Source: York University
Italy's Reggio Emilia exhibit is teaching educators: York prof
October 20, 2006
looks at Italian preschools’ approach to early childhood education
TORONTO, October 19, 2006 -- Ask a small child in the Italian city of Reggio
Emilia what a tourist should make a point of seeing, and you may get an
unexpected answer – not the piazza, for example, but the shadows created by
columns in the piazza.
This type of suggestion from a preschooler might be dismissed by many people
but has been embraced in the infant-toddler centres and preschools of Reggio
Emilia and in the city itself, says Carol Anne Wien, an associate professor
in York University’s Faculty of Education. Developed in preschools in the
northern Italian city over several decades, the Reggio Emilia approach
recognizes children as resourceful and capable, and is changing the field of
early childhood education internationally, she says.
The drawings, paintings, sculpture and design work by the five and six year
old children of Reggio Emilia – collected in an exhibit called "The Hundred
Languages of Children" – have been brought to Toronto for the first time by
a partnership between York University, Seneca College, the Toronto District
School Board and The Bishop Strachan School. Educators who have been
interested in the approach since the early 1990s are flocking in to hear
about and discuss the Reggio approach during a conference this weekend, to
officially launch the exhibit’s visit (see www.100languagestoronto.ca).
The exhibit begins its Toronto stay at the Toronto Dominion Centre and in
January and February will be at the Columbus Centre. York’s Faculty of
Education is offering a professional development series based on the
exhibit, which starts Monday.
"The Reggio Emilia approach challenges our notions of early childhood
education," says Wien, who will be leading the professional development
series. "It sees children as capable and powerful, with interesting thoughts
and strong feelings about the world. It is making people realize that, in
North America, we often don’t take children very seriously. If we learn to
see them as strong and resourceful, it changes our approach to them."
The example of the child who recommends a tourist go to the piazza to see
the shadows is an actual one, taken from a tourist guidebook that the
children of Reggio Emilia created, says Wien. "It shows the world of the
city from the children’s point of view and makes adults realize these
children have ideas that are serious and thoughtful," she says.
The municipality of Reggio Emilia owns and operates many of the city’s
preschools and has drawn international acclaim for its commitment to
creating a system in which each classroom of 25 has two teachers and each
school has an arts specialist and a cook.
The Reggio approach is not intended as a model of education to be replicated
in other settings. However, it may be particularly valuable in large urban
settings for its focus on citizenship, belonging, and its emphasis on
democratic processes of participation. When children participate with
teachers in creating their learning, it reduces alienation and behaviour
problems, Wien says, because it recognizes the value of children and the
importance of making them feel visible and acknowledged in the world.
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