Thursday, 28 December 2017

Reggio Inspired

This term, I have been working with four other home educating Mums and our 9 children aged 5-11 to build a Reggio-inspired learning community. Reggio Emilia is an innovative, researchful and reflective approach to early years education which values the child as strong, capable and resilient with an innate capacity and deep curiosity for learning. The role of educator is one of lifelong learner, continually reflecting on and redefining their understanding of how children learn. In my experience and understanding, as children grow beyond the pre-school years, Reggio ideas grow into Project Based Learning as outlined in Lori Pickert's excellent book, "Project Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners." Of course, as most children in this country go to school, I am curious to explore how these ideas can be applied to education as children grow beyond their early years. I am particularly interested to explore the idea of collaborative learning which is so important in Reggio pedagogy, that is the way ideas spark in the relationships between children. As a home educator, it is great to witness and facilitate self-directed learning, but it is also important to learn in community and to see how learning develops within a group of children, how ideas spark between the individuals in a group of mixed ages, us Mums as well as the children. I do feel our group is quite experimental, and we are venturing together up a new path in our respective home educating journeys. It has felt rather like building an extended family, a learning community. This term has really been about gelling as a group and getting to know each other. We have simply met regularly, one morning each week, and provided a variety of contexts in which the children can play and learn and engage with one another, from meeting at my home and playing with Lego, to visiting our local transport museum, to meeting in our local library and making our own books, to attending an illustration workshop together. Our local art gallery opens a Reggio playspace to early learners once a month, and we have managed to book an early bird slot for our unusual group of older children which we have enjoyed 4 times this term. It has been interesting to observe the children's play in this space full of open-ended activities and creative possibilities. We have seen some lovely collaborative play, interestingly especially amongst the girls. I have observed the boys focusing in short bursts to build or construct things, then running around, using a lot of the space, before settling to a focused task again. I simply document this because it is what I have observed the children doing, undirected. It makes me think about how boys are required to sit for such long periods at school ....

As part of our learning this term, we Mums took the opportunity to attend a Sightlines Initiative network meeting at Madeley Nursery School, a setting I have long wanted to visit. It was lovely to be able to have a look around the learning space, and see how the children's project work is documented and displayed, as well as to hear some of the staff's stories and to catch something of their Reggio-inspired vision: child-led and challenging. Head teacher, Louise Lowings, spoke of valuing being a learner. She quoted Jerome Bruner who said, "We are storytelling creatures, and as children we acquire language to tell those stories we have inside us." Isn't this a powerful image of learning, granting children the means of expressing the stories carried within? I love this .... It is deeply respectful of the fact that ALL children carry stories within them. Central to Reggio philosophy is the belief that children are competent learners with an accessibility to ideas. "The important thing about this pedagogy is finding your voice," said Lou, and this is true for all of us, both the adults and children in the learning community.

One of the key questions for us in our new Reggio learning group has been how do we document our group learning? Even in our small group of 9 children, how do we select which pathways to follow? There are so many ideas buzzing in any group of children. How do we settle on a shared project idea? I know from Project-Based Learning and the ideas of Lori Pickert that, over time, as we engage in facilitating this kind of learning, we will get better at selecting those interests and questions which have the potential to lead on to deeper learning and sustained project work. But her advice is just to pick something and go for it. See what happens. If it flows, great. If not, try again. This is how we learn. We begin by seeing the potential. Learning happens in the relationship between the children - and the ideas. The stories emerge .... How do we catch them? We can select materials and make them available .... Materials which offer empathy to a particular idea, which have the plasticity to tell the stories. Children can explore many different ways of working with an idea expressing themselves through art, music, movement, photography, writing .... 100 languages, 100 ways of responding, of feeling. I loved the idea Madeley have adopted this year of holding their creative studio "in attesta" (in waiting) .... a place prepared in response to children's emerging stories and then opened to them; a place prepared to evolve and respond to evolving ideas. When revealed to children, such a space inspires quiet reverence; it is a space demonstrating respect for their ideas, a magical space, a place that sustains engagement. This is about educators planning and giving to children's learning, and there is an energy generated by being learners together in a community. One of the key quotes I came away with from my visit was, "We stopped instructing and started loving." If only more educational settings were able to embrace such an approach.

You can read Madeley Nursery's Principles, Values and Aims HERE.

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