While I was terribly excited to go to the Ipswich Art Gallery for Squirm to experience the Light Play exhibition, the real attraction to me was the Wonder of Learning exhibition, highlighting work of the early learning centres in Reggio Emilia. I haven’t really talked about it here, mostly because it’s a huge topic, but I’m been spending a fair amount of time learning about Reggio Emilia and the wonderful learning outcomes they have achieved. (By outcomes, I’m obviously not talking about test results, but real, authentic learning). While the Reggio Emilia experience is unique, it is definitely possible to learn from and be inspired by what they do.
Unfortunately, the exhibition didn’t allow photography, and although catalogues were mentioned on several of the exhibits, I wasn’t able to find them in the gallery shop Luckily I had my notebook with me, and Squirm was sound asleep on my back, so I was able to get some notes.
The outside area gave an overview of tonnes of different projects. There was building with different materials, and how a pictorial language was developed so that others could follow the ‘instructions’. There was a look at a gift to a tree and talk about story telling. It was like seeing a little glimpse into the world of Reggio Emilia, and the way there was more than just early leaning centres – it involved the whole community.
Through the doors there was a more in depth look at the 100 Languages, before moving onto specific examples of projects. I took some notes of things that particularly stood out to me (though at this stage, Squirm was just falling asleep, so I cannot 100% guarantee the accuracy of my notes).
Here there are children and adults, seeking out the pleasure of playing, working, talking, thinking and inventing, together in friendship.
This seems particularly powerful to me because it considers both adults and children as capable people, able to work together in a partnership. It’s a radical shift from the teacher-as-leader concept. I also love the emphasis on pleasure, as well as the fact that playing comes first on the list of things which are done.
There was a whole section devoted to light – a powerful and important part of discovery and learning in the centres. Often times the children were involved in wonderings about light because light was a part of their environment – a clear third teacher. The children became scientists – putting forward theories and testing them; inventors – designing and testing machines; and celebrators – acknowledging that light was wonderful and worth enjoying. One of my notes from this section was “Environments can multiply the marvellings” – what an interesting concept to think on!
Coming from the light play exhibition in the children’s section to seeing what children could do over a long period of time was particularly thought provoking. I was probably more aware of the materials the children were engaging with in the pictures, noticing mirrors of all different shapes and sizes, CDs, overhead projectors, sunlight, torches (flashlights) and white paper being used in their explorations of light. There was also an interesting point on movement – on taking the machines the children had created, or the ideas they had theorised, from one place to another and how their ideas were altered or expanded.
Another part of the exhibition focused on writing, and how the children of Reggio Emilia centres construct personal systems of written communication. It was fascinating to see how they built up language, how familiar (or standard) letters became included in their work.
The last section focused on how three different groups of children responded after a visit to the Reggio Centre. Two of the groups focused on the hall of columns, but in vastly different ways. One group focused on the plain columns themselves, examining them and finding ways to decorate them (I think it says something about me that this was the part of the exhibit I spent the least time looking at and took no notes on . . . ) The other group focused on their movement around the columns, ‘writing’ down how they moved around them and using these representations to create a dance. The third group, however, focused on a set of stairs and the noises they could make on them. They explored how to represent these sounds, before creating sound sequences with the help of computer equipment.
This was a wonderful and inspiring exhibition, and I only wish I’d had more time and taken more notes. However, I have been inspired to continue learning more and more, to take some time to consider my understandings of early childhood education, and even to take time to think about my own spaces and environments. I’ll finish here, though, with the last note I took at the exhibition – Education is about finding the extraordinary in the everyday