An article published recently in The Space magazine which features our Creators Scholarship recipient and teacher at Forest Lake, Mariah Quinn. Read about Mariah's trip to Reggio Emilia, Italy, her findings and how she has shared her knowledge since returning home.
THE REGGIO EMILIA APPROACH: FROM ITALY TO AOTEAROA
Mariah Quinn is a kaiako working at Creators Forest Lake, a Reggio Emilia inspired early childhood centre in Hamilton.
She is passionate about the Reggio Emilia philosophy – something she first learnt about while studying to be a teacher at Waikato University.
“I was really taken by the philosophy of empowering children and seeing them through a very respectful lens. [In Reggio Emilia] children are viewed as intelligent and having innate knowledge with multiple ways of expressing that knowledge,” says Mariah.
Her passion for Reggio Emilia motivated Mariah to seek out a job at Creators Educational Trust in 2016.
THE ORIGINS OF REGGIO EMILIA
The Reggio Emilia movement was founded in a city in northern Italy more than 70 years ago, after the end of World War Two, says Mariah.
It was started by a group of parents who dreamed of a new approach to caring for and educating children in post-war society.
Loris Malaguzzi is credited as being one of the founders of this early learning approach. He wanted to teach children to be creative, compassionate, innovative, empowered and expressive. He believed children have rights and a voice in society, and wanted to teach them to be curious and ask questions about the world we live in.
“Reggio Emilia has revolutionised education and elevated early childhood education to be a very empowering approach to working with children,” says Mariah. “It’s a partnership between children, families and teachers.”
In Reggio Emilia, children are regarded as knowledgeable citizens of the world, with opinions and a right to have their voice heard. Diverse viewpoints are respected and encouraged.
The Hundred Languages by Loris Malaguzzi is a poem that is at the heart of Reggio Emilia. It talks of the various ways in which young children may express themselves – through drawing, sculpture, play, dancing, singing, speaking and through gesture.
“Children just don’t have one way of communicating their ideas,” says Mariah.
“If a child is really excited they might communicate that through dancing or painting a vibrant picture. Even if a child doesn’t have the verbal skills to communicate, as adults working in Reggio Emilia it’s about having your eyes and ears open to what a child is trying to tell you, and that’s what the Hundred Languages poem is all about.”
In Reggio Emilia, the teacher does not lead the learning. Instead, they partner and collaborate with the child to learn together and explore the world.
“The Reggio Emilia approach has really humbled me as a teacher,” says Mariah. “It’s made me see that I’m just as much a learner alongside a child as they are.”
The classroom environment is considered the “third teacher”. Indoors, beautiful, welcoming spaces are created where children are invited to play and explore, while outdoors, nature play is embraced.
Provocations – appealing displays of natural resources, tools or materials – are set up and children are invited to play, if they choose.
“They can take [items] and use them how they see fit,” says Mariah. “They might use them in their imaginary play, or they might use them in their collage artwork in the art studio.”
A Reggio teacher will often sit and observe the child in play, ask questions and listen, take photos and document their work, and look for opportunities to extend a child’s interests.
“The Reggio Emilia approach is a very free spirted, inventive approach,” says Mariah.
Inquiries, or long-term projects, often underlie the Reggio Emilia curriculum at Creators. Each year a new inquiry focus helps inspire the teachers and community.
In 2019 the inquiry was ‘Kind Hearts, Fierce Minds, Brave Spirit’ – an empowering topic which culminated in an exhibition of children’s artwork.
“As a kaiako the exhibition is something I love. It’s an opportunity to showcase the creativity and intelligence of our children and talk to parents about their child,” says Mariah.
In 2020 the inquiry theme is ‘Rise Together – Be the Revolution’ – which explores another key Reggio Emilia tenet, the important role children play in society and their community.
“This follows on from last year, focused on empowerment but also about collaboration and community. It’s very well timed with COVID-19, everyone has had to work together as a community even though we are all separated,” says Mariah.
JOURNEY TO ITALY
In April 2019 Mariah to travel to the town of Reggio Emilia in Italy to learn more about its innovated learning approach and pedagogy.
She attended a week-long workshop for international educators, touring Italian schools and observed Reggio Emilia in practice.
“It was surreal after spending years studying Reggio Emilia, to get to the city and see the schools and teachers in action. It was definitely a highlight of my teaching career.”
Mariah’s study trip was supported by Creators Educational Trust. She was the first recipient of an annual scholarship designed to encourage kaiako to further their knowledge and pedagogical development.
CEO of Creators Educational Trust, David Gibson, says that Mariah took what she learnt in Italy and came back to share that knowledge with her colleagues.
“She’s reinterpreted Reggio Emilia through the lens of someone Aotearoa, New Zealand,” says David. “The beauty of Reggio Emilia is that it isn’t a ‘one-size-fits all’ approach’. It’s something you live and breathe and create, and Mariah has been able to do that.”
One of the key lessons Mariah learnt from her time in Reggio Emilia was importance of the teacher stepping back and letting the child lead the learning.
“As teachers we aren’t the experts, we are facilitators, we open the doorways for the children. We walk alongside them but we are still just as much learning as them.”
“When you step back as a teacher, the children will really surprise you. They are very creative and intelligent. They don’t always need something to prompt them, they can come up something on their own. They are like scientists and can lead the learning, and we can build on that together.”
APPLYING LESSONS FROM ITALY TO THE NEW ZEALAND CONTEXT
When Mariah returned from her travels she created a professional development day for her Creators colleagues, based on what she learned in the town of Reggio Emilia.
She set up several provocations for the teachers, designed to focus on the importance of teachers stepping back and letting children follow their own interests.
“I set it up and didn’t tell them how to use it. I left it to the teachers to explore. I wanted them to imagine they were the child and experience how they might feel, to explore the materials and find their own meaning.”
Mariah says it is important not to replicate the Reggio Emilia approach exactly the way it is done in Italy in a New Zealand context.
“Reggio Emilia is a place, and because it’s a place it comes with so many things – a culture, a language, a history that goes along with it. You can’t copy that. So, we are ‘Reggio-inspired’ not ‘Reggio Emilia’ at Creators. There are a lot of beautiful concepts you can be inspired by and weave into your practice here in New Zealand.”
Many Reggio concepts fit well with New Zealand’s early childhood curriculum, Te Whāriki, as well as Creators other pillars: nature play, values-based learning and love and connection.
“In particular, empowering children and developing relationships with whānau and community,” says Mariah.
“The relationship side of it is really important. At Creators, it feels like you are part of a big family and I love that.
“As teachers we all feel it’s important to build strong relationships with one another and our children, parents and communities. It’s important to understand every child’s history, their story, their own home and their culture.”
Lenses for Learning Series - The Space