The Wonder of Learning

This week's post is from Laura Sedlock, Director of the Pre-Primary Program

In the fall of 2008 I had the privilege of attending the week-long study tour of preschools and infant-toddler centers in Reggio Emilia, Italy. I already felt that I knew so much about the Reggio Emilia approach from readings and conferences - about the image of the child as capable and full of potential, the strong focus on relationships as essential to learning, the idea of teachers and children as partners in learning, and the pursuit of emergent curriculum that responds to children’s ideas and questions.

To walk into an actual school steeped in these values, however, added a new dimension to my understanding. As I walked through the classrooms of the Ernesto Balducci preschool, I saw children engaged in various forms of “research,” as it was referred to by the teachers: one group of children investigating the physical characteristics of light through a study of rainbows, another group in the atelier drawing a large piece of bark as part of an investigation of the skin of natural materials. What moved me was not the specific topics they were researching or even the quality of their work, but the intense sense of purpose and focus that these children displayed. They had such strong motivation and investment in the work they were doing, even a sense of urgency. In the words of Mara Krechevsky and Ben Mardell of Harvard’s Project Zero, these schools “do not simply prepare children for adult or later life; they are seen as essential to life.”

Here at Blue School, where we seek a balance of academic mastery driven by student inquiry and enthusiasm, self and social learning, and creative thinking, the schools of Reggio Emilia provide an inspiring example of how a strong educational community built on relationships and the curiosity of children can lead to deep and meaningful learning experiences. While we do not aspire to be a “Reggio” school (as we are in New York City and not in Reggio Emilia), we are inspired by the approach, and we can learn so much from their example about what is possible when a school is built on respect, careful listening, and thoughtful responses to children’s ideas.

Fortunately for all of us, an opportunity to learn directly from the work of the Reggio Emilia schools is coming to our city! From January 15 - May 15, 2015, “The Wonder of Learning" exhibit will be at the Williamsburg Northside School in Brooklyn. This international traveling exhibition provides a comprehensive view into the world-renowned Reggio Emilia educational approach, and aims to expand visitors’ understanding of a child’s thinking and their approach to collaboration and relationship-based learning. Broken into six multimedia-equipped sections, among the exhibition highlights are:

  • Dialogues with Material: A display of Reggio children’s artwork created from a variety of artistic, natural, and recycled materials, with an emphasis on the processes that unfold during creative acts;
  • The Enchantment of Writing: Examples of ways in which Reggio children experiment with writing for the first time, and how they make it their own;
  • A Ray of Light: Explorations of how Reggio Emilia centers encourage children to encounter light and other natural phenomena

The exhibition is managed by the North American Reggio Emilia Alliance (NAREA), which is also holding its national winter conference in NYC in March 2015 in connection with the exhibition. Blue School will play an important role in this conference, as we are one of four schools that conference participants will visit as part of the program. This is a very exciting opportunity for us to share our school and work with others in the context of a meaningful educational moment.

We hope that everyone in our community will travel to Williamsburg to see the exhibit and learn for yourself what it means to be “Reggio inspired.”

For more information about the Wonder of Learning in NYC, go to newyorkcitywol.org.

Posted on October 30, 2014 .