Our Image of Children – the Competent Child

by | May 22, 2024 | Articles

… with the words of Carla Rinaldi

I recently had the privilege of taking part in a study tour with educators from Ontario and Australia to delve more deeply in the pedagogy of the Reggio Emi lia Approach (REA). The days were intense as we listen and thought together about REA principles that are also reflected in How Does Learning Happen: Ontario’s Pedagogy for the Early Years.

So much of the work at Reggio Emilia radiates from a strong image of the child as ‘competent, capable of complex thinking, curious and rich in potential.” (How Does Learning Happen: Ontario’ Pedagogy for the Early Years, p. 6

But what does it really mean when we say a newborn is capable? Is a toddler or preschooler demonstrating complex thinking when they race toward something we know could cause them harm? Surely our role as educators is to keep children safe, anticipate their needs, and help them learn important information. But do these beliefs emerge from an image of children who are weak, needing our protection, and needing to be filled up with the right information that adults must give?  How do our beliefs and actions show children that we see them as competent and capable?

Carla Rinaldi, an internationally respected speaker and professor of the Reggio Emilia Approach, shares her insights about this juxtaposition. Children are born incomplete, yet competent; born with a lot of possibilities but at the same time their brain continues to grow.

If we view the child as weak, or as an empty vessel needing to be filled, we are ignoring the myriad of ways children communicate even before they learn to speak with words. We miss recognizing their profound abilities to offer their love and trust. This is a value they bring to us, reminding and teaching us that humanity can be built through trust.

When we view the child as competent, Rinaldi continues, we see the child as generous – a child who opens a new vision and possibility to the parents. With the birth of a child so is a mother and father born. The child is also generous in being able to generate a competent teacher who learns from the child.

As educators and parents our responsibility is great to give children the quality of experiences that they need to be citizens of the present and become responsible citizens of the future. How we view children profoundly shapes the experiences we offer children in our programs and classrooms.

I invite you to watch this interview as Carla Rinaldi describes ‘The Competent Child’ (7:47 minute). Our image of the child is a cornerstone to what and how we teach.