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  • Writer's pictureJoshua Barr (M.A. M.Ed)

What's Next?

The Reggio Emilia Approach offers a simple cycle from it's negotiated learning approach (see below). The diagram highlights three important steps Design, Discourse and Documentation. When children play they show us what they know, what they haven't yet discovered, what they want to know and what interests them.

As educators in the classroom we have two choices. The first is to control the process to deliver a product. For example,

  1. Design the content and skills to be learnt.

  2. Control the Discourse with specific questions that have specific answers that are asked at specific times.

  3. Document (Display) the products of learning i.e. memorized answers to questions.


  1. Design the learning around the interests of children.

  2. Balance the Discourse around both children and adult interests.

  3. Document the process of the design and discourse rather than the product.

In the first option the question of 'what's next?' happens at the beginning and the answer is the same for the whole group. Essentially it looks like this,

  • Week 1: English target Math target, Chinese Target, Unit/Theme target etc.

  • Week 2: English target Math target, Chinese Target, Unit/Theme target etc.

  • Week 3: English target Math target, Chinese Target, Unit/Theme target etc.

  • Week 4: English target Math target, Chinese Target, Unit/Theme target etc.

All children doing the same things at the same time all the time.

In the second option the cycle above happens on both an individual and group level and the question of 'what's next?' is an ongoing question that is asked throughout the process of learning. Within the second option there is a greater focus on each child, what they are doing and not just what we want them to learn from our pre-determined curriculum map/design.

For example:

A two year old child is stacking black construction toys and counting how many he can stack.

He then adds loose parts into the holes and counts all the items together.

What's next?


A two year old child creates a tower using two types of materials creating an ABAB pattern.

He carefully places each material on top of each other alternating between the black material and brown material. Another child looks on.

What's next?


A two year old child looks through a wooden block with a blue screen observing the world in the color blue. He repeats this with a wooden block that has a red screen.

He then put the two blocks together (red and blue) and discovers a new colour as the world becomes purple.

What's next?


A four year old child creates a book using pieces of paper. Folding them to make multiple pages.

Using my pen she writes the words 'Book (B backwards) Zoe'.

What's next?


A group of 5 year old children created a COVID test site for their dinosaurs. (see article)

On a very small rectangular piece of paper they wrote the numbers 1-10. This piece of paper is an "apple phone" which is used to record each dinosaurs COVID test information.

What's next?


When we consider the question of 'what's next?' we have to focus on some important processes. The first is observation. Without observing children, what they do and say we can't begin talk about what's next.

The second is reflection. Refecting on what the child is communicating during play. This reflection should happen with yourself (the adult observer), the teaching team and the child or group of children. It can also include families and the larger community.

The third is following the three D's cycle (Design-Discourse-Documentation). Each inform the other. The design is informed by documentation and discourse. The discourse happens through observing the design and analyzing the documentation. The documentation comes from observing the reflection on the design and discourse.

So for your own practice the question is what's next?


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