Around this time three years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Reggio Emilia a small village in Northern Italy. For those of us who enthuse about EY and who, eat – sleep – breathe it, either whilst training, working, leading or managing Reggio is a very special philosophy and approach to early childhood education and one that puts the children of this small town right at the very heart of its culture.
Loris Malaguzzi is the man responsible for putting Reggio Emilia on the Early Years map, so to speak, as he founded the unique philosophy and pedagogy that is highly regarded all around the world. One that is founded on the knowledge that children are powerful, capable and intrinsically motivated to construct their knowledge.
After much anticipation we arrived in this little town, with its grand buildings, fountains and market squares, we trundled around the beautiful paved streets with our suitcases click- clacking and smacking every little cobbled stone trying to locate our hotel. After dumping our bags we were excited to explore and keen to enjoy some local delicacies. Off we set along the cobbled streets again, exploring the side streets woven and hidden away, small cafes, shops and buildings, beautiful architecture and market squares. Everywhere was so quiet, peaceful and nothing, absolutely nowhere was open. It was late afternoon, early evening and we walked for what felt like miles, exhausted and hungry and slightly perplexed as to why everywhere was shut. Can you imagine going to your local shops in the early afternoon and discovering the same?
The day we visited the Loris Malaguzzi Centre and listened to a presentation on the philosophy of Reggio and the culture of this small town and its inhabitants, families and children, is the day I questioned our own culture here in the UK. Here we were in a town that closed its shops, businesses and virtually the whole town because of the culture of family.
The overwhelming message this special Italian town shared with me was the value and respect it has for childhood. One of our activities whilst staying was to have a presentation from one of the Directors of the Loris Malaguzzi Centre, her words will forever stay in my mind. Learning she explained, is not a linear process. ‘Children are a constellation of stars. Each going in their own direction’.
This message was so powerful to me, especially in contrast to the Early Years Foundation Stage – Development Matters. Spending just a few days in this unspoilt little town led me to question our culture, our lifestyle and our family ideals here in the UK, when we live in a world that has forced us to believe in ideology of work – that divides families, children from their parents and has produced generations of people who live to work instead of work to live.
We visited a Montessori nursery setting during our trip and observed a group of children setting their table for lunch. Each day a handful of children take turns to set their table for lunch and choose who they wish to sit by that day. I observed 3 and 4 year old children, laying freshly washed white lined table cloths, glass jugs filled with ice water, glass tumblers to drink from and China plates and silverware for their meals. This valued and established ritual was filled with discussion as they chatted to one another, excitedly deciding who would sit where, taking care, time and attention to set the table just right with a vase of freshly picked flowers at the centre of the table, perfect for this relaxed and sociable lunching occasion. It was a joy to see and one I will never forget, as it was in such contrast to the rush, hustle & bustle that accompanies a sometimes frantic – fast paced lunch time in the UK.
What do we value and hold dear to our hearts? If we take a moment to ponder, our thoughts most often will lead to our loved ones, children, siblings, parents and extended friends and family. Yet oftentimes we have been blindsided by things that don’t matter. We have all enjoyed a glorious bank holiday weekend – the first of the year, and after a dreadful winter so cold and bleak, all of us basked in the sunshine this weekend gone by. There is no doubt the endless blue skies and warm sunshine made the long weekend that little bit more special, but it is no coincidence that we are all feeling happier, calmer, rested and with a renewed sense of optimism and vigour today: because we spent precious time to ‘just be’ with our loved ones, our children, families and those close to our heart. That glimpse at our culture, when we slow down and stop the fast paced lifestyle and live to work attitude that clouds our judgements.
Perhaps now, more than ever in the UK, Early Years enthusiasts, professionals, educators, whatever our label – are standing up and joining voices. Advocating our views, knowledge, experience and research on quality early childhood education in the UK should look like. It should not involve tests, assessments and pressure at such an early age.
So let us consider Loris Malaguzzi poem, the ‘100 Languages of children’ which for me, sums up the contrast between the UK and Reggio quite well. Take the time to the these words sink in. Who are we to say we know best? Children know. Let us show them respect for the things they teach us everyday!
THE ONE HUNDRED LANGUAGES OF CHILDREN
The child is made of one hundred.
The child has a hundred languages a hundred hands a hundred thoughts a hundred ways of thinking of playing, of speaking.
A hundred always a hundred ways of listening of marvelling of loving a hundred joys for singing and understanding a hundred worlds to discover a hundred worlds to invent a hundred worlds to dream.
The child has a hundred languages (and a hundred hundred more) but they steal ninety-nine.
The schools and the culture separate the head from the body.
They tell the child: to think without hands to do without head to listen and not to speak to understand without joy to love and to marvel only at Easter and Christmas.
They tell the child: to discover the world already there and of the hundred they steal ninety-nine.
They tell the child: that work and play reality and fantasy science and imagination sky and earth reason and dream are things that do not belong together.
And thus they tell the child that the hundred is not there.
The child says: No way. The hundred is there.