By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE.
We live in extraordinary times. How early learning professionals respond to COVID-19 is history in the making. I can only imagine what it must be like to return to teaching after closures due to the pandemic. In times like these, I personally find solace and comfort in returning to revisit, re-read and reflect on this approach to early learning that has come to be a reference point for all of us who work in early childhood education. I am revisiting to reset. To begin the resetting process, I recognize that COVID is a wall. It is a wall, which prevents us from going beyond what we know. Malaguzzi (2001) tells us that, “beyond the wall there is always a beyond” (p. 6). I have turned to these words many times over the years. While the wall is a metaphor it is a powerful metaphor for challenging times. When the Hundred Languages of Children Exhibit was in its first incarnation, it was called “When the Eye Jumps Over the Wall.” The story of the exhibit is described in this ReChild newsletter.
According to Malaguzzi (2001), inside the original title of the exhibit there was a message “that the eye, when it looks beyond the wall of habit, of custom, of the normal, of the non-surprise, of assumed security” (p. 6), will find the possible. When the wall of old habits and customs is broken down the quest for the possible can begin. Teachers can choose to erect the wall that Malaguzzi (2001) calls the wall of the “finite” (p. 6). If the impetus for change comes from within, teachers instead can have a “sense of the infinite” (Malaguzzi, 2001, p. 6). COVID is like a wall that we must look beyond to what is possible under these extraordinary circumstances. If we hold within each of us the desire to rise to this challenging time, to all that is before us, we can see possibilities rather than limitations and restrictions. After all, the pre-primary schools of Reggio Emilia that have become the a touchtone for so many rose from the ashes of World War II. It emerged because of the ability to look beyond.
The goal was to create an amiable school. This is what we want in these challenging times for children, teachers and families. I have re-read the article, For an Education Based on Relationships by Loris Malaguzzi many times in the last four months. Each time it has given me pause to reflect and remember. The Reggio Emilia Approach is my touchstone. In my years of teaching early childhood education, I was tasked with the responsibility of introducing the approach to my students. In that capacity I was instrumental in bringing the college where I worked into a partnership which brought “The Hundred Languages of Children” exhibit to Toronto from October 2006 to March 2007. Being able to share the exhibit with students and colleagues is an experience that has stayed with me. Yet, it is not enough to just revisit memories. I am revisiting words that I first read when initially engaging with the approach that transformed my practice. I am revisiting now to reset. I am re-reading words that I now find to be extremely profound and prophetic. Malaguzzi (1993) speaks to strategies needing to be modified along the way, to suppress distance between people in support of relationships based on openness and democracy. These words ring as true now as they did then.
In a world where physical distancing is required, how do we suppress distance between people? How do we support an education based on relationships? According to Malaguzzi (2001), if education is seen as just a service offered to young children, it subjugates the child within a message that their voice need not be heard. The aim of the exhibit for Malaguzzi was to give “shape and vitality to research that vanquishes silence, that affords both children and adults a way to explore, to construct theories and ideas …” (p. 6). COVID has afforded an opportunity to create a redemptive narrative where we can see that beyond that wall there are positives and opportunities to change in response to the pandemic to create a better world. We must find ways to vanquish silence so that we can amplify the voices of children, families and educators. Documentation will help make visible and audible the stories of all. In this current climate with the extra challenges of screening and cleaning, we must find ways to continue to make learning visible.
When I was teaching early childhood education degree students about the Reggio Emilia Approach, I wanted to create an assignment that offered them an opportunity to represent learning in multiple languages. I invited the students to respond to the reword challenge as we recognized that so many words related to the Reggio Emilia Approach began the same way, with the same two letters like research, reflect, rethink, relaunch, remember, revisit. I invite you, the readers of this blog, to reply in the comments section with the rewords that are resonating with you during this remarkable time. I also invite you, the readers of this blog to learn more about the Reggio Emilia Approach by taking an online course that I developed. This course is the first of five, that will be offered by the Dominion Early Learning Institute of Canada. My intention was to create something that I would have used in my work as an early childhood education professor. It is meant as an introduction to the approach that is accessible and affordable.
For more information on this course, please visit this link. There are multiple opportunities for you to engage in dialogue with others as we reflect on the rewords that support relationships, reflection and resetting.
Reimagine – relationships, time, space
I tweeted a number of photos of our educators reimagining their spaces in these challenging times for our families to see how we are “reimagining” our spaces to reflect the challenges and opportunities of reopening schools. Based on relationships of care and compassion, there are invitations to reconnect as a community and celebrate our inclusion of community members’ voices in the selection of materials, resources and the reimagination of space and time of the ones we love.
My words are revisit, rethink and reimagine. Being in this field for a long time you think you know most things and I think that’s true in many parts. I was working for a company that told us how to think, talk, act and write things. Then I changed companies and I can think for myself, write how I like, and have new ideas. I’m exploring this new way and coming back in a new way like many people are.
I think my word for the coming year will be re-search. Trying to get back into a learning and searching mode, with an open mind for what I may encounter throughout that re-search. It is the best word I can come up with to represent curiosity. Yes, to make curiosity a constant presence in my work.
My words are Revisit, Goals. Reimagine, classroom, daily routines and learning in this challenging time. Revive, the joy of educating.