An early education with an Italian twist

Photo by Nicholas Wang

September is right around the corner and the very young are heading to preschool, likely their first classroom setting. Some local preschools use the Reggio Emilia approach, which focuses less on teaching broadly to a large group and more on facilitating the learning of each individual child.

According to the Vancouver Reggio Consortium Society, the Reggio Emilia approach began in Italy, in the villages around the city of the same name, in the aftermath of the Second World War. It arose from the desire to have schools where children could develop the critical thinking and collaboration that would be essential in rebuilding and creating a better world. Since then, the Reggio Emilia philosophy has grown and reached Canada, with one example being Curiosity Corner Preschool on the grounds of Lord Kitchener Elementary.

Self-directed learning

The Reggio Emilia philosophy understands that each child has the right to be recognized as unique and to be in control of their own path,” says Miranda Deis, the school’s Facilitator. “It’s our job as the adults in their lives to carefully and quietly observe, so we can understand their language and allow them to express it to the world.”

The teaching approach at Curiosity Corner is different from most schools because Deis does not plan lessons in advance. She never knows exactly what will happen on any given day because those decisions are made by the students.

“I don’t plan the curriculum,” says Deis. “I listen closely to the children and wait to see what they are interested in doing. There are lots of things to explore, so I watch and observe, and from there I plan what I will facilitate.”

Deis often acts as a guide for her students. If a child shows real interest in wheels or how things move, she will ask them and maybe the rest of the class what they know about this subject. This way Deis can evaluate what her pupils already know and from there what they might like to learn.

“I think a lot of success comes from giving children a free and engaging environment so they can explore whatever they want,” she says.

Development and growth

One of the main goals of Curiosity Corner is in the name: developing the sense of curiosity in young children. No one tells the students “we’re going to do this now’ and no one tells them ‘it’s time to move on to something else now.”

Miranda Deis | Photo courtesy of Miranda Deis

“Another part of the philosophy is that you don’t compartmentalize things,” says Deis. “We wait and see how long the children want to work on a project. Sometimes they might work on a project for months if they’re still interested in it.”

This approach might seem at odds with our standardized grade school curriculum, where teachers must hit on a list of points and sections over the year. But in Deis’s opinion, the focus of learning should not be reaching a certain level, whether that be grades in school or some other measure.

“Sometimes, I think there is a fear that children won’t meet ‘expectations.’ We have to trust the child, because being human means we all do things differently.”

The Reggio Emilia approach acknowledges and embraces that, and the fact that there is not just a singular curriculum means that the students can develop their creativity freely, while also gaining the self-confidence that comes with being listened to and being able to choose their own path.

“In my opinion, we don’t want to teach children what to think, we want to teach them how to think. If we just tell them answers all the time, they don’t have that sense of curiosity,” says Deis. “Ultimately, what we want in this world is people who can think for themselves.”

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