Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Thousand Small Fires

When I think of the interest, energy, and excitement around Reggio-inspired thought the image of lighting a thousand small fires comes to mind.

Seeing a child translate knowledge into a drawing; entering learning spaces filled with beauty; challenging our assumptions about children’s capabilities through documentation; and encountering children’s presence in their city gives evidence, language and promise to engaging children’s potential.

The energy generated by the bold educational experiment in the municipal early childhood schools of Reggio Emilia is considerable and varied. Over decades, the Reggio approach has crossed national borders and cultural contexts as well as school and museum contexts. Early childhood educators, artists, higher ed. faculty and researchers, parents, museum designers and educators, and community members have been engaged and challenged by principles that promote a fundamental respect for young children in a meaningful community context. Inspired by Reggio ideas they have energized preschools and elementary schools; educational projects and community programs; research and community initiatives; vibrant formal and informal networks and self-forming groups; books, articles, and blogs; conferences, institutes, seminars, symposia, and study tours.

What is equally exciting is that there are also schools, groups, projects, and stories that are not, strictly speaking, Reggio inspired but are strongly and brilliantly in the spirit of Reggio. Children-friendly cities, schools in neighboring towns of Pistoia, mothers’ groups in the UK, arts projects, and museum archive are important to highlight too. Responsive to their local contexts, embracing children’s strengths and competence, and built on strong relationships, these experiments are among the thousand small fires that many hope will create stronger, better schools, museums, cities, and futures for young children.

These small fires are fed by connections between and among colleagues and friends through links, updates on project progress, sharing documentation, and generative partnerships. Following are some of the fires adding light to many journeys in schools and museums. Some are updates on the Reggio-inspired events I wrote about in April; others have been shared by curious and generous colleagues. In narrowing down a much longer list, I have considered variety, relevance to the museum context, and engagement with Reggio ideas that go beyond mere imitation. 

Opal School’s Summer Symposium. Opal School is a Reggio-inspired tuition-based preschool and public charter elementary school operating in a museum context and located in a city park. The School’s teacher-researchers were joined by colleagues for 3 full days of synthesis, renewal, dialogue, materials exploration, and reflection. This year’s focus explored relationships with the natural world, a theme enhanced by Opal’s location in Washington Park and Outdoor Adventure, the Portland Children’s Museum’s new exhibit designed in response to observing Opal School children at play. Guest presenter, Louise Cadwell, shared her recent work in sustainability education. Follow the link to Opal’s 2014-15 Professional Development Guide.

Documentation to Engage the Community. Faculty and staff from Wheelock College (Boston) who were on the Museums Group study tour in Reggio (November 2013) chose to explore ways to document informal learning in museum settings at the Wheelock Doc Studio Institute co-hosted with DIG (Document Inquiry Group). The June 19 Institute brought together teacher educators and faculty from several Boston area colleges and staff from Boston Children's Museum; the De Cordova Museum and Sculpture Park and Lincoln Nursery School (Lincoln, MA). Stephanie Cox Suarez has compiled reflections,comments, and questions from the group that highlight both practical and philosophical issues in using documentation in a variety of learning contexts. Other Doc Studio blog posts are worth checking out as well.

Reggio-inspired Pre-conferences at InterActivity 2014, the Association of Children’s Museum’s annual conference in Phoenix (AZ). Children’s museums and the Reggio approach are well aligned around core ideas related to the child, parent engagement, the role of the environment in learning, and strong community connections. The rich, generous, well-articulated, and interconnected philosophy of Reggio is a great opportunity for children’s museums to improve themselves on behalf of children and their communities. Yet, as compelling as these connections are, authentic work with Reggio principles and practices in a children’s museum context is challenging. During these two half-day sessions almost 50 participants found insights, starting points, promising approaches, collegial connections, and inspiration for moving forward in navigating the Reggio-children’s museum connection. Participants expressed a strong interest in a network, webinars, a 2015 Reggio-inspired pre-conference, and a study tour to Reggio.

Photo: 5 x 5 x5 = creativity
5 x 5x 5 = creativity. An independent, arts-based action research organization in the UK, 5 x 5 x 5 = creativity supports children in their exploration and expression of ideas and develop creative capacities. The strong commitment to documentation and research is apparent in the many ways children and adults are researchers and co-learners. I enjoyed one of the case studies in particular, Making a Museum. It puts museum making in the hands of children and illustrates how children’s interests fire their creativity and learning.   

Coriandole House
Coriandoline. Many of the same principles embedded in Reggio pedagogy–curiosity, participation, listening to children, an amiable environment–are present in this project in a neighborhood in Correggio near Reggio and in Malaguzzi’s hometown. Following children and their ideas, seeing possibilities in the surroundings, imagining a new place, and adding a light poetic touch, in Correggio, the civic stance of Reggio is somewhat more domestic in new homes for girls and boys that made the neighborhood come alive.

Learning Stories. Tom Drummond’s examples draw on the practice of pedagogical narration, the work of Dr. Margaret Carr and Wendy Lee (New Zealand). This strategy emerged from an encouragement to document children's work with the child in mind. Learning stories, narrated by the teacher, follow and describe the child’s involvement in an activity, noticing the conditions and materials and constraints with accompanying images that document and share children’s learning–and serve as research tools.

Photo: Marla McClean
School Within School. An atelierista uses a variation of the documentation approach to explore her reflections on her work and projects with her preschool students. She interweaves reflections with observations of her young students and their words, explorations, and representations with materials.

Project-based Homeschooling. After running a Reggio-inspired school, this mother now uses the same ideas and practices in a home setting to homeschool her two children. Grounded in a clarity about the child as an agent in his own learning, her project-based learning approach engages an adolescent, well beyond the typical preschool age range where Reggio practice is usually applied.

Sand and Water Tables. A classroom teacher in St Paul (MN), Tom Bedard is a keen observer of children’s explorations at the sand and water (and corn and wood pellet) table which he shares in his spot-on Axioms of Sensorimotor Play. In an iterative 3-d documentation process, Tom’s blog shares how the children’s inventiveness and creativity inspire him in constructing apparatuses with boxes, tubes, and tape that further extend and inspire the children’s exploration.

Cadwell Collaborative. This team has deep and varied connections to Reggio schools in Italy and in the US. Cadwell Collaborative brings an interpretation of the Reggio Approach to its innovative work in and with schools placing it in an ever-expanding context of project based learning, professional development, school design, and sustainability education.

Related Museum Notes Posts

A special thanks to Lani Shapiro for sharing many links, sources, and resources over the years, including several in this post.

No comments:

Post a Comment