As observers of children, we anchor the view of humanness in children, and ourselves, as makers and remakers of a human world – we are drawers, story tellers, painters, sculptors, gardeners, the list continues. We observe the children and try to describe them with the aim of making visible the children’s active engagement with the world, with other persons, with making things and with learning. A descriptive review, created by Patricia Carini, has helped us to observe and to describe the child by asking ourselves questions, as much as possible, that is clear of evaluative language and free of being judgmental. We look closely at their physical presence and gesture, disposition and temperament, connections with other people, strong interests and preferences, and their modes of thinking and learning. As you read the E2 blog, we can begin to look at the child’s mode of thinking and learning through this question: How does the child gain a firm understanding or internalize knowledge or inclined to figure things out? From the E1 blog as the children relate and connect with each other with and through the entire ELC community and environment, we can ask ourselves: “How does the child locate him/herself in relation to the larger community of children? And from the Atelier blog, looking closely at the child’s disposition and temperament, “What does the child care for deeply and what seems to stir this feeling?”
In our daily work with the children, we experience the joy of constructing a communicative relationship between the children’s and teacher’s learning in the space which lies between the predictable and the unexpected, for surely learning is stunted when one already knows the endpoint of that learning journey. It is in this orientative and relational space where questions arise through dialogue and discovery, and where the comparison of ideas are situated. The children constantly remind us of the importance given to the element of surprise, where learning becomes so much more meaningful and joyful. What surprise can one strawberry bring to a group of 16 children in E2? What surprise stirs the interest of the E1 children when uncovering the cover of the sandbox, a course of action and learning totally unexpected for the teacher? What surprise meaning is hidden behind a child’s design of a leaf slope on a birdhouse? I hope you will join me in seeing how the element of surprise expands the quality of our learning.
When we reflect upon the relationship between the child and the adult, there is a necessity to ask ourselves how we view the image of the child, image as an interpretation, as a historical and cultural definition, for the image of the child that we hold will determine our way of relating to the children, our way of forming expectations and the world we help to build for them. Reggio speaks of the image of the child as competent, strong and full of resources. What then does a competent child mean? I have come to know and understand that although they may not yet know the world, they possess all the tools to relate and to know the world, and through this, to know themselves. By this, I mean they possess a body that is equipped with all the senses to perceive the surrounding environment, to speak and listen without separating their mind and body, just as how reason and emotion come together. As you read the blog from all our ELC environments this week – E1, E2 and the Atelier – I hope you will join me in viewing the image of the children as competent and full of resources, requiring competent adults to live in the world together.
“Children are the most extraordinary listeners of all: children ‘listen’ to life in all its facets…children listen to others with generosity, quickly perceive how the act of listening is an essential act of communication.”
(Carlina Rinaldi, In Dialogue with Reggio Emilia, p. 116)
Spring is a lovely time of year, a time of growth and change, an ever awakening of many wonders. We have observed how the children have come to exemplify the values we [teachers] hold as their guide and co-constructors of meaning. The children reflect our inclinations for inquiry by inherently framing a focus on basic human resources such as communication, listening and intellectual curiosity. In the E1 blog, through the gestures of the children as they write messages or fold blankets together, we notice the changes in the way they speak to each other, framing questions and sentences which involve ‘the other’. The E2 blog communicates how the children listen to all facets of life with Bob the turtle waking up from his hibernation. This aspect of ‘listening’ to the change in their immediate environment has stirred the intellectual curiosity of the children to listen with sensitivity to each other’s theories and questions. From the Atelier, we wonder what might have instigated the change in a child’s interest to visit the Atelier after a length of time. Perhaps the reason can be related to his ‘listening’ to all the happenings around him centered around the park project so dear to him. The spring air seems much warmer now as we quietly revel in these moments of listening, exchanges and communication where we are reminded and learn from the children that listening is a premise for every learning relationship.
The Parent-Information Evening held on Tuesday was titled ‘The Environment as the Third Teacher’. This is one of the principles of the Reggio philosophy where the environment is seen as educating the child, ‘the third teacher’ along with the team of two teachers. As one enters any environment, be it a home, a restaurant, a park, we sense a feeling about the space in how it is created by the people who inhabit it or own it. And so too, with an educational institution, the environment reflects the culture of the people who create it. The Reggio educators have spent a great deal of their energy into thinking and planning about the educational space, and more and more, they have given attention to the connection between pedagogy and architecture and to the power of aesthetics as a connecting principle, for example, how the light will enter into the building, the soft shadows that may created throughout the day, a space for a child ‘to hide’ or a communal space where people can get together. The structure, the choice of materials and attractive ways in which the educators set them up for the children become an open invitation to explore. Everything is thoughtfully chosen and placed with the intention to create communication as well as exchanges among people and interactions between people and things. This view of the environment acting as the third teacher is portrayed through the slideshow of the photos taken by Ms Yuka from the atelier blog.
In addition to the physical space, I believe the environment as the third teacher includes a conceptual space, and by this I mean the way time is structured and the roles we are expected to play. It conditions how we feel, think and behave and dramatically affects the quality of our lives and our work with the children. In the E2 blog, this conceptual space of the environment as the third teacher is communicated in the way in which time and space were offered to the children to explore the process of how they wished to construct a story together for Assembly.
