Let’s Fall in Love

by | Jun 5, 2024 | Articles, Front Page

The Reggio Emilia Approach

 

“Children and young people have the right to relate to a school in a way that is similar to falling in love.” – Massimo Recalcati

It was the first morning of our study week in Reggio Emilia, Italy. Educators from Canada, Australia, and the United States had gathered expectantly to learn more about the Reggio Emilia Approach – an approach that has influenced Ontario’s early learning pedagogy and kindergarten program, as well as pedagogy in other Canadian provinces, in Australia, and many other countries throughout the world. When the words of Massimo Recalcati were shared from the podium by an Italian pedagogista at the Loris Malaguzzi Centre, you could hear a pin drop. Our note taking paused as we processed this notion that school should and could be a place that drew children into learning with enchantment and love.

The Reggio Emilia Approach

 

As educators we do experience joyful moments in our programs and classrooms with young children, but in Canada, at least, envisioning our educational systems as engendering feelings akin to falling in love each and every day is still a stretch for many of us.  Our educational systems narrow our gaze to seek out and prove that children are moving along an expected developmental and academic trajectory. And in our programs and classrooms we talk a lot about children’s ‘behaviours’, and how to work with children who have ‘special needs’. What exactly did these Reggio Emilia educators mean? How can they create a feeling of ‘falling in love’ with school for all children?

Their explanations intrigued us.

The environment

 

 

“We think of this (falling in love with school) in a systemic way. Children must feel beauty. They must inhabit space for research and discovery. This means the space is concrete but also filled with imagination. Everything is considered carefully. The atelier is considered as carefully as the dining area. No spaces are more important than another. If we believe the child is integrated between mind and body, our school spaces must be integrated, including spaces indoors and outdoors.” (Maddelena Tedeschi)

The child

 

 

Though the eyes of Reggio Emilia educators, there are no children with ‘special needs’. There are, however, children with ‘special rights’, and these children, like all children, are seen as capable and rich in potential. Their ‘rights’ are to be understood and supported in ways that offer them possibilities for expression and participation. The Reggio Emilia Approach is rooted in an understanding that every child embodies a 100 languages (and more) that shape and define who they are and who they are becoming. Educators strive to tune into these varied languages with respect and appreciation. They choose to focus on children’s curiosities, strengths, and what is just slightly out of their reach to achieve independently (Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development). They dismiss the idea of comparing children to other children, or to strategize how to get children into the box of expected classroom norms.

The teaching process

 

At the centre of the Reggio Emilia Approach is relationships – between children and children; between children and adults; between adults and adults. Each of these pluralities of relations are considered carefully by educators in their early learning programs. Neither child nor adult is a blank slate. We are all constructing the dynamics of learning through negotiation.

They believe that it is essential for children to enjoy spontaneous, creative, and free experiences where teachers observe, learn, and try to understand what children are questioning. Teachers learn from the children through this deep listening, enabling educators to bring an informed intention for children’s engagement and learning that blends both adult and child knowledges. The learning experiences are negotiated and shaped with the children.

 

As the study week continued, those of us gathered from around the world could feel ourselves falling in love with the ways their infant-toddler centres, preschools, and schools engaged children in clever and insightful learning, in participation with the larger community, and reinforced to all children that they were seen, heard, and appreciated for who they were.

And I wonder

 

 

What do children need to feel that sense of longing to learn with other children, educators, materials, and spaces in our programs? What do they need to experience time standing still through their engagement and discovery of new ideas and possibilities? …. What do children need to fall in love with learning in our programs and classrooms?

What do we need to do, be, and believe to make that happen?