Shyness and Bloom and The Reggio Emilia Approach
While I was taking my B.Ed. at UBC, and especially during my specialization in the Expressive Arts, I was exposed to the amazing teaching principles of Reggio Emelia. I learned how powerful this approach can be, in developing the whole child through art, and not just thinking about skills to develop. I think art-making teaches several skills, but this is a little something more. Art is valued as a way for children to communicate their understanding of the world around them. Below I will discuss the main principles of this philosophy, and how I interpret them into my studio.
The child at the center:
In my studio, I see children as competent, full of potential, and I trust them to make art on their own terms, with the materials they choose. I allow their ideas to guide the direction of the classes, and only steer them gently through large-scale projects so that they come to completion within the 9 (or so)-week-long sessions.
The role of the Environment:
Sometimes called another teacher, the space in which we learn and create deserves lots of attention. When I learned that this was an important principle of Reggio, everything just clicked for me. It is something that I intuitively knew. When materials are displayed in a pleasing way, they are so much more appealing to use. When we can glance around a room and get ideas or find ways to articulate our ideas, we are in the best space. I spend hours arranging and organizing the studio, and it is always a work in progress. Incandescent and natural lighting, orderliness, art hanging on the walls, and music playing are the greatest ways I have found to make the space more comfortable to work in. I have most of the materials visible to everyone in clear plastic tubs and containers, baby food jars, woven baskets, and the likes. Yesterday, I just added more shelving, finding more space so that the materials are right there for the kids to use to tell their stories, or to be inspired by.
Children speak several languages:
The Reggio Emilia approach describes the child as having a hundred languages that he/she uses to communicate. Focus on symbolic representation including words, movement, drawing, painting, building, sculpture, shadow play, collage, dramatic play, and music, can lead children to surprising levels of communication, expression, and creativity. I am still learning how to support their many languages best. But by offering them, at the very least, good, high quality materials, and teaching them to use them with care and skill, I hope to send a message that they are worthy of great materials, and that what they create, and however they get there, has value.
One of the best ways to learn is from sharing ideas with others and working together. I encourage children to talk about their work, to engage themselves with each other’s processes, and to venture with big ideas. I try to always talk abut their ideas, and help them to figure out how to bring their visions into fruition. In Reggio, there is a huge focus on the interactions between children and their teacher, children with their peers, children with their parents, and parents with the teacher. This network is the foundation on which a deeper learning potential is reached. We are the village!
The Role of the Teacher and Time:
In Reggio, the teacher’s job is to facilitate children's ability to represent what they know and imagine. They mediate between children's current understanding and what they are on the threshold of understanding. In a classroom setting, teachers would constantly arrange new experiences, challenge the children and help solve problems as they came up, as well as connect children with resources, facilitate group discussions, social interactions, and the development of new skills. That’s quite a lot to accomplish within our 1 hour time constraint. In fact, another one of the principles of Reggio has to do with the importance of time. Children need to be given time to explore concepts at their own pace and the freedom to immerse themselves in projects and learning trajectories for as long as they like. Likewise, projects and themes should follow the children's interest and development of concepts. The five-week/term long sessions are designed to allow for a deeper connection to ideas, and to work on a large project. I have to guide the children within this framework, because I only have an hour each week with them. I am also always striving to follow the lead of the kids, and give them the powerful roles (Artists/Engineers/Creative Masterminds) when they are here, and I become their partner. I listen and observe the children closely and ask loads of questions to discover their ideas and visions, and then do my best to provide the right guidance and materials so that they can express themselves as they envision.
Documentation involves taking photos, transcribing the creative chatter, ideas and discovery, and displaying the art. I am working on this, and it’s tough to do when each lesson requires my full involvement with the projects. I try to keep a photo logue, and I write about the experiences as much as I can. In each final art show I display pictures and captions with all the works. Doing as much of this as possible shows the students and the parents the value of the whole experience, and not to just focus on the final product.