Wednesday was a day for visiting and seeing first hand what had only been painted in words and static PowerPoint images. Prampolini, the preschool to which I was sent, was considered a “Green Center.” This means it is dedicated to the sustainable environment and the exploration of its natural surroundings. Situated in a lush farming area, the large, multi-room structure was not originally built as a school, so steps and stairways were the way to climb the three stories.
We were forbidden to take photos, so my post is derived from the copious notes I scribbled. And, the best way to relay the many mental images I have taken away is to bullet them in the following list.
- Outside ‘Green’ Space:
- A wooden amphitheater built into the side of a gentle hillside
- A bird watching hut with a platform so small bodies can see through the slitted window
- A garden with vegetables and herbs that are harvested for school lunch
- A ‘fairy ring’ of bamboo that provides a secret hiding place for the 3 – 6 year olds
- Inside Space
- Platforms instead of shelving define work or discovery areas
- Window shades make inexpensive room dividers
- Documentation is presented on plywood covered with white craft paper, or on foam core
- Binders – separated into months – provide a chronological look at daily documentation
- Every space is a kid-friendly space (no teacher desks, no teacher materials visible)
- Technology (projection, document cameras, computers) were used as tools, and handled with expert conviction, by every age
- There was a limited number (12-20) of books – all integrated into current exploration – available to children
I heard no raised voices. I witnessed no disrespect of materials. I witnessed no social disrespect between adults and children or between children. The center was clean, bright, open, and aesthetically pleasing.
During our debriefing many questions that continue to haunt my U.S. colleagues were asked.
1. The school had a museum atelier on the top floor. The museum collection reflected the agricultural culture of the region. Although some of the artifacts might be risky for children to hold or use (cutting implements, etc.) agreements with parents are made that allow children to use these items as protagonists in their projects and stories. The museum permits children to connect the past with their present.
2. Technology is, surprisingly, a major feature in this “Green Center.” Using projection enhances the children’s understanding of the physics and aesthetics of light. Keeping the devices in one place assures that the connections stay secure.
3. There were many questions about admissions policies. Students are admitted to the Reggio schools using a “point system.” Similar to America, parents must present documents outlining the yearly family income. Depending on the number of hours a child is in attendance, there are 13 different fee schedules for Infant/Toddler programs (from €63 to €540 a month). There are 9 different fee schedules for Preschool programs (from €63 to €240 a month). All programs offer Extended Day care and some children are on-site from 7 AM until 7 PM. Social services can assist parents with costs. NEW legislation will combine the Ministries of Education and Social Welfare, so soon ages 0 – 6 years will be included.
4. “Special Rights” language used instead of “Special Needs.” All schools admit “Special Rights” children immediately, and with unlimited access. Every “Special Rights” student, until age 18, is provided a caring adult for their entire school day and school career.
5, There is no special bi-lingual or immersion program for children who do not speak Italian. By cultivating the inclusion of community (through parties and other events planned by ‘family facilitators’) immigrant families are welcomed. Cultural inclusion is very valuable. There is no focus on difference. Any difference is considered an opportunity.
6. Key to Prampolini is the relationship to nature. Social and academic learning is integrated through investigation of the environment. Animals are captured and kept temporarily of investigation, but are always released at the end of the day. Students use local flora and fauna for investigation and project work. As an example, the 4 year olds were using herbs, flower petals, and a mortar and pestle to invent their own personalized perfume.
7. Professional production of documentation panels is done by parents or through in-kind donations, donations from the annual “auction”, through fundraising. Costs for this type of parent communication and public relations are kept to a minimum. All panels are archived. Panels are considered TRACES OF PROJECTS AND CHILDREN’S WORK.
8. A huge value is intentional, contextualized grouping. Small groups (less than 5) are the core of academic instruction. This builds trusting relationships where children can build and create. Small inquiry groups sustain curiosity that, in turn, perpetuates engagement.