To properly understand the program and planning that takes place at Elder Street Early Childhood Centre, we must first explain the educational theory behind the practice. To do this we will introduce you to the Reggio Emilia education approach.
In April 2015, our educational leader Melissa, travelled with the REAIE group of teacher delegates to take part in a educational study tour with 400 other delegates from around the world. Melissa wanted to understand more and see for herself how this wonderful approach looked in practice in its original Italian context. (please see our Resources tab to read her report of this learning experience). Our own education and care service is influenced and inspired by the educational approach that takes place in Reggio Emilia. However, it is important to note that as our context is very different to that of an Italian town, we draw from their philosophy and theory to build our own educational program within our own context.
Reggio Emilia is a city in Northern Italy. It’s infant or toddler centres and preschools are regarded as some of the best in the world. After World War II, the people of Reggio Emilia, inspired by a local philosopher – Loris Malaguzzi, decided that they wanted to provide high quality programs for children. The financial support from the government and dedication from the community led to the development of centres that are an inspiration to early childhood professionals around the world.
The Reggio Emilia approach to education is committed to the creation of conditions for learning that will enhance and facilitate children’s construction of “his or her own powers of thinking through the synthesis of all the expressive, communicative and cognitive languages” (Edwards and Forman, 1993). The Reggio Emilia approach can be viewed as a resource and inspiration to help educators, parents, and children as they work together to further develop their own educational programs. The Reggio Emilia approach is based on the following principles:
Emergent Curriculum: An emergent curriculum is one that builds upon the interests of children. Topics for study are captured from the talk of children, through community or family events, as well as the known interests of children (puddles, shadow, dinosaurs etc) Team planning is an essential component of the emergent curriculum. Educators work together to formulate, hypotheses about the possible directions of a project, the materials needed, and possible parent and/or community support and involvement.
Project work: Projects, also emergent, are in depth studies of concepts, ideas, and interests, which arise within the group. Considered as an adventure, projects may last one week or could continue throughout the shcool year. Throughout a project, teachers help children make decisions about the direction of study, the ways in which the group will research the topic, the representational medium that will demonstrate and showcase the topic and the selection of materials needed to represent the work. Long-term projects enhance lifelong learning.
Collaboration: Collaborative work, both large and small is considered valuable and necessary to advance cognitive development. Collaboration between staff, children and families – everyone, including the child, is involved in planning the environment and experiences.
Teachers as researchers: The teacher’s role within the Reggio Emilia approach is complex. Working as co-teachers, the role of the teacher is first and foremost to be that of a learner alongside the children. The teacher is a teacher-researcher, a resource and guide as she/he lends expertise to children. (Edwards, 1993) Within such a teacher-researcher role, educators carefully listen, observe, and document children’s work and the growth of community in their classroom and are to provoke, co-construct and stimulate thinking and children’s collaboration with peers. Teachers are committed to reflection about their own teaching and learning.
Documentation: Similar to the port folio approach, documentation of children’s work in progress is viewed as an important tool in the learning process for children, teachers and parents. Pictures of children engaged in experiences, their words as they discuss what they are doing, feeling and thinking, and the children’s interpretation of experience through the visual media are displayed as a graphic presentation of the dynamics of learning. Documentation is used as an assessment and advocacy.
Environment: Within the Reggio Emilia schools, great attention is given to the look and feel of the classroom. Environment is considered the “third teacher”. Teachers carefully organise space for small and large group projects and small intimate spaces for one, two or three children. We promote the use of natural play materials as much as possible and you will notice the presence of wooden toys and equipment and elements such as sticks, stones, shells etc for the children to play and explore with. We have been working hard for many years to create a natural outdoor play environment that has a balance of the old style backyard feel mixed with the need for safety and supervision.
“Young children learn the most important things, not by being told, but by constructing knowledge for themselves in interaction with the physical world and other children – and they way they do this best is by playing” (Jones & Reynolds, 1992).
Belonging, Being and Becoming
The Early Years Learning Framework
Another component of our educational program is the our National framework as named above. We support the Framework’s vision for all children to experience play-based learning that is engaging and builds success for life. It is a guide for us as early childhood educators to use with parents and families (your child’s first and most influential educator) to develop learning programs responsive to children’s ideas, interests, strengths and abilities and recognise that children learn through their play.
The Framework describes childhood as a time of belonging, being and becoming
Belonging is the basis for living a fulfilling life. Children feel they belong because of the relationships they have with their family, community, culture and place
Being is about living here and now. Childhood is a special time in life and children need to just ‘be’ – time to play, try new things and have fun.
Becoming is about the learning and development that young children experience. Children start to form their sense of identity from an early age, which shapes the type of adult they will become.
Play…… is very important for children. Through play babies and young children explore and learn to understand the world around them as they come to communicate, discover, imagine and create. When children play they are showing what they have learned and what they are trying to understand. This is why play is one of the foundations of the Early Years Learning Framework.
Relationships and Partnerships……It is well known that children learn best when they have secure relationships with caring adults. When children from a very early age develop trusting relationships they feel more confident and able to explore and learn. In our service when children feel emotionally secure they learn through play to develop the skills and understandings they need to interact positively with others and gradually learn to take responsibility. By working together parents and educators can enhance a child’s learning and wellbeing. We encourage parents to talk regularly with our staff and ask about their learning. Information that you provide us help us to link your child’s home experiences with the time they spend at the centre.
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