Before I travelled to Italy my practice and beliefs for children were in place; I felt grounded in my world and confident in my career thus far. My values and beliefs continued to evolve through my personal commitment to learning and I was excited to take these experiences on my journey to Reggio Emilia, as part of a study tour.
As we prepared to embark on the trip, stories were shared by educators who took part in the previous Reggio Emilia Study Tour in 2011. As they spoke, a visual came to mind of beautiful schools with an abundance of thought provoking evidence of children’s work. Past participants would continually say to me, “this trip will change you…” “I could never have anticipated the emotions…”
I am a person who fully embraces change in my tangible world, but when others who travelled before me kept saying this trip would change me, I resisted believing wholeheartedly that it would. I was confident the Reggio Emilia study tour would be inspiring for my work, but I still questioned this notion that it could lead to such a significant change within me.
Fast forward to May 13th, 2015, the day I found myself standing in the Diana School, yes THE Diana School that I was first introduced to in college ten years earlier. It is recognized as one of the best schools in the world for achieving excellence in early childhood education.
Before a tour of the school began, we met with a parent; she spoke of her history with the school and told us about her three children who attend. The tremendous admiration she carried for the school was evident as she described the school as a “System of Love”. She was referring to the overall holistic approach of the school, describing how every decision is influenced by the love the teachers have for the children and how their thoughtful approach to every aspect of the school reflected this. She continued to explain their way of teaching was something that cannot be mimicked or duplicated, it must be driven by the heart.
As we toured the school, the children moved freely throughout the spaces, indoors and out, with a sense of freedom and an energy I could feel in my soul. There was a flurry of activity but also a careful consideration of the work of others. The history displayed on the walls in form of documentation was brought to life by the natural light shining through the windows and skylights of the piazza. I was caught by so many emotions in that moment, stunned by the beauty of it all.
How fortunate these children are to grow up in a world where they are given such rich opportunities to work, explore and collaborate with their peers in so many varied aspects of their interests. Children were truly recognized for their individuality and educators offered beautifully designed spaces and an abundance of materials for them to engage with.
I often reflect back to the parent in Reggio Emilia and my heart swells thinking about their System of Love, one you could truly feel when entering the school. The visibility of a strong team was evident. Reggio educators stressed relationships were the base of their education system. Parents were truly seen as active partners in their children’s learning and helped prepare materials for projects or rearranged the educational space. They also participated in lab activities called “learning by doing,” where parents and teachers acquired educational techniques together.
One of two main dress-up areas offering costumes for children who might want to “disguise” themselves for the day.
Perhaps I rejected the notion this trip would change me, because my years at University taught me to be a critical thinker. I had been taught to approach everything with a ‘logic and reason’ mindset. In the business world we hear, “lead with your head, not your heart”. In Reggio, as evident in their high image of children, they take the opposite approach. Clearly, they lead with their hearts.
Leading from the heart is such a vulnerable thing to do. We often feel the need to prove the logic behind our intentions, and can get caught up in that. It can be tempting to “adjust or fix” something a child is working on to make it easier, prettier (from our view), or more complete in order to substantiate children’s learning. Yet we know children learn so much more from self-led, unstructured effort and play. In this scenario, are we really worried about how the children are being seen or are we concerned with how others might be viewing or judging our teaching?
Almost a year later, as I reflect back on my experience in Italy, I know my approach to my work has changed. I am more passionate about my work. It further fueled my desire to make deeper connections with children, parents, educators and colleagues. I hope it inspires those I work closest with in our licensed Home Child Care Program, like the Reggio parent inspired me. Although the study tour consisted of us visiting programs in centres, I believe the care, love and intentionality offered by Reggio educators can be fostered in any environment, home or school.
I have been truly inspired by the schools and people of Reggio. I find it so rewarding to introduce new people to our organization that, like the schools in Reggio, values families in early learning and holds children in such high regard. And, I am so grateful for the opportunity to work with children and their families, and incredible colleagues, cultivating our own “System of Love” at Compass Early Learning and Care.
Lindsay Ross BA, RECE
Licensed Home Child Care Consultant
Lindsay (center) and colleagues Sam (left) and Norma (right) in front of the Diana School in Reggio Emilia.
Note: Study tour participants were not permitted to take photos. The photos you see here were captured from an online virtual tour offered by the school. To tour the beautiful Scuola dell infanzia Diana in Reggio Emilia, follow this link:
View on a computer or iPad for the best resolution. You can select the blue dots in the outlined square below the main video to view individual classrooms.
To read previously posted Compass ELC Blogs, please click HERE