I wanted to let you know that I haven’t given up on the work of the Co-op. The past few weeks have been wonderfully hectic as I try to draw some threads together before the end of June. The following entry is also posted on my personal blog space, but I was always get different eyes here, so I thought I would cross-post!
My two young boys attend a day care center that is based on a Reggio Emilia-inspired approach to teaching and learning. The Reggio approach, named after the northern Italian city where it originated, is grounded in some very specific beliefs about the way that children, especially young children, learn:
- Children must have some control over the direction of their learning;
- Learning is most powerful when seen as a sensual experience; children learn through experiences of touching, moving, listening, seeing, and hearing;
- Children have a relationship with other children and with material items in the world. Children must have the opportunity to explore these relationships.
- Children must have endless ways and opportunities to express themselves. All symbolic languages, including dance, drama, sculpture, and writing are considered to be valuable and honoured forms of expression.
Over the next few weeks, I wanted to share with you a few of the stories that have emerged from our experience of having two young boys in this program, and some of the connections that I’m beginning to make between early learners and my own philosophy of education.
“I’ll show you mine,” he said with enthusiasm, as he climbed up on the bench positioned beneath the display. He pointed to chick near the top.
“Oh,” I said. Having paused for a few seconds to take in the scene, I realized that, save for the colour, my son’s chick bore no resemblance to the others in the display. I put a hand on Sean’s shoulder and commented, “Well, yours is the most interesting one up there. Did you give your chick a name?”
“Nope, just chick”, he sighed.
As Sean settled into his classroom for the day, I called his teacher over and, with tongue firmly planted in cheek said, “Excuse me, I would like to you about my son’s chick.”
“Oh?” Miss Barb said.
“Yes, it’s…it’s…well, it’s different than all the rest.”
“Oh, that’s OK,” she assured me, “We encourage each child to be creative. We simply provide them with a few instructions, the materials that we’re using, and the rest is up to them!” In our brief conversation, Sean’s teacher recalled having the same type of reaction when she first started being trained in the Reggio approach. After all, it’s hard not to concentrate on the final product and compare student’s efforts and abilities according to what they produce.
“So, it’s not like they were following a pattern or anything,” I suggested.
There was something very reassuring about the explanation, but I couldn’t resist adding, “Well, it looks like his chick hasn’t quite hatched yet!”
When I got home that evening, I went back to a newsletter that the school had given us when we first arrived. I found an article by Danielle Lalonde, R.E.C.E on the difference between art projects and craft/science projects. In a Reggio-inspired art project, she writes:
- the process is the thing;
- the goal is personal expression;
- students should be given many choices of materials;
- products will usually be very different;
- things are always open ended;
- an idea or model only as starting point;
- the focus is on being different.
I think of my own earliest experiences with visual arts. I learned very early on that the work that I produced in school never came close to that which my peers produced. I was enthusiastic enough about using crayons, scissors, construction paper and glue but what I came up with never quite looked like it was supposed to! Or did it?
We’re happy to have found a program for our children that nurtures a sense of expression and honours the process over the product. I’m not naïve enough to think product will never be important. In fact, in a consumer-driven culture, product is a very important thing. In these early years of development, however, encouraging a sense of exploration and uniqueness in our children is much more important to us than having them able to reproduce something that hangs in unison on a classroom display wall.
I go back to Danielle’s description of the values with which children in a Reggio-inspired program engage in their artistic explorations. I wonder how many of these could be extended beyond the pre-school years and find a home in our elementary schools and, perhaps, beyond.
Is self-expression and the development of a unique voice part of the way we see school-based education? Does the idea of school as a place of socialization—a place where we learn to conform—conflict with the idea that difference and individuality is a good thing? Who and what is threatened when we hold up one goal as being more important than the other? Although I lean more towards the difference/individuality end of the spectrum now, will my view change as my children become more immersed in the experience of this place we call school?
Your thoughts, insights and expertise are very welcome here!