About 5.5 years ago, the Chief Operating Officer and Owner of Hildebrandt Learning Centers (HLC), Bill Grant, offered me the trip of a lifetime, a visit to the Reggio Emilia Schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy. These programs in Italy are known as to be some of the best early care and learning programs worldwide from which many early care and learning programs strive to emulate or incorporate aspects of this program into their own.
To be able to experience firsthand something that I had read and studied for years was inspiring. At the heart of the Reggio Emilia approach is the belief that children are competent, capable, curious, and able to actively participate in their own learning versus a “blank” slate waiting to be filled with information.
The curriculum is flexible and emerges from the interests, thoughts, and observations of the children. The teachers become researchers and participate side by side in the child’s explorations, providing opportunities, materials and a framework from which children can explore ideas, problem solve, and project conclusions.
The approach is a lot more comprehensive than this quick synopsis, but HLC early care and learning programs embrace many of the same principles and is based on the teachings of educational philosophers, such as Piaget, Vygotsky, Howard Gardner, etc. which are also the foundation for the Reggio Emilia approach.
Watching the children totally immersed and engaged in their own learning totally inspired my team’s desire to become more committed as a company to this approach. We began with more home-like environments with many open-ended materials (i.e. tubes, balls, boxes, clay, art medium, etc.) in aesthetic environments capturing the curiosity of the children.
As children explore and learn, they begin to share use of paper, crayons, paint, clay, and a multitude of art medium in which to express their thoughts and ideas. These art works or drawings are the beginning of symbolic language which we call writing. Loris Malaguzzi, founder of the Reggio Emilia Schools, talks about the “100 languages” or many ways children can represent their ideas, thoughts, and theories.
Creativity through the arts (art, creative expression, movement, dramatic play, puppets, blocks, music and more) is a critical part of our curriculum and interwoven throughout the daily schedule as is in the Reggio Emilia centers.
We view art as the process or inquiry-based rather than the product which might be hung on a refrigerator or wall. The way children explore the art medium or tools is as important as the final product. Children participate in ways to express their thoughts, feelings, and ideas.
As teaching staff provides a variety of art medium or open-ended materials from, children can explore, manipulate, and create. Children explore textures, color, movement, lines, space, light which provides opportunities for dialogue and collaboration with other children and adults.
Children’s drawings and creations, dance or body movements, music, or story telling share insights into their thoughts, beliefs, discoveries and problem-solving. Teachers can guide this development to higher levels of thinking or exploration with open-ended questions i.e. “I wonder why…” or “Tell me about those squiggly lines…”
We also encourage teaching staff to use the children’s work and documentation panels to inform parents and the community about the learning and the experiences of children in our programs.
We view this inspiration by the Reggio Emilia schools as a journey of learning and implementation of an emergent curriculum that is taking place over an extended period of time building upon the relationships with young children and families. As we build on these relationships, we find ways to create connections between ideas and learning.
Our curriculum is becoming steeped in building on the interests of children i.e. discovering worms on the sidewalk after a heavy rain or a “sprout” poking its head through the earth. Light, shadows, and projects of interest of which children can touch, see, hear, manipulate become the central focus of the child’s curriculum.
These activities become the foundation for learning i.e. seeing patterns or shapes (math), symbols or descriptive language (literacy), collaborations with other children and adults problem-solving (social-emotional), caring for the art media (self-help and responsibility) and more.
Watching children engaged with other children and materials, asking questions, sharing stories, and loving learning is priceless. These children are tomorrow’s leaders. All children deserve the highest quality early care and learning and programs that focus on their needs.
I am thrilled to be a very small part of this fascinating education system at Hildebrandt Learning Centers for children beginning at birth through kindergarten as well as before and after school care.