Think of a child as ‘full of intelligence’ Reggio Emilia educators encourage U of M audience
Use documentation to guide understanding of learning process, they urge attendees
Two world-renowned Reggio Emilia educators encouraged an audience at the U of M recently to believe in the intelligence of “the whole child” and to strive to empower children in order to empower schools, parents and the community.
Attendees were engaged early on during the April 22 evening lecture, when the presenters showed a video of a nine-month-old boy, Antonio, in one of the Reggio Emilia infant centres, as he “discovered” the various sounds that could be made by drumsticks—on cymbals, the floor and other objects. Antonio alternately tapped on the instruments and listened to the sounds and vibrations that occurred—a learning approach that caused ripples of laughter throughout the audience but also served to inspire the crowd.
Audience members were then asked to discuss their own interpretations of what they saw.
“What does Antonio have to tell us?” asked lecturer Tiziana Filippini, who was a pedagogista at an Istituzione Infant Toddler Centres and Preschools in Reggio Emilia, Italy, for 20 years and was also a contributor to the production of “The Hundred Languages of Children” exhibit that travelled around the globe. (The Reggio Emilia approach is a philosophy of education focused on early childhood and the idea that views young children as competent and capable of developing their own theories. It takes a child-centred and child-led approach to learning.)
The audience, which included many from Manitoba’s educational community, from early childhood educators to educational partners and faculty, made various suggestions from Antonio’s need to show others what he was learning, to his reactions to the sound.
Learning from children
Filippini said the most important takeaway is to look at the child and find out how he or she learns. “We need to learn from the children,” she said, adding, “Who they are, and how they learn from each other.”
Filippini and Laura Rubizzi, pedagogistas (specialists in the theory of education) recently spent a week in Winnipeg touring early childhood centres and schools and spoke to two different audiences on pedagogical documentation at the U of M’s Faculty of Education.
The afternoon event on April 22 concerned “the role of the pedagogista,” while the evening event that same day looked at “pedagogical documentation and the presentation of an investigation.”
Filippini urged educators to start with the image of the child as one that is “full of potentiality” and to think of children as little persons who come into the world “with a lot of intelligence.”
“We shouldn’t waste this intelligence.”
She also pointed out that often, educators simplify the environment for little ones when instead, complexity is often what’s needed to allow children to think and learn.
Rubizzi, who worked as a teacher at the Diana Municipal Preschool in Reggio Emilia for over three decades and collaborated with Professor Loris Malaguzzi (founder of the Reggio Emilia philosophy) to help publicize his teaching theories, showed the evening audience a video of a new class of three-year-olds.
The video shows how, little by little, over a course of a few weeks, the class became a community as she and other teachers encouraged them to work together to build roads and an entire town out of clay for their toy cars.
Rubizzi spoke of the importance of not only taking parents’ view of how their children are doing, but also trying to get to know the children “directly,” by observing them carefully and taking documentation of what she observed.
The children in the class are encouraged to take the initiative in terms of what they are learning each day, she said. While the teacher might have certain plans, sometimes the day ends up very differently, Rubizzi said. She showed a video of a day two boys were playing with cars and making imaginary roads. The racetrack was “so appealing” that other children joined in and the teacher then encouraged the development of this imaginary racetrack, getting all of the children involved in working together to make roads of paper and later, of clay.
“As a teacher, in your mind you want to bring children together to be a group, a community,” said Rubizzi. She encouraged careful daily observation and documentation of the children’s development in order to guide their education.
Bringing Reggio Emilia to Winnipeg
The Italian visitors said they enjoyed the University of Manitoba and their visit to Winnipeg.
“The passion of the people we met is unbelievable. We really could develop a very nice dialogue and exchange,” said Filippini.
Wayne Serebrin, an associate professor in the Faculty of Education who organized the event, said he was pleased with the turnout of so many from Manitoba’s early childhood education community.
“I think it speaks to the spirit of what has been happening in Manitoba for quite some time now,” said Serebrin. He noted that there is a strong grassroots interest in Reggio Emilia among teachers in Manitoba, which began with a conference in 2009 and the development of the Manitoba Reggio-Inspired Coalition of Educators and included many events over the years, culminating in the April 22 event with the Italian educators.
“We have elementary teachers thinking and working together, and I think that’s really important.”