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.

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