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Around fifteen years ago I was in my second year of biological studies at the University. I was in Italy, specifically in Tuscany, a region worldwide known for the splendour of its Renaissance art. At that time, lecturers used to took students to nature observing it for long periods: memories of my ramblings in woods looking for living creatures, from plants to microscopic animals, are still sculptured in my mind. Seeing and studying the multitude of life in all its forms and "in the field" was the guiding experience that brought me to become a biologist with a deep urge to understand biodiversity and work out solutions to preserve it.
This interest took me and my family around Europe, giving us the possibility to live in Germany and now in UK, working with colleagues from all around the world. Meanwhile I became a mother. Facing the responsibility of what education implies, I felt the urgency to re-think the responsibility of each individual in its daily life in a wider perspective and thus the importance of education in our society: we are taking the responsibility to build a sustainable society, if we want our Planet and us to survive.
From my point of view, that of a biologist and a mother, we take care of the Earth as much as we take care of our children and thus education. And the other way around. So, we have the huge duty to educate our children to take care of our Planet and its biodiversity, which sustains us every single day. In other words, we have the responsibility (and the honour!) to facilitate the love that every human being innately has for nature. When during my work I try to work out solutions to communicate awareness of Earth's biodiversity to every people, the light that leads me is ultimately the same that led me many years ago in those woods in Tuscany while I was studying the brimming of life. This light is made in its core by the sense of beauty – the same that probably inspired many Renaissance artists, like Leonardo or Michelangelo!
How do we communicate children caring for the Planet Earth? How do we let children thrive this light? Giving them time and space to nurture and let flourish the sense of beauty that they innately have in a nutshell since they are born: experiencing nature every day, playing in nature, trusting their ability to relate to nature.
Children's innate recognition of beauty and educational work that supports this have been widely studied and enlightened by eminent protagonists of the Reggio experience.
We are often asked by parents: "do you know a school with a Reggio-inspired philosophy in our area?"
Here is a request from a new network member – can you help?
Their letter is what so many parents are asking, once they know what it is they are looking for.
"We are a family of four (2 parents, 2 children nearly 4 years old), moving from Los Angeles to London in mid-April. Our daughters have attended a "Reggio-inspired" preschool in Los Angeles since August, and we've witnessed how the "Reggio-inspired" school which values children as already capable citizens has helped them start to truly understand themselves, the world around them and their place in it. For example, when something disagreeable happens, they have an ability to express their feelings, talk about their feelings, offer/reflect on possible solutions/strategies for the future – this is something they do every day at school.
We find this line by John Dewey very instructive: "Education is not the preparation for life. It is life."
We'd love for them to continue their education in London by attending a school and/or connecting with after-school programs/art teachers/like-minded families that prioritise many of the following values:
- learning from one another (children, teachers, parents, environment); learning from doing and child-initiated, rather than following a pre-planned curriculum; where the culture is grounded in listening to the thoughts and passions of the children and reflecting questions with questions (that we don't know the answer to);
- understands that all children are born competent to engage in the world makes relationships with materials, with people, with space, meaningful, contextually-grounded explorations where children are given real tools, real materials, and time to explore, to process;
- supports children in the expansion of their thinking and reflection, not simply telling 'the right answer'; emotional intelligence – children talk about their feelings and are given the opportunity and physical space to sit with their feelings;
- behaviors mean something and are noted without judgment; children are strong, capable, and competent, and their ideas are valuable;
- children already have something to offer the world; modelling respect and empathy; providing clear guidelines/limits and involving children in the problem-solving, rule-making process;
- teachers are researchers, they guide the learning, they take the time to observe the students. They are students, too; scaffolding is used – everything and everyone which supports a child's learning;
- documentation is a key component to teachers' research – words and posters on walls reflects back key aspects of the learning, who we are as a group, who a child is within the group, and it says to children 'we value you;'
- parents are partners – they share in the research process, in what the children and teachers are learning; environment is the third teacher;
- the "100 languages of children," – speaking, drawing, clay, wire, music, hands, work, play, reason, dream, body, mind etc…all are tools for expression and are interconnected.
For now, we are looking for resources within 30 minutes of Notting Hill. Thank you for reading, Sanam Mahloudji and Zachary Krug"
If you are or know of a Notting Hill/West London nursery which you think may fit their bill, please write to us using the message module on the left of this page.
If you are an early childhood setting anywhere in the UK, you might be interested in this survey:
through this survey we are trying to build a map of settings across the UK which can help you being visible and connected as well as others (like parents or young educators) to open up to new possibilities.
Loris Malaguzzi, founder of Reggio Emilia's educational philosophy, pointed out in the 1970's that when learning and playing are seen as the same matter, then we create the environment from which joy can emerge.
More and more parents and educators are today raising their voice because they believe in the fundamental value of this joy. Instead, current models of education are asking pupils, from preschool to college, to "discover the world already there", limiting learning to just one way of learning. Even worse, education is going to be made of another matter, grey coloured, far away from joy: policies with the specific targets of putting academic tests at the forefront, leaving in the back children's emotional development and wellbeing (see here the diary item about PISA test proposal and endorsement by the UK Minister for Education Nick Gibb). It seems that politicians in power have entirely disconnected from the world of learning and children, and become exclusively obsessed with the make-believe world of statistics.
Here is Malaguzzi's eloquent poem, narrated at the opening of Reggio's 'Not just Anyplace' video: