Sightlines Initiative

promoting creative and reflective practice in early childhood education


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Learning to Live Well Together

Summer 2021 conference series investigating the shaping of education from ethics of relationship & listening.

Learning to Live well Together 1a

Education in England, including early childhood education, is increasingly narrow, instrumental and technical, subject to a culture of managerial accountability obsessed with targets, testing and readying, and that sees nurseries and schools as ‘outcome factories’. In the words of Sir Ken Robinson, “we are living with a construct of education based on an outdated model of training for an industrial, growth economy…capacity for divergent thinking deteriorates with schooling…children alienated, not engaged, lacking aesthetic experience." Changing Educational Paradigms

Emphasis is on the individual and on an educational norm of transmitting pre-determined information and skills from educator to child.

But other types of relationship are available. Great educators, such as Reggio Emilia’s Loris Malaguzzi, have built their education on the importance of groups, of dialogue and listening, of creativity and research, and of children and adults working together to co-construct meaning and empathy. Instead of a pedagogy of transmission and conformity, they have chosen a pedagogy of collaboration, conviviality, democracy and enquiry: this is the heart which will be exploring in our June - September conference series. 

Conference presenters & their presentations


    For details of each presentation, click the appropriate tab above.

  • Reggio’s theory of interactivity and relations

    Immagine2The Reggio Emilia Approach is characterised by a relational aesthetics that find its roots in Deweyan philosophy and in phenomenological* reflections.

    Dr. Manera will introduce Reggio’s Approach, its aesthetics and roots, and underline how these perspectives influence the design of the learning experiences – also showing how researchful educational practice goes on to influence the further development of theoretical perspectives. His presentation is illustrated with research projects promoted by the Reggio Children Foundation.

    *“Everything that I know about the world, even my scientific knowledge, is gained from my own particular point of view, or from an experience of the world without which the symbol of science would be meaningless. The whole universe of science is built upon the world as directly experienced, and if we want to subject science itself to rigorous scrutiny and arrive at a precise assessment of its wish to think rigorously, to appreciate precisely its meaning and scope, we must begin by awakening the basic experience of the world, of which science is the second-order expression. …

    To return to things themselves is to return to that world which precedes knowledge, of which knowledge always speaks, and in relation to which every scientific schematization is an abstract and derivative sign-language, as is geography in relation to the countryside in which we have learnt beforehand  what a forest, a meadow, or a river is.”       

    Maurice Merleau-Ponty: The Phenomenology of Perception, 1962

    lorenzo maneraDr. Lorenzo Manera is a postdoctoral fellow in Aesthetics and Pedagogy in the Department of Education and Human Sciences of the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia. He is a member of the Italian Society of Aesthetics, and Executive assistant for the PhD in “Reggio Childhood Studies”, promoted by the Department of Education and Human Sciences of the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia and Fondazione Reggio Children. He has experience in Preschools (Montessori Preschool in Regensburg, Germany), has worked as school educator in a primary and secondary school in Reggio Emilia and as researcher in several preschools in Reggio Emilia.

  • The humanness of conviviality in learning

    photos by ColwynAbstract reasoning about the brain as an organ for 'cognition', just recording information, creates barriers to understanding of the playful and affectionate motives for learning in early childhood.

    As teachers and parents we need to appreciate how, in every human community, impulses for play inspire rituals of artful creativity and their celebration, and to consider how the source of this imaginative vitality born in our children may be best supported. ... Does the ambitious world of adults searching for profits in knowledge and skills become toxic for the spirit of many children?

    In the past 50 years, research to describe how infants live with those who care for them, has discovered remarkable powers of selective awareness in newborn babies, and a need to engage with other persons' impulses and imitate them. Within a year, before any words are picked up, this inquisitive and affectionate playmate is learning of conventional behaviours, including daily rituals and purposeful handling of everyday tools. The child has taught us that we are born with powerful motives that lead to sharing baby songs, action games and use of words with many other tricks and devices for spreading and keeping alive a particular history of meanings. This is the 'nature of culture', in the child, that education has to serve

    We are led by … observant science of human nature to recognize that the foundations of education, in every culture, must be in the development from birth of human impulses to test and expand active experience, and to share it joyfully with companions.

    The brain of a newborn is about one third the size of an adult brain, but it has the unique human anatomy, including cerebral hemispheres with different temperaments and awareness adapted for complementary roles in cultural learning. The two sides of the brain of a child show different periods of growth that relate to changes in social motives for building affectionate relationships celebrated in artful ways of self-expression for collective pleasure, and systematic concentration of the individual body and mind to discriminate and identify or represent tasks that exploit environmental affordances for profitable 'work', and for their manipulation in technology.

    The changing balance of these complementary modes, of the intellectual intention and awareness of the individual, contrasted with value-sensing of aesthetic and moral feelings in relationships, marks the key stages of a young child's activities and learning. Educational practice must attend to and work with these transformations in human ingenuity and compassions, how they may be created in development of body and mind, and how they are supported in communication and cooperation.

    Colwyn TrevarthenDuring the past four decades, Professor Colwyn Trevarthen has published widely on brain development, the development of communication in infants and toddlers, musical and gestural communication, parent-infant interaction, and the interpersonal foundations of language and meaning. He is now Professor (Emeritus) of Child Psychology and Psychobiology in the Department of Psychology at the University of Edinburgh, where he has taught since 1971. His professional generosity, enthusiasm and scholarship have been recognised internationally. He was trained as a biologist and psychologist, and pioneered research on infant communication in the 1960s with Jerome Bruner, T. Berry Brazelton and Martin Richards.

  • Dividing the brain: the dimming of sensibility in the West

    IMcG1The real problem is inside our heads: we act like people with right hemisphere brain damage – treating people like things to be sorted, used, and thrown away, But there is an alternative, a more balanced way of thinking:  we need to relearn how to use our brains before it is too late.

    The subject of hemisphere differences has a poor track record, discouraging to those who wish to be sure that they are not going to make fools of themselves in the long run.

    Beliefs about the differences between the hemispheres have passed into the popular consciousness. These beliefs could be characterised as versions of the idea that the left hemisphere is somehow gritty, rational, realistic but dull, and the right hemisphere airy-fairy and impressionistic, but creative and exciting. In reality, both hemispheres are crucially involved in reason, just as they are in language; both hemispheres play their part in creativity. Perhaps the most absurd of the popular misconceptions is that the left hemisphere, hard-nosed and logical, is somehow male, and the right hemisphere, dreamy and sensitive, is somehow female.

    IMcG2There is little doubt that the issues of brain asymmetry and hemisphere specialisation are significant. The question is only – of what? I believe there is, literally, a world of difference between the hemispheres. There is a plethora of well-substantiated findings that indicate that there are consistent differences – neuropsychological, anatomical, physiological and chemical, amongst others – between the hemispheres. But when I talk of ‘meaning’, it is not just that I believe there to be a coherent pattern to these differences. That is a necessary first step. I would go further, however, and suggest that such a coherent pattern of differences helps to explain aspects of human experience, and therefore means something in terms of our lives, and even helps explain the trajectory of our common lives in the Western world. My thesis is that for us as human beings there are two fundamentally opposed realities, two different modes of experience; that each is of ultimate importance in bringing about the recognisably human world; and that their difference is rooted in the bihemispheric structure of the brain. It follows that the hemispheres need to co-operate, but I believe they are in fact involved in a sort of power struggle, and that this explains many aspects of contemporary Western culture.

    Iain McGDr. Iain McGilchrist is committed to the idea that the mind and brain can be understood only by seeing them in the broadest possible context, that of the whole of our physical and spiritual existence, and of the wider human culture in which they arise – the culture which helps to mould, and in turn is moulded by, our minds and brains. He has been Lecturer in English at Oxford University;  Clinical Director of London NHS Acute Mental Health Services; Research Fellow in neuroimaging atJohns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, USA; leader of Community Mental Health Team in South London.

    His books include Against Criticism (Faber), The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World (Yale UP), The Divided Brain and the Search for Meaning; Why Are We So Unhappy? (Yale UP), and Ways of Attending (Routledge).

  • Democracy in education: steps in reality

    Harold Göthson introduces a current action-research publication from Sweden:

    We are interdependent on each other throughout our world - and all human life is connected to the health of our planet. It is something we are constantly reminded of in our time. In this, everyone can see themselves as insignificant or we can instead choose to become responsible and involved citizens. When we do that, and even if we disagree, we are helping to give new meaning to a democratic world citizenship. Our view is that this is necessary for a sustainable future. 
    It is not obvious that all preschools function as a democratic meeting place and a resource for a sustainable future: that is why we emphasize that preschools can be democratic meeting places. Because it's easier said than done. It requires a long-term and persistent effort.

    Malin Mc 2Democracy depends on a learning, educated citizen who is able to change in the face of new arguments. Exercising democratic citizenship requires training and skill. It requires a general education school for all. It requires an education where we learn to learn together even though we are different. In fact, democracy needs us to be able to interact with those who think differently. 
    To be able to defend dissent, we must create a broad agreement on some shared social values. At the same time, the stability of these values must be constantly allowed to be the subject of reconsideration and criticism. These are some more aspects of the paradox of democracy. From this paradox, agreements must be reached, above all on:
    • to value each citizen's right to his or her unique voice;
    • to add value to contrasts, variation and differences in voices;
    • to value our mutual dependence as a basis for negotiations and compromises;
    • to value learning that is based on and defends the right to change perception - “to change your mind and point of view ” - to change one's consciousness.

    Malin McConnachie lets us meet a group of children with three to five-year olds in a municipal preschool in central Stockholm. Children who have been allowed to create hypotheses, negotiate and test their ideas in an exploration based on the focus 'Sustainable Future' with a focus on ecology.
    Malin Mc 3Malin shows how a reflective culture in project work with children can create conditions for children to "position themselves in the world as democratic citizens." Children depend on the teacher's ability to listen to and see the children's abilities. The narrative shows how teachers can work to connect democratic values in a dialogue with innovative theories, becoming more sensitive to children's rich ideas,  and creating intelligent situations and a way of working where children can flourish.
    We follow a group of children who gain experience of forming their own and common perception by meeting their peers in dialogues that enrich their own thinking. But also in dialogues with a games company, with street spaces, labyrinths and libraries. It is about seeing learning as an issue and based on that give children the opportunity to get many ideas through a social activity with others: ideas that can then be processed together and that can lead to kids form is to their own beliefs.
    In this story, the children get to see the different purposes and difficulties of dialogues and they are confronted with the difficult art of using different perceptions as access in negotiations and compromises. The project started with a child asking a question during a walk in Stockholm's inner city. The question was captured and continued into labyrinths, the creation of maps in the city and on to maps out into the world: "I wonder where all the people are going?" That question aroused the interest of the whole group of children. Who were all the people who’re out on the road? Shouldn't they be at work?

    Malin McMalin McConnachie is a trained preschool teacher, educator and studio artist. She currently works as a pedagogue for Håbo municipality's municipal preschools, and was previously a preschool teacher and pedagogical development leader in the city of Stockholm.

    HaroldHarold Göthson is a social scientist who has followed the Swedish preschool's growth as a preschool director, teacher educator and municipal child care strategist. He participated in the Preschool Pedagogical Program before he in 1992 became one of the founders of the Reggio Emilia Institute. Since 2011, Harold Göthson has been a director at Loris Malaguzzi center of Reggio Emilia.

  • Education for Happiness

    The current educational system was designed to meet the needs of the Industrial Age - the age of mass production, mass consumption and unlimited economic growth.

    Young people were trained in whatever skills were required by the market. This was education for jobs rather than education for life. Any of the jobs for which the students were trained led to the demise in biodiversity and the increase of carbon emissions which cause climate catastrophe.

    We are entering a new era, an era of the environment. So we need a new system of education which can respond to our times and can help to develop a regenerative culture.

    The present educational system looks at nature and sees it as a resource for the economy. Thus, nature becomes a means to an end: the ‘end’ of economic growth. Human beings are also considered a resource for the economy. We call them “human resources”. Thus, people become a means to an end.

    Our education system in the modern Western world is not education, and it is not happy. It’s a mis-education. We don’t even encourage children to imagine. Imagination is missing. If you can’t imagine, you can’t make, you can’t feel. The knowledge of ecology and of our human dependence on nature have been exiled from the mainstream educational process. As a result, ecology and economy have been separated. Education of this kind is detrimental to social cohesion and disconnects people from the natural world. This is a great tragedy.

    My idea of education is that we go out in the world not to serve ourselves, but to serve the earth, serve the people in the service of the earth. Then earth will look after us and our needs. We are in the service of the earth caring for the earth, looking out for the environment, not polluting, not wasting, not destroying, not undermining, not undervaluing.

    Kumar BookEducation should involve educational head, educational, heart, and educational hands. At the moment, our education mainly is of head: thinking, analysing, information - knowledge a little bit, but mostly: ‘information.’ That should be complemented with experience, and experience comes by feeling: heart and by making: hands.

    Educational head, educational hearts educational hands: these three hand-in-hand can renew education. Every school should ask, from the start: how we are going to cultivate our feelings? How are we going to get compassion for each other? How are we going to be compassionate for the earth? How are we to create compassion for humanity? How do we respect each other, how do we have kindness in our heart, how do we love each other? How love nature?

    We need nature friendly education: education as if people and planet matter.

    We need to engage in the study and understanding of the intricate web of life and ask: “What is a healthy and regenerative relationship between humans and nature?”

    Every school must have a garden .. a permaculture garden, an organic garden, where will know and learn how to cultivate, how to plant trees, how to grow orchards, fruit, vegetables, greens and energy, and how to do store water, how to cultivate a food, but how also, how to harvest sunlight and energy. It’s a complete cycle of energy and food and our selves.

    It is also an education for happiness.

    SatishA former monk and long-term peace and environment activist, Satish Kumar has been quietly setting the global agenda for change for over 50 years. He was just nine when he left his family home to join the wandering Jains, and 18 when he decided he could achieve more back in the world, campaigning for land reform in India and working to turn Gandhi's vision of a renewed India and a peaceful world into reality.

    Inspired in his early 20s by the example of the British peace activist Bertrand Russell, Satish embarked on an 8,000-mile peace pilgrimage. Carrying no money and depending on the kindness and hospitality of strangers, he and a colleague walked from India to America, via Moscow, London and Paris, to deliver a humble packet of 'peace tea' to the leaders of the world's then four nuclear powers. He continues to teach and run workshops on reverential ecology, holistic education and voluntary simplicity.

    Founder: Small School, Hartland; Human Scale Education; Resurgence magazine; Schumacher College

    Author: No Destination;  You Are, Therefore I Am: A Declaration of Dependence; The Buddha and the Terrorist; Earth Pilgrim; Soil, Soul, Society and Elegant Simplicity.

    Hon Doctorates: Law (Plymouth; Literature (Lancs); General Doctorate (Suffolk.) Oxfam Ambassador; vice-president RSPCA

  • Te Whariki: A woven mat which empowers the child

    The whāriki or woven mat is a metaphor for New Zealand's ECE curriculum, in which four curriculum principles are interwoven with five curriculum strands: 




    Whāriki  have symbolic and spiritual meaning for Māori. Weaving a whāriki takes knowledge, skill and time. It is almost always done collaboratively.  In Māori tradition children are seen to be inherently competent, capable and rich, complete and gifted no matter what their age or ability. Descended from lines that stretch back to the beginning of time, they are important living links between past, present and future, and a reflection of their ancestors. These ideas are fundamental to how Māori understand teaching and learning.

    Picture2In Te Whāriki children are positioned as confident and competent learners from birth. They learn by engaging in meaningful interactions with people, places and things – a process that continues throughout their lifetimes; they are valued as active learners who choose, plan, and challenge. This stimulates a climate of reciprocity, ‘listening’ to children (even if they cannot speak), observing how their feelings, curiosity, interest, and knowledge are engaged in their early childhood environments, and encouraging them to make a contribution to their own learning.

    This influential and culturally-grounded policy work, published originally in 1996, wove a new story of possibilities for children, families, educators and society, going against the grain of prior, narrower expectations. 

    Lesley profile circleDr. Lesley Rameka was instrumental in the 2017 edition of the national policy, working closely across cultures, and presents its core ethics and values. Lesley is a Senior Research Fellow at the Wilf Malcom Institute of Educational Research, and Poutama Pounamu Māori Education Research Centre at the University of Waikato, New Zealand, and president of Te Rito Maioha Early Childhood New Zealand.  She is a kaupapa Maori researcher, who developed kaupapa Maori assessment for learning resources in early years, was a member of the group updating the early childhood curriculum, Te Whariki in 2017, and has done research in kohanga reo, Maori bilingual centres and general ECE centres over a long period of time. She brings new insights on ethics, relationships and formative experiences of Te Whariki from a Maori perspective.

  • Steps in Transformation

    Chaosfly1Where now and how?  Panel and Discussion with Peter Moss, Karyn Callaghan, Dr. Christine Merrick, Rachel Oakshott-Evans, Louise Lowings, Catherine Reding and others.

    This is planned as a powerful plenary to the series, collecting new reflections and gathering new ideas for direction, personal professional work, and wider influence.

A panel of educators and others from Sightlines Initiative Network will follow the series and offer their thoughts and perspectives at the close of the series. If you would be interested in being a designated participant in this panel, please get in touch.

Register now ~ we will send participants useful reading  and video links  in preparation.

You can alternatively register for individual sessions - see the separate registration entry.

Dates, Details & Booking

Date Tuesday 6th July 2021
End Date Tuesday 21st September 2021
Cut off date Thursday 16th September 2021
Price £160
Member Discount 10%

Tues 6th July, 4pm (uk times) 'Reggio’s theory of interactivity and relations.' Dr. Lorenzo Manera, Reggio Emilia, Italy

Tues 13th July, 4pm 'The humanness of conviviality in learning.' Professor Colwyn Trevarthen, Edinburgh

Tues 7th Sept, 4pm 'Dividing the brain: the dimming of sensibility in the West.' Dr. Iain McGilchrist, UK

Thurs 9th Sept, 4pm 'Democracy in education: steps in reality.' Harold Göthson & Malin McConnachie, Stockholm, Sweden

Tues 14th Sept, 4pm 'Education for Happiness' Dr. Satish Kumar, UK

Thurs 16th Sept, 7pm (uk time) 'Te Whariki: A woven mat which empowers the child.' Dr. Lesley Rameka, Waikato, New Zealand

Tues 21st Sept, 4pm Panel: Steps in Transformation

Please Note:

  • The cost is inclusive for all seminars.
  • Your ticket is transferable to another in the case that you can't participate in a particular session.
  • Recorded sessions: to support the participation of registrants in other time zones, we will be making a recording of this session available to registrants.
  • The online platform will be Zoom: the link will be issued on the previous working day.
  • Times 4 - 5.30 p.m. (16th Sept 7 - 8.30 p.m.)
    Location/Map online

    We are no longer accepting registration for this event