– By Laura Ward, National Childhood Network
I was lucky enough to be selected to attend the recent Reggio Emilia study tour through Early Childhood Ireland’s Reggio Children Project 2023. I was one of 24 Irish participants.
I found it a wonderful eye-opening experience in that I met and networked with people all over the Republic of Ireland who manage services, deliver training and mentoring as well as people from countries all over the world.
I witnessed a lot of wonderful learning experiences and approaches to children’s learning such as to slow down, to trust children in their own learning, to provide the correct environment and allow the children to pave the way for their own learning.
I enjoyed visiting the services and seeing firsthand the relationships between everyone who works in the setting from the teacher/s, atelierista (creativity facilitator), to the cooks and other ancillary staff. They are all part of the children’s life in the services. This is how the settings see the children i.e., as “living” in the school. This concept embodies the importance of the child at the centre of everything that happens in the setting.
I enjoyed seeing the environments (indoor and outdoor) and how they support the children. There is a wonderful use of natural light, natural materials, with lots of space to investigate, explore and “work” as Reggio sees it.
The bathrooms are so well thought out with the use of plants, mirrors, seating areas for children to wait and/or chat to their peers, with toys included, (e.g., dressing table and chair, dolls house and soft toys). This model will support children in waiting and seeing this area as a space for them to learn social, emotional, and personal skills.
The settings are so relaxed around risk, as they encourage children to challenge themselves through the arts, through research and exploration. There are laws around the provision of settings, however, there is a huge amount of trust placed in the settings to provide the learning the children need and this is achieved at the child’s pace. They are the constructors of their own learning. I think this component of trust really pays off in Reggio.
The takeaway learning, I will incorporate into my work as an Early Years Quality Support Specialist for Preschools is to inform educators of the need to slow down, go at a slower pace, not to feel you must cram lots of activities into the day/week/year. An example of this is that in one Reggio school, a project on leaves started in October, (a time in which is seen as “rich with possibility”), because the children observed the leaves falling from the trees in the garden. They commented about the “leaves are dancing”, “the leaf fell down”. The teachers took this nugget of information and went with it. This project followed through until the end of June. The learning I observed that the children gained from this was astonishing.
Also, to go back to placing the child at the centre of everything we do. Sometimes we say we do, but do we really achieve this? When I look into the Reggio approach I wonder if we do. For example do we feel the need to get the children from A to B by such a time? Instead we really should tune into the child and the group of children and see where they are at. What experiences can we offer them, how can we set up the environments to support the children to “live and learn” in a natural way and at the natural pace for them. Reggio sees this as “we are not transmitting our learning to children, but we are researching with them”, i.e., exploring the learning with them.
This trust goes further, and I would like to support educators to see this. They need to trust themselves and the work they are doing, and society needs to place their trust in them.
And finally, I believe if educators continually reflect on their practice, take some concepts from the Reggio Emilia approach and trust in the children, the parents and in themselves, they will enjoy their role more and be providing wonderful learning opportunities and experiences for children which will stay with them throughout their lives.
If you would like to find out more about how the Reggio Emilia philosophy can support children’s learning in your setting, there are still a limited number of tickets available for our Galway Masterclass this month. The event is the second of our three interconnected member activities as part of The Reggio Children Project 2023, funded by National Pyjama Day. It is an informative and reflective masterclass to gain a deeper knowledge of the Reggio Emilia Approach, with educators from Reggio Children. Early Childhood Ireland members can click here to register.
Bio: Laura Ward, Early Years Quality Support Specialist, National Childhood Network:
Laura Ward holds a Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education and Care and a Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Teaching and Learning. She has worked in the early years sector for over 19 years. Laura currently works as an Early Years Quality Support Specialist with the National Childhood Network. This position comprises a lot of different roles and responsibilities, some of which are, mentoring, developing and delivering training to early years settings throughout Ireland. Laura is also a tutor and delivers parenting programs for Parents Plus. Laura enjoys the supportive aspect of her roles, networking and influencing positive change.