I had the absolute pleasure of visiting two places of learning that were beautiful in both form and function – the Panda Infant Toddler Center and the Gulliver PreSchool. Although the visit to Panda happened in the afternoon after most of the children had gone home, their presence was so tangible! After visiting Gulliver, my connection to the absent children at Panda became evident as the rich documentation provides a real-time image of their work that leaves a trace well into the evening and beyond.
At Gulliver, adults first described what we would see, perhaps a bit of “old fashioned” programmazione. However, it was the progettazione or the “leap forward” that really touched upon the DNA of Reggio, perhaps the means toward some degree of replication in our own contexts. We all became part of the leap as our observations actually became part of the phenomena that we were observing.
The atelierista was working with four children in a space that combined science, technology, and an artistic aesthetic. The children sculpted and constructed but also participated in a collaborative artistic composition of color and form. They were bringing to life a question they posed after the chance discovery of a snail in the plants brought into the atelier. They wondered, “What other life might be hidden in plants?” And here they were, installing their own clay insects into a leafy, green composition!
Across the hall, the same aesthetic was evident in the Gulliver Museum, a semi-permanent installation of learning and experimentation. It was clear that the museum was birthed from the atelier and the ongoing research the children have conducted in that space.
Back in that atelier, the atelierista documented in real-time the work of the children using both photos and a detailed written/sketched record that will inform individual progress, communication to parents, and perhaps a future project for all the schools in Reggio!
In adjacent spaces, I witnessed explorations with light in a darkened mini-atelier that contained various forms of luminosity and shadow. Nearby, children explored color with multiple avenues for connection to light and shadow using clay, painting and patterns. There were two boys playing a game that used colors to express different emotions. In another small space, a digital drawing tool was used to create detailed and beautiful images of a human eye.
All this concurrent activity was carefully orchestrated to achieve rich environments that tied together beautifully through the chosen themes of color, light and nature. As children move through these various environments, they make inevitable connections that are unique to each child, but facilitated by the richness of the environment – the "100 languages" that are available in a Reggio space.
At one point, all the spaces slowed down with an intentional shift toward larger groups that participated in story-telling, games, and dress-up in a charming circular "open closet." This change of pace led very naturally to the children putting on coats and being led outside for play. I was sitting by the exit, and many of the children asked me what my name was. "Rafael," I said, again and again. I felt welcomed and a part of this community – even if only for a morning.
- The Reggio-inspired PreK at Bertschi contains and reflects all the elements of wonder I describe above, AND it mirrors the context of 21st USA, Seattle, and the Berstchi community of learners. In fact, the fundamental image of the child as a competent and powerful being is alive throughout our campus and in all our grades. We may be hosting a delegation or two from across the planet in the next few years!
- One could argue that Bertschi School itself is a "mega-atelier" that provides children opportunities for invention and research alongside practitioners in art, music, drama, movement, sport, science, technology and the Spanish language.
- There is an intentionality at Bertschi that unfolds throughout the day for both children and adults. For newcomers, it feels like home. For long time community members, it provides a mindful context that allows space and time for the unexpected and the wondrous.
- Can we find more opportunities for our resource teachers, our atelieristas if you will, to interact with each other and with each grade level and division – not just in working with the children, but in professional dialogue with each other about the work of the children?
- As we review and revise our classroom spaces – year to year as well as with a long-term view – can we explore the crossing of boundaries? For example, bringing the outdoor world indoors and vice versa, blurring the digital and analog to create environments where children can enter microcosms or explore the infinity of space. This might be done through virtual reality or using an old fashioned overhead projector!
- Can we maximize the dialogue with our Bertschi kids? When we invite children to negotiate their chosen activity, when students help shape their mathematical explorations, when we invite older students into the world of younger students, when we give children an active role in the parent-teacher partnership, when we do these things – we validate each child as a respected citizen of our community.