The second full day of our Study Tour found us a 30-minute, shoppers paradise walk from our Hotel: the Lorus Malaguzzi Center. It is a splendid building dedicated to the philosophy and work of Lorus Malaguzzi. The open spaces, called “Ateliers” (French for ‘workshop‘) welcomed the discovery and inquiry of children and adults. The auditorium, expandable to seat 400, welcomed the nearly 200 North American tour participants.
The first full day of lecture focused on the history of Reggio Children and the commitment of the entire Reggio Emilia community to the development of their young children. In 1947, after World War II and during the reconstruction of a devestated country, the city declared education as an ‘unalienable right.’ And, today, after nearly 70 years, the entire town retains the political will to make visible the ‘culture of children.’
The Reggio Children movement, was, not surprisingly, led by the town’s women. Full ‘citizenship’ was awarded to mothers and their children after the war. Thus infant and toddler programs (0 months to 3 years) as well as pre-school programs (3 years to 6 years), influenced by Vygotsky, Erickson, Dewey, and Bettleheim, became an ‘expressive place’ for children. By 1960 the ‘Reggio pedagogy’ was thriving and generally accepted. In 1972 the city drafted a political document that outlined foundational principles that codified this child-centered pedagogy. It established rules for managing the municipal schools, including mandatory participation of parents, active engagement in learning for children and teachers, a focus on relationship-building and on the natural environment, and the establishment of an “Atelierista” (a workshop leader) to promote the integration of visual learning; making/creating using the 100 languages of learning.
By 1980 the ‘Reggio Approach’ to early childhood education – where all learning springs directly from children’s interests, questions, and ideas – had become a global phenomenon. The responsibility of the municipality to continue to build the concrete conditions that protect the rights of children had become a sustainable value in the Reggio Emilia community. And, even through hard times of unemployment and declining population, the city continues to put its money where its values lie. This altruism, this fidelity to the future, was my biggest take-away from the entire tour experience. And, it begs this question: Why can’t the richest country on the planet provide similar educational foundation to its youngest citizens?
What about teachers and professional development in this emergent pedagogy? What place do they have if children lead all learning? Simply put, students of every age arrive at school as COMPETENT learners. Smart, caring teachers, then, develop the context for learning by setting up spaces for active discovery. They design a classroom where students interact with materials, ideas, concepts, and each other. Teachers challenge children’s competence through QUESTIONING. They bring children’s HANDS and MINDS together. And, more importantly, they LISTEN to the children with attention and respect. Teachers eschew the stereotype of children as vessels to fill with knowledge. They coax children out of a place of invisibility and into the world of understanding; a world where connections are made and knowledge is created. This is accomplished through a process of documentation.
There will be much more about this process in Day 3.