For the environment to act as an educator for the child, the environment has to be flexible, it must undergo frequent modification by the children and teachers to remain up to date and responsive to their needs to be protagonists in constructing knowledge. We endeavor to constantly transform our spaces within to respond to the children’s and teachers’ interests and ways of using space. The outdoor environment authentically undergoes modification through the change in seasons and different weather conditions and naturally offers provocations to construct knowledge, be it the growth of strawberries or the change in the color of the leaves. In the E1 blog, we witness how the space of the auditorium has been completely modified and transformed to host the International Baccalaureate Diploma Art Exhibition of the seniors. When the E1 children visited this space, they entered into the environment with awe, wonder and respect seemingly to make connections with the exhibition of the older artists to themselves as artists in their recent art gallery of the Assembly. We will continue to think deeply about our environment, both indoors and out, conceptual and physical, as ‘a space that teaches.’
There is a story to the reason for the posting of the E2 blog – the story stems from a child who takes great care to decorate the tables for Fruit Snack with much attention and sensitivity to detail; it is the story of his expressed hope that the blog posting be about the table decorations, not only his own but everyone’s decorations which he finds beautiful, with an implicit wish he hopes his family will appreciate and admire. In the blogs from E1 and the Atelier, there is a similar thread that appears, which is the desire of the child(ren) to share with adults who are not always physically present at the ELC. There seems to be an emotional relation to the subject concerned – be it the table decorations, the excitement of change in the flowerbed, the completion of a collage – which acts more than a motivator that simply energizes effort. Through the children’s invitation to share in their moments of importance, we begin to understand how the emotions of joy and surprise represent as much as the components of the child’s theories about the social and physical world.
I have recently been revisiting the book, Intellectual Character, written by Ron Ritchhart. In the opening chapter of this book, the author poses questions which challenge the dominant notion of viewing intelligence that is based upon abilities. The questions help us to move from accepting intelligence as a state of possession to considering intelligence in terms of various states of performance.
What does intelligence look like in action? What are the qualities of thought and characteristics of mind we expect to see when someone is acting intelligently? What are the patterns of behavior and attitudes that we associate with someone who acts smart?
The author communicates that the notion of intellectual character can be understood in terms of thinking dispositions that give it shape and meaning. The six dispositions which the author lists are these: being open-minded and curious (creative thinking); being metacognitive (reflective thinking); seeking truth and understanding, being strategic and skeptical (critical thinking).
In this week’s ELC blog, we witness creative thinking, reflective thinking and critical thinking in how the children pursue their theories of the mysteries which surround their world, whether they be the magical life of the hina dolls or the unexpected disappearance of the snap peas, or the collaborative work of constructing a collage that spontaneously creates a tune of intellectual character.
As one enters our center, a panel can be observed that highlights the importance given to the concept of parents as partners where we believe the exchange of ideas and skills parents bring to the ELC result in a spirit of collegiality and collaboration that offers the opportunity to further understand and strengthen the connection between home and school. In our ELC, we know it is important to focus on the children, but we feel this is not enough as we consider both families and teachers are also central to the education of the children. With this in mind, we plan our Student-Parent Interaction Days where parents can experience the lives of their children, their interests and desires – things that are important to them – at the ELC. Put another way, it is an invitation from the children for the parents to feel at home in the atmosphere of school that provides a positive receptiveness to all concerned based on relationship and participation. The smiles on the children’s faces as they see their parents walk into their classroom reveal their deep desire and happiness to live and share their moment together.
What is the culture of the ELC if we consider that culture shapes our minds and provides us with the toolkit by which we construct not only our worlds but also our conceptions of ourselves and our powers? I believe at the ELC, we endeavor to construct a culture of respect where learning, remembering, talking, imagining – all of these are made possible by participating, both child and adult, in such a culture and climate. We witness in the E2 blog a new agenda where the teacher is concerned with what the children are thinking and how they will arrive at what they believe, rather than an explanation of what children do. The respect given to the children to offer space for dialogue gives value to determine what they think, what they think are doing, and their reasons for doing it. In the blog from the Atelier, we observe intersubjectivity of respect – the meeting of minds between the child and teacher – culminating in heightened emotion of self in relation to the ‘other’. The respect given to young children on their powers and capability to appreciate the beauty of fragile objects documented in the E1 blog, reflects upon how the young child becomes aware of his/her own thought process first by being given the opportunity to participate. We will continue to reflect and renew our thinking on the meaning of culture in education by considering how we construct knowledge about the world in negotiation with others.
Last school year when two of the educators from Reggio visited our ELC, they were attracted to the nature surrounding our ELC, and especially, to the trees they saw through the big windows from the piazza space. Just as the way in which we work with the children, they left us with a provocation without any answers as to how we could develop a deeper relation with the natural environment, bringing the outside in, and in relation to this, taking the inside out. The research carried out by the E2 children to inquire deeper into their identities through the park has certainly helped us develop this provocation in meaningful ways (E2 blog.) A child’s experiences with the park and the natural environment naturally seems to have been brought back inside through a creation with sand and light in the Atelier (Atelier blog.) The excitement and wonder of snow also took the children’s inquiring minds to connect with the outside world in relation to their environment indoors (E1 blog.) The children help us realize that the flow between the outside and within have no boundaries and to remember to think of the two as one.