The morning of our 5th Day allowed a glimpse of the Milano Expo 2015. This fit with our exploration of the Reggio Emilia approach to early learning because the Children’s Park at the Expo was designed to be an “atelier open to the world.” The theme of the Children’s Park, in keeping with the familiar nursery tune, was “Ring Around the Planet… Ring Around the Future.
Rolando Baldina, chief designer, along with AnnaMaria Mucchi, walked us through the process of creating the Children’s Park. It was evident that they wanted to capture the culture of a Reggio “atelier” and support the ideals of aesthetic beauty, the interconnectedness and interdependence or all things, and the critical importance of childhood. The designers succeeded in proving that there could be coherence between actions and choices; the guiding principal of the Reggio Emilia approach to interacting in the world. The park was designed around 8 premises. The park would
- be accessible without an adult,
- be easy to navigate through a threaded bobbin schema,
- use technology to enhance mulit-age relationship building,
- be an active place where children could “do things,”
- allow children to create artifacts to promote identity,
- provide meeting and conversation spots,
- provide opportunities for multi-national visitors to meet and collaborate without needing translation devices or grasp of a non-native language, and
- allow real-time (Facetime or SKYPE) connections with children in other places.
A brief survey of these child-friendly, Reggio inspired exhibits follows.
Exhibit #1 – Ring Around Noses
This exhibit presents a mushroom like enclosure where a nebulizer pushed a fragrance (herb or perfume) into the air under the dome. The mushroom caps move up and down to accommodate taller or smaller children. The more children who congregate under the cap, the stronger the fragrance becomes. Thus the idea of the importance of collaboration is enhanced by this activity. Exhibits of real plants and herbs adds the appropriate visual to the olfactory encounter.
Exhibit #2 – Ring Around Water
Using a funnel, children gather drops of water from tubes in the ceiling and deposit them into a collection tray. Drops that are not collected fall to the absorbent flooring and are channeled away and into the collection tray. The amount of water produced is dependent on the number of children moving under the tubes in the exhibit. Again, collaboration is key. This exhibit demonstrates the supreme importance of the water cycle; Water Is Life!
Exhibit #3 – Ring Around Life
The message of this exhibit is that all living organisms are interconnected. Visitors stand on a scale large enough to accommodate many children. The total weight is projected onto a screen converted into other animal weights. For example, the total weight of several children might be that of a billion bees or an elephant’s foot. This exhibit provides a bridge to stories about natural cycles (e.g. water, plant, rock, wheat) and demonstrates how interdependent we are on the uninterrupted continuation of these life-giving cycles.
Exhibit #4 – Ring Around Rings
This mid-stop in the progression through the Children’s Park provides an events space and open amphitheater. The stage backdrop is a series of distorting mirrors that reflect the surrounding landscape. Videos from UNICEF and the United Nations plan at routine intervals. But the space is also available for impromptu presentations by park visitors.
Exhibit #5 – Ring Around Trees
Similar to shadow screens at many children’s parks and science museums, this exhibit invites children to pose while movement sensors capture a silhouette of the each child. Unique to this exhibit, however, is software that immediately begins to grow branches, leaves, and roots from the child’s shadow image changing her into a tree!
Exhibit #6 – Ring Around Energy
Again using collaboration as a model of dynamism, this exhibit invites all children, including those ‘special rights’ children with physical challenges, to hop onto a peddling device (e.g. bicycle, scooter, tricycle) and to become a member of a “pedal orchestra.” Each device is capable of producing a particular harmonizing tone, and rhythmic pulse that, when played in unison, becomes an orchestral soundscape. Peddling speed controls the volume of the music, and the addition of a single device has the capacity to completely change the audio output. Peddling also produces jets of water. Thus, the height of the fountain is likewise controlled by the number of people contributing to the activity.
Exhibit #7 – Ring Around the Future
This exhibit harkens back to the days of the fishing pond at the county fair. Hand written messages of planetary concern and hope are enclosed inside clear plastic spheres. These bob about on the pond until another child “fishes” it out., reads it, and composes a message of her own. These are tossed back into the pond and refloated so others can fish out and read the new message. Interestingly, the first messages to begin this cycle of interconnected correspondence were composed by Reggio Emilia pre-school children. Messages now originate from many countries around the world.
Exhibit #8 – Ring Around Play
The final stop in this journey around Children’s Park is a non-traditional playground. Capturing the value of agriculture, nutrition and the healthy body movement, designers constructed oversized vegetables and fruits as play equipment. Climbing, tag, and hide and seek are universal games played by the multi-national visitors to this Children’s Park.
Milano Expo 2015, with the help of Reggio kids, has made a brilliant choice in showcasing the importance of early learning in fostering a mindful, peaceful, and abundant planet.