphic designer who led a team to create the logo for the center. Much of their presentations were unrelated to teaching, but their involvement highlighted how important it is for experts in these fields to understand the pedagogy of the schools.

The preschool and primary school attached to the International Center was designed by teams of pedagogistas, atelieristas, architects, and designers who took many things into consideration in its planning. We were not able to take pictures inside the school, but we have a few examples of the kinds of soft furniture designed for the schools. Here is what struck us about this unbelievable space:

• Huge open spaces, high ceilings, sky lights, large open windows, transparent walls and openings.
• The classrooms are situated around a large piazza that was large and open. In the piazza there was dress up, many places to pause/sit/explore, and resources for parents.
• There are spaces designed for small groups of children to do different activities.
• Every classroom had a mini-studio.
• There were 6 additional studios dedicated to light (huge screen), body/senses, movement & music, sound, painting (8’ X 4’ paper on the floor), and nature (stones, leaves, branches, projector and 3’ x 9’ light table).
• Each classroom was two levels, providing an opportunity for children to change their point of view. Second floor had sleeping cots and room for project work.
• The rear of the classroom was terraced with 12” risers. Creates smaller work spaces and endless possibilities for play.
• A paved courtyard with small stones.
• A dining area with a variety of table heights and chair/mat options.
• Bathrooms with 4 sinks of varying sizes and with different spigots to allow for water play.
• Tape measurers and lines representing the children’s heights in the bathroom with pictures of the children taped beside. In older classrooms a number recorded, too.
• Preschool classes had 24-26 children and two teachers. We have no idea how many studio teachers there were.
• Classroom walls were white with one accent wall of color. The rest of the center was light yellow, blue, green and orange.
• Very few blocks! Only 2 medium sized tubs and 1 tub of cardboard rolls for building. Perhaps to push children to look for alternatives?
• A light table embedded in a floor mat to enable children to crawl up to and/or lay down to explore or draw.
• At least three spaces for children’s belongings: mailboxes, cubby space, and portfolio collection boxes. Maybe lockers also—we didn’t open them, though.
• Did not see outdoor play space. Did have an amphitheater.

Happy 4th of July!

On Sunday, the 4th of July, we ventured to the Loris Malaguzzi International Centre to register and hear welcome remarks from Amelia Gambetti of Reggio Children. We boarded buses to the Tricolore Hall, where the Italian flag was born, to hear the mayor of Reggio Emilia welcome us. He was quite candid about the challenges of the town—a growing immigrant population, dwindling tax base, to name a few—but was proud to report that of children aged 0-3, 40% attend preschool in Reggio Emilia (compared to 10% nationwide). Our evening with Reggio Children concluded with a reception in the Piazza San Prospero—the Italians supplied the Americans with Independence Day accessories—and a walking tour of the city with Amelia’s husband, Sergio.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

We Made It to Reggio Emilia!

After 2 planes, 2 trains and 2 taxis, we finally made it to Reggio Emilia after 17 hours of travel! We are having some technical difficulties, as we have to wait until Monday to register with the Municipality to obtain internet access in our hotel. Luckily we have met a fellow workshop attendee from India who offered her laptop and hotel internet connection.

When we explored our hotel's breakfast room, Susan peeked out the window into the piazza below and spotted THE stone lions outside of a church. We read about the lions that captivated the children and have been the inspiration of projects here. We knew we had arrived in Reggio!