Just over three years ago I was invited to Toronto, Canada to participate in the Rhythm of Learning
"The Rhythm of Learning in Nature is an opportunity offered by the York Region Nature Collaborative for like-minded educators to come together in place to experience nature, outdoor play, Reggio-inspiration and forest school practices. The week follows an emergent curriculum framework, as we will invite both facilitators and participants to decide the direction of the work and the focus of our professional inquiries. Past participants become returnees and the week has come to be known as a “knowledge retreat”."
I spent a lot of time chatting with Debi Keyte-Hartland and Diane Kashin, as we were all staying at Diane's home and explored our ideas and experiences of being in dialogue with the Reggio Emilia Approach... each with our own different international interpretations... as context is essential... Sweden, UK and Canada.
I came to the conclusion during my stay there that I am NOT "Reggio inspired"… I have realised that I am inspired by Malaguzzi and his approach to exploring pedagogy, children, childhood, learning and relationships… It was not something that came to me suddenly but was something that I had been struggling with for some time… a kind of discomfort with calling myself, or being referred to as Reggio inspired - a feeling that it was not explaining my relationship with this pedagogical philosophy. As I am one of the admins of the Facebook group Reggio Emilia Approach, I often read descriptions of Reggio that do not reflect my relationship or understanding of this approach… and I feel I do not want to be defined by this either… That the definition of "Reggio" by others (and yes it should look different everywhere as it should reflect your context) is not something that I want to be defined by… especially this move that Reggio IS natural materials, that Reggio IS beautiful environments with neutral colours, that Reggio IS loose-parts etc etc… because, for me, the approach can be so many things, and is so much more complex… and so deserving that people take the time to read the books, the articles, watch films and discover where the approach came from and how it has been evolving over the years... in the actual city of Reggio Emilia in Northern Italy, but also how it has spread over the decades around the world. I want to return to Malaguzzi… to be inspired by this man who took inspiration from many to weave his pedagogical fabric… a fabric that was always shifting and changing to meet the needs of the children, teachers, parents, setting, time…. taking inspiration not just from the pedagogical world but from the whole world… from all sorts of experts… and non-experts, across a great diversity of academic fields…
This text was first written in August 2016 in Toronto... and I am returning to it again so that I can revisit it and reflect in the process of sharing it here on my new blog website. What I find interesting is that during the 7 years I have been writing my blog I have constantly returned to the image of weaving and fabric... and this is the image I now use for my concept of Original Learning... and while the Reggio Emilia Approach has been a part of my inspiration to creating Original Learning, it is also inspired by many other pedagogies, research, neuroscience, as well as my own personal experiences and visits I have made to educational settings around the world and dialogues I have engaged with... just as Malaguzzi listened to researchers and consultants to expand his own thinking, read and studied research... I am by no means comparing myself to Malaguzzi... merely inspired by his bravery to dare to do something different, armed with knowledge from multidisciplinary sources and the trust of the parents.. Brain research has come leaps and bounds… we know and understand so much more about the developing brain than during the time of Malaguzzi… information I am sure he would have been eager to have incorporated into this approach to learning with children. So many new researchers and thinkers he would be eager to engage with to challenge his thinking... I am inspired by many.. Malaguzzi, Hawkins, Gopnik, Vygotsky,etc etc are obvious ones… but also my husband and all his knowledge in sleep research have expanded my understanding of children's need for sleep, rest and cognitive development and health… of course all the teachers I meet… in real life and online inspire me a great deal… my own childhood inspires me… I remember what I liked, what I disliked, what got me all fired up…. these memories help me connect with the children… remembering how I felt as a child… connecting with my childhood allows another perspective of today's children. Listening to Diane's husband talk about eyes… (this is his area of expertise) and how eyes are being damaged by early reading (requiring glasses)… as eyes were not designed to read… this makes me want to research more into more about the effects learning has on the biology of the child… Also that fact I have three children with autism and that I too have autism, allows me insights into education that many educators do not have... it allows me to think about inclusion from my own autistic perspective, but also my observations of how the education system has treated and impacted my own children has fuelled me with experience and knowledge I can share with others...
And of course, now my daughters have chosen to be climate activists and use their voice alongside Greta Thunberg and other youths around the world... as a mother I have strived to share power in my home... to create a democracy of equal value, and at the same time remember my responsibility to support my children to evolve and reach their potential... and this same approach is what I use as an educator.
My experience with philosophy with children, of deepening my understanding of listening, of the complex relationship of play and learning, and of democratic learning spaces are the driving forces behind Original Learning and also the workshops I hold around the world.
MY inspiration in Malaguzzi is the fact that there is a willingness to be open to all knowledge… to actively to look for more knowledge to better understand the knowledge you already possess or to send you into a pedagogical somersault… to force you to rediscover what learning is … what teaching is. His passion for children… the respect… the desire to create something new, not by inventing the wheel but by recycling what already exists. His belief that children are competent and that we are co-researchers. His image of the child. Having just read Roald Dahl's BFG recently to the children I have vivid memories of the BFG travelling to dreamland and collecting dreams… which he mixed up to create new dreams for (mainly) children. So now I have this image of a teacher collecting ideas - from research, from society, from colleagues, from parents from the children, from the world around us - and mixing them up to create new ideas for the children…with the children.
I chose this word - Interaction - to be a part of my blog name because of this quote... it resinated with me so much. Imagination was chosen because I truly believe in the power of imagination... to imagine possibilities as an educators as well as creating spaces for children to use their imaginations...
If there was anything that I have written that is my vision, my mantra... what I strive for, then it is this... this is the core of my pedagogy.
Further reads The Competent child - The competent teacher
My aim with my posts is to enable deeper reflection in your own understanding of education, to take a pause to further reflect on the pedagogy from the city of Reggio Emilia that has inspired so many... and to remind people just how complex, rich and still filled with wonders to discover this approach is... and the need to respectfully enter a dialogue with each other in order to strive to be co-learners