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  • Skribentens bildSuzanne Axelsson

Inspiration not cloning... how Reggio are YOU?

In July 2014 I attended the Boulder Journey School summer conference - This was the first summer conference that the school had allowed its participants to take photographs of the setting...

Which of course I was VERY grateful for - as it is through the photographs I can re-visit and see new threads of thought and inspiration.

BUT I also understand why they have not allowed photography previously (like the preschools in Reggio Emilia itself and some RE inspired preschools here in Stockholm, where my note book ended up filled with small sketches for ideas instead).

There is concern that visitors and participants will simply hop over the most important step - the UNDERSTANDING of the philosophy -

that the Reggio Emilia Approach is NOT about beautiful environments but about our attitude, respect, enthusiasm towards the children...

This understanding, attitude, respect and enthusiasm for children, for learning processes, for play is then reflected in the design of the classroom/learning-space....

... the beautiful environments are a bi-product of the approach, not the approach. So it is impossible to just recreate one of the set ups from a Reggio Emilia Approach preschool and then say you are a RE preschool - because all you have created is a shell - the substance is missing - the organic living and developing part is not there... just the empty shell.

I felt that since I am posting lots of Reggio inspired images that I also have a responsibility that they are used wisely...

...these photos are not here for for you to clone in your own setting... they are here to INSPIRE you to the variety of possiblities that can created to provide a playful, learning environment for children and those that work with the children...

...these photos are here to make you question why have you set up your preschool the way you have?... is it supporting the children right now?... are you having to say NO a lot? Can a change in the environment layout reduce/change that?...

For instance, at one preschool I worked at we had a sofa positioned against a wall - it created a huge open play space for the children to construct in... but this group of children were more interested in running across the room and launching themselves onto the sofa (of course) and destroying the creations of those children actually using the area as we adults had intended (based on our observations that many children liked to construct and therefore we needed a large space). Instead of saying NO all the time to the running, we re-located the sofa so that it could still be used as a hidey-place or something to be launched onto - but they simply did not get up the speed they had before, and they did not disturb the construction area - which of course got a smaller area, but it met the needs of the children RIGHT THEN. A month later the construction area was more enticing than the run and launch play to the 2-3 year olds and we extended the area again and moved the sofa to another room to be used in the library area for reading - it did get used for reading and snuggling, and the construction area was busy and filled with creativity. We used the furniture as a teacher colleague... it helped us to show appropriate ways to play... as indoor free-play has to be controlled just so that the number of children can be accommodated in a positive atmosphere... it is MUCH easier with true free-play outdoors (although what is true free play in an EY setting can be discussed further in another post).

...the photos I share in my blog are to be the start, the foundation, the spark for your own ideas... each location, each culture, country, town, unique group of people will add their own spice, their own flavour and have their own needs to be met... so not everything is going to be appropriate to recreate - but adaptations can be created that will be better suited for your needs... and then it would be wonderful for you to share these adaptations and show the process so that we can all learn from them... Its why I documented the transformation of the new atelier that we have created... from a BIG open space with areas of use - to it being partitioned off... it was interesting to watch the process and how the children reacted... the aim was to reduce the running (as we had a space for indoor running and big play - we needed space for other kinds of play too, so the children had choice) so that there was space for construction without it being knocked over... and the change worked. We saw that the children could find the space to play through construction without the fear of another play hurtling through their space...

... the photos in my blog are to be used with respect - yes use them to inspire you, BUT PLEASE take the time to learn more about the approach, about how you set up your rooms and provocations is an extension/response to the whole approach... take the time to see the competent child and how your setting supports the child to be competent or hinders them - and how you as a teacher support that. View the child with the right to play, learn and develop not a child who needs to...

if you want to know more about Reggio Emilia then why not read one of my assignments for my masters... I wrote about Malaguzzi and his contribution to early childhood education - it will outline about the third teacher, the competent child, the 100 languages, children's rights and the inspirations behind his thinking... Malaguzzi was a man inspired by many others - he did not create anything new, he just put it together in a new way...

so how do the images inspire you? For example, the one above... from Boulder Journey School

Do you have the space to be able to recreate this? if not can you think about how to adapt so that your children could be exposed to a multi-layered construction area that allows them to test gravity (if that is what you think would interest your children)...

how can you extend this? What about boards of different quality/texture - with sandpaper on, or carpet on - how will cars be able to roll down those, will it make a difference?

How do the dividers in the room work?

Why has carpeting been placed here? (I have my theories - what are yours?)

Can you assume the age of the children in this room by looking at what is provided?

Ask your self questions... then go to your own setting and ask yourself the same questions... are you satisfied with your answers?

Or do you feel the need to change or adapt?

I think there is a tendency to just recreate what someone else has done... because it looks great, or the idea is brilliant, but the thinking has not been fully processed - and what I see as I travel around the world, and see images from around thee world of settings and classrooms is that they are beginning to look more and more alike... almost as if there is a template for early years education play and learning spaces. Each country actually has its own "look" - I mean I can really see Swedish preschools having a specific look, just as a see a look in the Icelandic preschools, the Canadian, the British, those in USA and also in Palestine... but now I see that there is even becoming an international template of what a preschool should look like. And to some extent there will be similarities - children's play, how children develop - there are similarities. But having worked at and visited many preschools and schools over the years it is clear that every space is different when viewing it from its human resources and how they interact with each other and the world around them. I would have thought then that this diversity, especially in settings inspired by the preschools in Reggio Emilia, would reflect more diversity in their third teacher.

I am not against templates - as you can read in this post - and I feel that a template for a classroom/learning space could be helpful to get people started in the thinking process about how rooms work as the third teacher... and how you as an educator can impact the professional development of the third teacher. The problem arises when only the templates are being followed - that they are followed blindly, or for the sake of being commercially attractive rather than functional - and by functional I mean a space where children can interact with each other, with materials and the world around them - and to be able to do this as a competent child and not a dependant child.

of course children depend on us. But we need to create spaces where they can test out their independence safely. This means devoid of danger/hazards, not devoid of risk - and risk is more than physical risks... there are social risks too etc

Take the inspiration from my photos and my words, and from all the images and words by others - and create something new by making the combinations that is just right for you and the children you work with... its like making a meal... with the same ingredients you can create many different dishes.. go and take the ingredients of Reggio Emilia and create your own meal - however humble or gourmet!

I think it is important when you are designing a play space to think about how does the third teacher support children's interactions with each other... does it exclude some children, does it segregate,

Is the third teacher sustainable... is it using materials in a planet friendly way? Are the materials being used by the children contributing to micro-plastics in the water etc (glitter, use of lots of plastic, no recycling)... do you use ethical materials (eg most feathers are plucked painfully from alive birds... you can buy ethical feathers).

Why do you make these choices? Could other choices be made and how do they impact the children and the preschool - I mean your practice has to be sustainable economically and socially as well as environmentally.

We are making choices all the time... why not take time to reflect on the choices you make and allow your third teacher to evolve in your context meeting the needs of culture, traditions, the educators, the families, the languages, the norms (and which ones need challenging) and of course, most importantly, the children.

Boulder Journey School

Överby Preschool.

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