Italian exhibit anchors early childhood education series

Early childhood educators got a glimpse this weekend of how Italy’s renowned Reggio Emilia approach to teaching young children stimulates their creativity. They viewed a world-touring exhibit called The Hundred Languages of Children, 12 wall panels filled with drawings, paintings, sculpture and designs by five- and six-year-old children from Reggio Emilia, the northern Italian town committed to an educational approach that sees children as capable, resourceful individuals.

Right: The Reggio Emilia approach promotes creativity in children 

The Hundred Languages of Children, circulating around the world since 1987, has been in Calgary for much of this year and is now in Toronto until February. It has been brought to Toronto – where it can be viewed at Toronto Dominion Centre and, in January and February, at the Columbus Centre — by a partnership of York University, Seneca College, the Toronto District School Board and Bishop Strachan School.

The exhibit was the centrepiece for a conference this weekend for early childhood educators, teachers, administrators and policy makers. It serves as the basis for the York University Early Childhood Education series led by York education Prof. Carol Anne Wien about the Reggio Emilia approach. The 10-session series starts tonight and runs to April 30.

Developed in preschools in the northern Italian city over several decades, the Reggio Emilia approach recognizes children as resourceful and capable, and is changing the field of early childhood education internationally, says Wien.

“The Reggio Emilia approach challenges our notions of early childhood education,” says Wien. “It sees children as capable and powerful, with interesting thoughts and strong feelings about the world. It is making people realize that, in North America, we often don’t take children very seriously. If we learn to see them as strong and resourceful, it changes our approach to them.”

The municipality of Reggio Emilia owns and operates many of the city’s preschools and has drawn international acclaim for encouraging children’s participation in the culture and life of the city.

The Reggio Emilia approach, though designed specifically for Italian children, may be adaptable in large urban settings because of its focus on citizenship and belonging, and its emphasis on democratic processes of participation. When children participate with teachers in creating their learning, it reduces alienation and behaviour problems, Wien says, because it recognizes the value of children and the importance of making them feel visible and acknowledged in the world.