Early Childhood Education

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Hailed as the best preschool program in the world by Newsweek Magazine, the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education has attracted the world wide attention of educators, researchers and just about anyone interested in early childhood education. This program is only available in Armidale at PLC. Specialist Reggio Emilea Educator, Michele Kennedy, has recently returned from a study tour through Italy, where she had the opportunity to observe and learn from the experts of this philosophy. We catch up with her to find out more.

Tell us about the Reggio Emilia philosophy.

The Reggio Emilia is a city in northern Italy. Following World War II, a forward thinking Teacher, Loris Malaguzzi, and a group of families decided that the only way to look to the future was to focus on the children. Nowadays, the Reggio Emilia approach is recognised world-wide.

Reggio Emilia inspired educators recognise children’s powers of initiative and provide opportunities for them to pursue their own ideas. They view children as protagonists of their own learning – as naturally curious and capable of pursuing what they want and need to find out about the world.

Central to the philosophy is children are viewed as competent thinkers and meaning-makers.

An essential goal is to build and maintain supportive relationships between children, parents and teachers in every direction that lead to genuine, mutually empowering learning.

Children are encouraged to explore their environment and express themselves through many modes of expression, including words, music, movement, drawing, painting and sculpture just to name a few. Educators recognise the rights of children to have a safe, beautiful, responsive and challenging environment in which to learn. They see children as possessing multiple intelligences and competencies, and they invite them to share all their ways of knowing.

Teachers are viewed as active researchers. The teacher’s role is to be engaged in co-creating experiences through observation of, listening to, thinking with and extending the thinking of the children.

Another essential component of a Reggio-Emilia educational project is to make visible the learning of both children and adults. This happens through documentation, in which the process of learning is recorded and displayed.

You have recently been to Italy on a study tour. What surprised you most?

During the Easter break, I was fortunate to attend a Study Tour in Reggio Emilia, Italy, to further my experience and understanding of the Reggio Emilia educational project. I had the privilege of being one of 81 Australian delegates, joining 380 participants from 28 countries.

I visited an infant toddler centre, preschool and the Loris Malaguzzi International Centre School, where I observed the children in their environment interacting with peers, teachers and learning materials. The beauty of the learning environments amazed me. The schools were so welcoming and engaging. This was an incredibly enriching experience, to see first hand the Reggio Emilia approach in practice.

The strength of the bonds between the city infant toddler centres and preschools surprised me the most. The educational approach is integrated into the fabric of the local government, community, and its people as a whole. Presentations and lectures reinforced that education is at the top of their political agenda.

The educators have worked hard since WWII to get to this stage. The strong image of the child was everywhere! The children’s learning is highly respected, beautifully documented and displayed throughout the schools and in the wider community, which made it clear how children are valued and celebrated as important citizens from birth.

How has the trip enriched your teaching?

I have been inspired in so many ways since returning. I have seen greater potential in the resources available to us here at PLC and within the wider community. I have concentrated on listening more deeply to the children and ensuring larger blocks of time are offered for the children to engage in meaningful explorations.

I am motivated to explore more diverse ways of recording the children’s learning and making this visible throughout our school and the wider community – providing more opportunities for the children to revisit their work and to reflect on their learning before, during and after a project.

The trip affirmed that what we do at PLC Armidale is rich and meaningful. It also validated why we embrace this exciting approach and teach according to its principles.

What are some of the learning experiences your PLC Pre-Kindergarten class at PLC has recently engaged in?

Pre-Kindergarten have been researching nature – exploring the changes that have been taking place in our beautiful Armidale landscape and regular nature walks involving collecting, sorting and discussing nature. We have formed a relationship with the Armidale Tree Group Volunteers, to gain insight into bushcare regeneration, where the children learnt about local plant and animal species. We then assisted the volunteers in removing Periwinkle Weeds.

Line drawing is something the girls do a lot of. Drawing is an effective way for the children to record and develop their thoughts, ideas and feelings, that can be later revisited and built upon.

Pre-Kinder’s interest in symbolic representation has seen them exploring through drawing, painting, constructing with natural materials, sculpting with clay, playdough and wire.

The life cycle of a butterfly has also been explored, after we discovered a caterpillar becoming a chrysalis near our classroom.

Other interests have been creating line drawing plans for our ‘wish garden’ and exploring transformations. A group of 3 children used blocks and glass stones to create a Mickey Mouse robot that transformed into a funny alien.

Transforming is when something turns a different way, like from a robot into an alien.” India.

Transforming means that it looks different and funny. We laughed a lot when our robot transformed into a funny alien.

What do you notice about how the girls learn?

Our Pre-Kinders are the directors of their own learning. They work to co-construct their learning experiences with their peers, teachers, families, school and the wider community. By encouraging the children to learn together, they reflect, as a group, upon what they see, what they are curious about and what they are thinking. They hypothesise and discover new meanings, leading the children to surprising levels of symbolic skill and creativity.

Our Pre-Kinders develop thinking skills involved in order to strive for understanding, to figure out complexities, truths and possibilities, through creative hands-on exploration of a variety of materials. By having the opportunities to do so, they consolidate their ideas and are motivated to seek meaning and transfer their knowledge to other contexts. They feel confident in their approaches, as they know their contributions are valued. Ultimately, we engender thinking as a habit of mind within the children.

By presenting documentation of their interactions and project work, the girls have the opportunity to revisit their experiences with others, reflect on their involvement, thinking and continually challenge and grow their ideas.

This facilitates an understanding that learning is built upon prior experiences and is an ongoing process that is more fun when done with others.

How does this approach influence the lifetime learning experience of the girls?

The educational approach nurtures democratic dispositions: openness to different perspectives, deep and curious listening, fluency in many different modes of expression ‘100 Languages’, and critical thinking skills.

By exploring projects of children’s interest in great detail, children are excited by the learning process. This enthusiasm for knowledge, combined with the ability to experience project work in detail, fosters a predisposition for ‘life-long’ learning.

Thank you Michele.

For more information, visit www.plcarmidale.nsw.edu.au or phone Fiona 6770 1727.

This story was published in issue 61 of New England Focus

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