Whenever I have the opportunity to share the amazing culture and the inspiring ways the people of Reggio Emilia engage with children and each other, I do.
I was given the incredible opportunity to participate in a Canadian Study Tour in Reggio Emilia, Italy in May 2015. I had often read about this mystical place of Reggio Emilia. As an organization we have studied their unique approach to educating young children through emergent curriculum for many years. But to experience it first hand was incomparable. Travelling to Reggio was an experience that forever changed my life and my way of being.
Rewind to May 2015 at the Loris Malaguzzi Centre in Reggio Emilia, Italy.
On this particular day of the study tour we were responsible for signing up for an atelier. Ateliers are studios that become places of research, invention, and empathy, expressed by means of “100 languages”, which extend beyond childhood to include adulthood up to advanced age. I selected the “Living Organism Atelier.”
A group of us gathered outside of the atelier. The atelierista (a teacher/educator with an arts background) introduced herself and then asked all the attendees to venture into the atelier and explore the materials. She then asked that we meet again as a group in 15 minutes. The instructions seemed clear and simple.
What we encountered were fruits, vegetables, plant life and all sorts of natural pieces, all at different stages of their life cycle, displayed neatly on tables, the floor, and walls in the room. Most items were things that young children encounter in their daily lives. Most participants took out their phones and immediately started snapping photos of the abundance of beautiful, colourful, decaying, crumbly, moldy materials that were on display. Occasionally I was asked by other participants to capture a picture of them holding a specimen.
The 15 minutes went by quickly and we gathered as a group again. As we all sat down, most still had their phones out and were reviewing their pictures as the atelierista started to talk. ”I gave you 15 minutes to explore the materials and almost all of you walked around with your phone taking a great number of photos. Can you tell me why?” As fellow participants started responding, we all nodded our heads in agreement to their replies. “So I wouldn’t forget what I saw.” Another answered, “So I could revisit”.
At that point she mentioned something that really made me reflect on how I explore and observe things in my own environments. She said, “The best way to observe and explore materials is by using our FIVE senses – sight, touch, smell, hearing and taste. And you chose to explore through a camera lens or phone.”
Wow! It hit me. We are driven from birth to instinctively explore things with all of our five senses. How often are we taking these senses for granted and abandoning them when we pick up our phone and camera? How many of us are guilty of this?
Photo credit: The Languages of Food
With this newly found awareness, I returned to the same atelier with a different mindset and outlook. I now wanted to explore using all my senses.
Entering the room I took more notice of how the specimens were displayed – well organized and very inviting. Natural materials of the same kind were grouped together. As we looked at and touched materials, our atelierista asked us to consider how the materials want to be touched. It was her way of reminding us to respect the delicate nature of some of the specimens, the fragility and preciousness while observing the transformation these specimens take in all stages of life.
We learned the children of Reggio Emilia are often offered these types of experiences from a very early age. In my home country, adults often purposely place delicate items out of reach of tiny hands rather than educating children on how to handle precious things. Educators and parents of young children of Reggio Emilia do the exact opposite. Children are given delicate materials, such as these dried grapes that crumble at the slightest touch, as a way for them to learn and appreciate the vulnerability of living organisms and other fragile materials. This is how they learn about gentle hands, not by having an adult telling them not to touch something because they may break it.
After sharing our observations as a group, we were invited to make a sketch of something that caught our attention while exploring and were then asked to create a 3D representation of it and give our creation a name.
I was really interested in a row of heads of cabbages. Some leaves of the cabbage had been peeled back and they were all at different stages of drying out. It may not sound very interesting but as I took the time to explore, using a magnifying glass, I saw this as a vivid representation of the circle of life – paralleling the transformation to our life cycle and finding beauty and grace in every stage of life. I called my creation “Layers of Life” and left it at the atelier as a gift.
The experience that the Living Organism atelier has gifted me is the personal awareness of being in the moment and keeping my senses alive when too often, culturally, our senses are deprived.
Submitted by Jenny Cullen RECE,
Director of Human Resources, Compass Early Learning and Care
Title picture collage compiled from photos from The Languages of Food by Reggio Children
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