12 Best Practices for Early Childhood Education: Introduction…
“If you know anything about the Reggio Approach, you understand its attraction: Classrooms are aesthetic, children’s work is sophisticated, parent involvement is high. The Reggio Approach is truly a new and visionary picture of school before grade school.” (Introduction .3)
Not too long ago we recommended the book ‘12 Best Practices for Early Childhood Education: Integrating Reggio and Other Inspired Approaches’ by Ann Lewin Benham. As a highly recommended read we thought it was worth a deeper exploration through 13 articles (12 plus this one) to focus on the key aspects of each chapter and add some much-needed additions to the situations many of us find ourselves in, teaching in bilingual education in China.
The author talks about her transition from being a Montessori trained educator and moving towards a Reggio Inspired educator. With this awakening and development of beliefs about how education should go she clears up many misconceptions about Reggio, particularly surrounding structure and freedom, and what people think it means and what it means to her. This comes not only from her experience working in a Reggio Inspired way but also from spending time in Reggio Emilia, studying and learning from the source.
“As years passed, the split between structure and creativity in early education widened. This book is grounded on my belief that structure is essential and my concern that it is difficult but possible in early childhood classrooms to establish a structure in which children simultaneously build self-regulation and skills, and express creativity. I have spent my life striving to create foundations for educational practices that are worthy of children’s competence and joyful nature.” (Introduction p.2)
Many educators admire the Reggio Emilia Approach yet too often only talk about 'materials' and a 'natural environment' as the core principles. They think that by simply changing the environment children’s behavior will improve and learning will reach amazing heights. In reality when you change the environment but nothing else Loose Parts go every where, glass jars are dropped on the floor broken, and the classroom seems like unstructured chaos compared to having children sit down and all stick things to paper together. In truth what makes Reggio work is far more complicated.
“You cannot see the structure in a Reggio day as you can in a scheduled day; thus, Reggio classrooms are often mistaken as laissez-faire, on one end of a continuum with “readiness” at the opposite end, where skills are drilled for kindergarten or 1st grade. There is nothing laissez-faire about Reggio teaching! Expectations are clear and enormous emphasis is placed on skill development.” (Introduction p.5)
To really go Reggio you must be willing to shed your old habits.
“• silencing the impulse to “teach” in favor of listening and observing;
• intervening in children’s activities with intention;
• working one-on-one or with a small group while most of the other children work independently;
• encouraging collaboration among children, between teachers and children, teacher to teacher as peers, and school and family;
• admitting frustration or failure and asking colleagues for help;
• looking reflectively at every aspect of the classroom.” (Introduction p.6)
If you can’t make these changes then you can never really go Reggio. If you need enough tables and chairs for that 'whole group activity time' each day or a large carpet area for those “lessons” or you say “I can’t let children work alone because they’re not ready or their behavior isn’t there yet”. If you have these excuses then you will struggle to find the magic of Reggio Inspired practice/lack the needed belief to drive your practice.
The author also highlights some differences between American (English) and Italian language and culture that makes the transference of Reggio Inspired Practice difficult. For example,
“A difference with great consequences for American classrooms is that English is only 40 to 60% phonetic but the Italian language is over 95% phonetic. Therefore, unlike American teachers, Reggio teachers are not pressured to teach phonics before 1st grade.” (Introduction p.6)
This means that for Italian children in the the early years picking up phonics and learning to read and write in Italian is far more logical than English. This eases the burden of pressure from parents and schools to teach children to read and write in English that requires far greater amounts of time with instruction and training children to memorize spelling rules. Unless of course you are lucky enough to work in a school that follows the research about starting formal literacy instruction in grade 1. When comparing English to Chinese there is also a massive difference. For one learning to read characters is mostly a memorization skill. Learning pinyin and English phonics confuses children as the same letters have different sounds in each language. These are all things we need to understand and consider.