The Reggio Emilia approach was born in Italy soon after World War II, in a space that was destitute yet hopeful – much like the new South Africa, in which we are healing and finding new ways to inspire our people to grow.
I recently attended a Reggio Conference to deepen my understanding of the approach and get a feel for the types of activities our kids can engage in. The Reggio approach is easily translatable. It was fascinating to watch how it is used in such different environments. We observed a group of young Italian boys trying to make a table and chairs out of messy, wobbly, unstable clay. It was a marvellous interaction between the boys as they collaborate to figure out the tricky dynamics of sculpting clay. They negotiate and strategize with very little interference from teachers. The teacher’s role is simply to observe and on occasion ask a question to help guide their thought processes. Teachers can offer their kids the world if they give them the space to explore it. The Streetlight kids looked like they had been rolling in the mud by the end of our date with the clay. But some beautiful creations came to light. A group of boys made rhinos and an elephant with a man riding on its back.
They worked together to create the animals, one child making the legs, one making the face, etc. They cheered each other on in a flurry of excitement as they figured out how to ensure that the creatures would stay upright next to their watering hole. They engaged in some back and forth conversations about what they can or should do differently to make the animals look more realistic. They tweaked the trunk of the elephant and the horns of rhinos, they elongated the heads of the rhinos and they collaborated to create something that they were all satisfied with.
Another important aspect of the Reggio approach is allowing children to explore life from different angles. If the focus is on a peacock feather, then the children would spend time talking about it: “What is it?” “Where does it come from?” “What is its purpose?” No answer is a wrong answer, because the right answers are the ones that comes from the child’s imagination and is inspired by his/her curiosity. It is about them coming up with their own theories without preconceived perceptions of what things are or what they mean. In between the unlimited conversations, the children analyse the ‘peacock feather’ by drawing it in black and in colour, painting it, sculpting it with clay, play dough, paper maché. Through these activities, the kids reinterpret objects from their own points of view. They reinvent objects multiple times, they do it freely and with creativity that will blow your mind.
If we, as children who grow into adults, give ourselves the space to explore our world with no constraints, through creativity, conversation and reflection then maybe we can…
Author: Dionne Mankazana, Tutor, 5 August 2014