Reggio Emilia North American Study Tour: Day 5 – What’s An Atelier?

food3The entire afternoon was to be a “hands-on” exploration of the five “atelier” spaces at the Loris Malaguzzi Center. Lorella Trancossi introduced the concept of the Reggio “atelier,” and shared how each individual “atelier,” or workshop space, was related to each of the others. The unifying concept of the atelier space is that each large, open area provides unlimited possibilities for exploration leading to the transformation of thoughts and transmission of ideas. [Please note that we were not permitted to take photographs of the atelier spaces. The images in this post are representative samples gathered from the Internet.]


artwords and materials

The first workshop “atelier” space, titled Mosaic of Masks, Words, and Materials, is given to drawing; observational and sketching. In this way children imagine, interpret, and communicate with a multitude of natural or synthetic materials. Links between materials and verbal and written language are explored while creative potential is released.


The second “atelier” space takes users into Digital Landscapes. In this space children explore the lightconnection between digital devices and their capacity to project light and manipulative materials (e.g. blocks, statues, plexiglass shapes). Mixing these materials provokes hypotheses around science colight2ncepts (i.e. physics and the properties of light, balance and stability, etc.) allowing even preschoolers to engage in the language of learning. I was gratified to see how imaginatively the “atelieristas” – persons who set up and facilitated users in the space – recycled decades old technologies like overhead projectors.


Everything On the Table was the third “atelier” to which we were introduced. food2Transforming raw cookingfoodstuffs into human nutrition is studied as seriously as other academic endeavors. It is in this atelier that research into the background of food (e.g. Where does food come from?), safe preparation and aesthetically pleasing presentation, healthy eating, the use of leftovers, development of habits of
composting, and consideration of re-useable food containers is
explored. Recycling (“remida”) is a significant part of this workshop space.


planetThe transformation of the natural world is showcased in the fourth “atelier.” Called the Living Organism, children explore the variety and the beauty of life’s cycles. It is here where children contemplate nature’s secrets; where they begin to develop emotional and empathetic responses to nature, to natural materials, and to reflect on their own place in the larger world. It living2is here where children begin to understand and appreciate beauty, aesthetic beauty, as a part of every life.


Planetary Messplanet2ages, the fifth “atelier,” is showcased in the Milano EXPO 2015 exhibit “Ring Around the Future.” This atelier permits children to explore the ethical foundations and cultural differences of the planet’s many societies. Through empathetic examination and devout understanding of the interdependence of planetary systems, children are transformed into planetary citizens.

I will share my experience with one of these “atelier” spaces, Digital Landscapes, in the next post.


Reggio Emilia North American Study Tour: Day 5 – Milano Expo 2015

MilanoExpoThe 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 thrologough 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

  1. be accessible without an adult,
  2. be easy to navigate through a threaded bobbin schema,
  3. use technology to enhance mulit-age relationship building,
  4. be an active place where children could “do things,”
  5. allow children to create artifacts to promote identity,
  6. provide meeting and conversation spots,
  7. provide opportunities for multi-national visitors to meet and collaborate without needing translation devices or grasp of a non-native language, and
  8. allow real-time (Facetime or SKYPE) connections with children in other places.

A brief survey of these child-friendly, Reggio inspired exhibits follows.

Exhibit #1Ring Around Noses

sniffThis 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 #2Ring Around Water

waterUsing 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 #3Ring Around Life

weightThe 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 #4Ring Around Rings

This mid-funstop 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 #5Ring 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 #6Ring Around Energy

bike2Again 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 #7Ring Around the Future

floatmessageThis 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 #8Ring Around Play

play2The 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.