Reflections and Inspirations from NAREA Conference, “The Pleasure of Learning: Reimagining School as a Place of Inspiration, Innovation and Collaboration”
“The pleasure of learning” (a phrase that was coined by Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of the Reggio Emilia approach) seems to be the foundation of much of the thinking done by the educators in Reggio. Everything is connected to the idea of creating pleasure in learning—parent participation, fields of knowledge, a rich environment, and building community.
The first image shown by the Italians during the conference was that of a one-year-old girl standing in front of a low table looking at a snail that is lying on a beautiful bead of sticks and a large green leaf. The look on her face is that of wonder, curiosity, and excitement. This attractive “provocation,” (the snail on a “bed”) seems uncomplicated; from what I know of the Reggio approach, however, I know it was a provocation that likely was not introduced without a lot of collaboration, thought and projection. Such a simple moment is one that most educators would not notice or give value to. How many of us take the time and thought to understand and appreciate the learning that can happen from these “ordinary” moments? How many of us find ways to build on this wonder and curiosity? It seems to me that taking for granted the ordinary moments where children find pleasure in learning is what is missing from education in our society. Instead of paying close attention and really listening to the children, we impart what we as adults feel is the way to learn and how we should learn. As a mother of an eight-year-old child who has been in a traditional public school for three years, this missing piece in education is very disheartening. Why does school have to be an “institution” where joy in learning is not thought about as much as meeting whatever standards are required that year? I believe that the two CAN and should go together. I also know that this isn’t an easy task. In fact it requires much organization, many points of view and an infinite amount of thought and time.
How much time do we spend at The Nest to keep things “fresh” and fun, to support the wonder and curiosity the children have almost every minute of the day? From my experience, this is a great challenge but one that we have all taken head-on and are committed to finding strategies to support. Many of the educators at The Nest spend up to eight hours a day, five days a week in our little house being with these beautiful budding minds. We are continually fighting against mediocrity and the daily grind. Don’t get me wrong; we love what we do but we also feel a great responsibility to do more–to continue to get “outside” of ourselves to find new ways for the children to express their interests and learning. When you take action, everything changes. New kinds of play emerge and, as a result, new kinds of learning. Hopefully the actions we take can provide opportunities for the variety of learning styles we see in each child at The Nest. It can also add an air of excitement and rejuvenation in the room from children and teachers alike.
In the Blue Jay room we have begun to explore different shades of color, introducing a new color palette every couple of weeks. This has been a wonderful way to provide many different kinds of experiences around the senses and different “languages”—clay, painting, drawing, movement, etc. It also encourages us to make changes to our environment regularly, which can provide a wider variety of experiences and knowledge around materials. When we “study” a color, we observe and listen to the children in order to find “threads” of interest. For example, while we were exploring the color blue, the teachers noticed that there was a lot of play happening around sea life; in particular, children were expressing an interest in whales. Even after we moved on to studying the color green, we dedicated a part of the room for materials having to do with sea life—stuffed animals, plastic sea life, books about sea life, images of whales and sharks, and fabric that they can pretend is water.
One of the main things that I took away from the conference is that in looking for evidence of wonder and curiosity we can learn more about how children build knowledge. We can learn the difference between what children and adults find interesting and how to keep a balance between the two. This may lead to a discovery of what children are naturally predisposed to learning. We can also learn more about what motivates children to learn, which in collaboration with other teachers and parents can provide endless opportunities for building relationships and learning how to communicate with each other.