Do you know this book by Daniel Pinkwater? It’s about a guy who lives on a block where all the houses are the same and inspired by a paint accident he ends up painting his house like his dreams. Some neighbors balk, some get on board, and in the end they agree ”Our street is us and we are it. Our street is where we like to be, and it looks like all our dreams.”
This is Hobart Street in my neighborhood, Mt. Pleasant, Washington DC. As I was walking with a friend today, we were struck with the contrast between the similar style homes, and the uniqueness of the front yards–how each one has such a different personality and flavor, yet the block is cohesive and intimate.
Here are some front yard images:
These images highlight for me the relationship between the individual and the group. I am reminded of the value of uniqueness, distinction and idiosyncrasy, of how to be part of a group but not become homogenized. Elena Giacopini, pedagogista from Reggio Emilia says “Inclusion…[does] not mean standardization, not integration; inclusion requires and demands differences in dialogue–not that one adapts to the other but that there is mutual adaptation.”
The thing that impresses me the most about conferences is the community of participants networking, sharing ideas, fears, hopes and dreams. Yesterday, the first day of the NAREA Summer Institute, we also were reminded by presenters from Reggio Elena Giacopini and Anna Orlandini about the global interest in the approach. Since 1994 Reggio Children has had 200 Study Groups from 107 countries, with 4000 participants annually. I think this moves the mindset from thinking in isolation about your school in NYC or Iowa or Arizona, to considering the expansive interest in changing the state of education for young children. It makes you feel part of something much bigger.
From Elena’s talk yesterday morning, some important messages:
Elena: “It is very important to know when you haven’t understood–therein lies a space for research.”
“Incompleteness means there are always possibilities.”
“Research is the fulcrum for us…it keeps us curious about life and creates a school that is life.”
“A group is a” learning group” when it works on argumentation and interpretation.”
And also the attitude of research which is an on-going state of mind…and this next quotation I think is one of the most important:
“The search for finding meanings…this overcomes the fear of being judged and generates new possibilities for everyone”
I am loving The Grammar of Fantasy by Gianni Rodari, and I see many connections to the Reggio philosophy.
In particular, the principal of Educational Research–teachers as partners in learning with children:
“…Shared research between adults and children is a priority practice of everyday life, an existential and ethical approach necessary for interpreting the complexity of the world, of phenomena, of systems of co-existence, and is a powerful instrument of renewal in education…” (from Indications), and this excerpt from Gianni Rodari’s Grammer of Fantasy, p.69-70:
“When adults play with a child, they have an advantage because they have a wider field of experience.Therefore, they can create more space with their imaginations. This is why
children like to have parents as playmates. For example, if they construct something together, the adult has a better idea of how to estimate proportions and how to balance things. The adult posses a richer repertoire of forms to imitate, et cetera. The game is enriched, gains in organization and duration, and opens up new horizons.
The point here does not concern playing in place of the child, who becomes relegated to the humiliating role of spectator. But it concerns how an adult can place himself of herself at the child’s service. It is the child who commands. The adult plays with children in order to stimulate their capacity to invent things, to place new instruments in their hands so that they will use them when they are alone, and to teach them how to play. There is talk during the game. One learns from the child to speak to the pieces of the game…But also, one learns–just as the child does–to entrust the pieces with secret messages because they tell the child how much we love him or her, that he or she can count on us, that our strength is theirs.”
Here is a good response to the question I often get asked, “Is what the children doing art?”
The 4-Year-Old Artist – NYTimes.com.
An even better point of view is found in Vea Vecchi’s “Poetic languages as a means to counter violence”
Vecchi, Vea, Claudia Giudici, Gabriella Grasselli, and Leslie Morrow. Children, Art, Artists: the Expressive Languages of Children, the Artistic Language of Alberto Burri. Reggio Emilia, Italy: Reggio Children, 2004. Print.
She articulates some similarities between children and artists in the sense that at the most fundamental level, art is about deep relationships with materials, but also some differences. I love when she speaks about how simplistic comparisons between children and artists belittles both groups.
I had the greatest experience this weekend with some friends out in WV. 3 days of bliss at a home in the mountains, full of hiking, reading, re-stacking woodpiles and good food. I brought along my sketch book, as did M.(23 years old), an artist. The best trail in that area is called the Mossy Trail, and as its name suggests, it is full of moss–all different kinds. I collected a few specimens (that were returned to their proper home later) and asked M. if she would like to draw the moss with me. Her eyes popped, and I think she was weeping–she had never looked closely at moss before! She had never seen the little worlds of diversity the patches contained. Looking at a one inch piece is like looking at an entire forest–the scale is disarming. Later, she talked about how much that moment meant to her, how her mind sort of exploded, and how she has a ton of new ideas and connections and inspiration from that experience. I hope that children have these moments often in our schools.