A Reggio Emilia Classroom and The Hundred Languages of Children

*This post is part of a series on Annual Report updates. More in the series include Robotics is Alive at WCDS and Mapping the World By Heart*

“…a hundred ways of listening, of marveling, of loving
a hundred joys for singing and understanding
a hundred worlds to discover
a hundred worlds to invent
a hundred worlds to dream.”
        -from The Hundred Languages by Loris Malaguzzi

Exploring through sound
Exploring through sound

At the heart of Loris Malaguzzi’s vision, the guiding genius behind the Reggio Emilia approach to education, is an establishment that centers around the intellectual, emotional, social and moral potentials of children. Children are born with a natural curiosity and an insatiable desire to explore and learn about the world around them. Through their eyes, hands, thoughts, words, and feet, children investigate. Each child’s interpretation of their environment is completely unique, entirely their own. Our role as educators in early childhood is to embrace the wonder and inquiry found in each child and to listen to the one hundred languages each displays. We must recognize the multiple ways of being and the multiple ways of seeing the world and provide each child with an opportunity not only to explore through avenues that excite them, but to allow them to communicate their findings. Very often, children create and investigate without ever being asked why they made something or what they discovered along the way, which leads to one of the truly transformative aspects of embracing the Reggio Emilia approach: the commitment to documenting a child’s insight. An art project made up of glued pieces of string and paper, and scribbled oil pastels could easily be tossed in the trash after suitable time on the refrigerator. However, the moment you attach a child’s idea behind these seemingly aimless lines, “this is a train and it’s heading through a big tunnel”, everything changes. What at first glance may have appeared to be an arbitrary assignment has suddenly become something more meaningful.

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How does music make you feel?

By committing to a Reggio-inspired learning approach, the Early Childhood Program at Wheeling Country Day School sees each child as proficient, capable, and full of communication. Our child-centered curriculum emphasizes hands-on, multi-sensory discovery learning and brings value to the whole being of each student. Acts of caring, acts of love, and acts full of interaction and communication are shared amongst teachers and students every day. Further, our Reggio-inspired program provides our students with numerous opportunities to communicate their various perspectives and ways of thinking with their greater school community. It encourages educators and parents to listen just a little bit closer and to catch the moments we might have missed if we weren’t tuned in to the magnificent thoughts of each child. After all, communication is a process, involving questioning, discovery, and the use of various kinds of languages. At the start of a school year, some children may be hesitant to share their reflections, appearing unsure of the “right” answer. With time and consistency, however, children are assured that their creative ideas matter, and they begin to not only communicate confidently, but also to inquire further. By asking questions, the students take ownership of their learning and very often may determine the next venture. Letting children lead in their learning results in an unmatched enthusiasm. We as WCDS educators work to find ways to help our students navigate through complex experiences in which competent abilities to communicate with others is necessary and expected. Students are encouraged to use language to explore, investigate, question, and create. They play to learn, delighting in the process of communicating with their peers and their teachers. With the use of documentation, our students are able to share critical moments in their learning with their families and the greater community. Implementing various Reggio philosophies has allowed us to listen with respect to our students, believing that their questions and observations provide us with an equal opportunity to learn alongside them. A light and shadow investigation began with a discussion about what the children already understood about this phenomenon. “Shadows are a dark reflection.” “They always follow you, because they are you.” Then the children explore. To a passerby, this could simply look like nothing more than playtime if the rich commentary between the children wasn’t recorded. “If you stand far away from the light, your shadow gets bigger!” “When you put something in the light it makes a thing, the thing you want to be.” This crucial aspect, recording the active learning, results in a much richer learning environment for everyone involved. The children are able to learn the way they learn, and express the way they express, knowing that someone is listening to their one hundred languages. The teachers are able to facilitate a joyful learning environment and embrace the individual learning style of each child that walks through their door. And lastly, parents are able to have tangible communication between the creativity and learning their child is experiencing each day. It is a collaborative process that is undertaken together.

Self Portraits Beginning/End of Year
Self Portraits Beginning/End of Year

Reggio Emilia reminds us that through the eyes of a child nothing is insignificant. We believe in creating learning experiences that foster discovery, encourage our students to experiment, to trust their intuitions and to be excited by the possibility of choice.

-Elizabeth Hladek and Claire Norman (Miss Liz and Miss Claire)