• Suzanne Axelsson

The story of the shopping mall preschool

As many of you might already know, during the last 18 months I have been listening to the forest to see what I can learn. It has been teaching me about the idea of place as important in pedagogy. This has been interesting to explore. Knowing the place. Feeling belonging.


As a person that grew up in the north of England in a small historical city and then moved to Sweden at the age of 22 to live in the capital city I would say that place has a huge impact on who you are as a person and how you are perceived by others. It makes me wonder about people who move around a lot, or refugees, what is their sense of place? I saw and heard in Palestine that this was a problem - there was a longing to return to ancestral homes, even amongst those who had never been there - as their current home is deemed by themselves as temporary despite being there for generations now.


A sense of place is that which is felt deeply by its inhabitants and visitors. This made me think of placelessness... can there be such a thing... so I checked and discovered that this refers to places that do not feel authentic or connected to the place that they are located in... ie shopping malls can often look the same no matter where they are in the world and do not reflect the local identity of the place or people.


So in that sense that copy/paste or cloning style of "doing Reggio" in another place would result in placelessness... that instead of creating unique places for play and learning that are meaningful to community and the children they become ubiquitous shopping mall- like preschools and early years settings - that if we walked into them, no matter where we are in the world, we would instantly recognise it. This would not be a preschool for the local children but for the universal idea of a child - it connects to the idea that one size fits all... which is not what the Reggio Emilia Approach is about at all. After all the name of the approach is a clue in itself... the name of the city.


Reading more about a sense of place I discovered the word "primal landscape" which is the special bond which develops between children and their childhood environments - this becomes an important part of the child's childhood identity and enables the person to make comparisons with other landscapes later in life. This suggests the importance of creating preschools that are Reggio Inspired in the context of their space - in other words the space reflects the children and the local culture while being inspired by the value of the Reggio Emilia Approach. We are supporting the child to decode their own primal landscape in order to make meaning of the world.


there is also "Place-based pedagogy" -

"Place-based education might be characterised as the pedagogy of community, the reintegration of the individual into her home-ground and the restoration of the essential links between a person and her place. Place-based education challenges the meaning of education by asking seemingly simple questions: Where am I? What is the nature of this place? What sustains this community? It often employs a process of re-storying, whereby students are asked to respond creatively to stories of their home-ground so that, in time, they are able to position themselves, imaginatively and actually, within the continuum of nature and culture in that place. They become a part of the community, rather than a passive observer of it. Place-based Education, Entrepreneurship and Investing for an “Impact Economy”.

It is not about denying the importance of national and global issues, but is a desire to connect the child and to participate in the local community. To be active participants - much as we see in the preschool projects and activities in Reggio Emilia, Italy... the city and the children together. There is also "critical pedagogy of place" where there is a focus on ensuring that not just one story is being told... that multiple stories are being told and not just the dominating colonising story, ensuring that stories of the indigenous peoples and the "othered" also get told with equality and respect.


For me all of this is a huge part of why we should not "do" Reggio ... but should be inspired by how the city and the adults strive to ensure the rights of the children as active participants in the community. The Reggio Emilia Approach has inspired me greatly as the Original Learning Approach evolved... in fact my frustration with the copy-paste attitude towards the Reggio Emilia Approach was a big motivator for creating the Original Learning Approach (that and my frustration with the continuous dichotomy play v learning, rather than the mutual relationship of play, learning, teaching and understanding), I didn't like being lumped together with people and settings that failed to respect children, the process of listening and reflection and the complexity of the Reggio Emilia Approach which was being seen more and more as a "look".

The children's own community is important to them... to decipher, to interpret, to understand - together with others, to learn how to be a participant... and then start to use these skills that are relevant to their own situation to expand their thinking and apply to other situations, nationally and globally (and beyond).






This is why the word is included in my website name!

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