Gae left me a thoughtful comment with lots of good questions the other day regarding my Designs for Living and Learning post, and I tried to provide a briefish answer in the combox with the promise of more in a post, but... none of my comments showed up. So I thought I would just dispense with the briefish answer and go on to the more complicated one.
Here is what Gae wrote:
This looks like a really interesting book.
Did you find that it actually was a lot different from what you have already implemented with your young ones.
Have you read the Reggio books ( all th ones in your side bar)that seem to be going around?
I am not so sure this is any different from what I already do.
Any insight on this in your own family, please?
(And if you haven't checked out Gae's blog, Cherished Hearts at Home, please do. It's a good one.)
I'm going to jump to the easy question first. :-) Yes, I have read all of the Reggio books I have in my sidebar, if not in their entirety at least partially. I will probably be adding a couple more after I finish them. I do try to make it a point never to put anything in my sidebar that I haven't read or that my kids haven't read or at least that I don't plan on using. So if you see a book in my sidebar, you can be pretty sure I've at least read part of it and liked it enough to put it up there.
I do know that most of these books are difficult to impossible to get in Australia. In the US they all seem to be expensive and many libraries do not have them. I have been ordering my books over a period of two or three years, many of them used. If I could get my hands on only two books, I would recommend Authentic Childhood: Experiencing Reggio Emilia in the Classroom and Working in the Reggio Way: A Beginner's Guide for American Teachers (which isn't up on my sidebar because I only just received it about a week ago. But I think it's a far better introduction to the Reggio approach than some of the other books in my sidebar.) Authentic Childhood is a good (and thorough) general introduction, including the educational philosophy that underlies the approach taken by the Reggio schools. Working in the Reggio Way is a more practical book, including questions to ask about your "practice" (I have to put that in quotes because it seems silly to talk in those terms about learning at home). Both books are written in a much more down to earth manner than the typical theory-laden Reggio book. (Sometimes I wonder if they would be easier to read in Italian!) Anyway, I think that Working in the Reggio Way is worth having just for the chapter on projects. No other book that I've read has explained the Reggio approach to projects quite as well. (And Working... is a lot cheaper.)
The best Internet resource is, of course, Camp Creek. There's a wealth of information there for homeschoolers, it's all free, and Lori is super helpful if you have any questions. (She usually has an open thread for questions every weekend.) So, if you can't find the books, or you don't have money to buy them and your library doesn't have them, it may be just as fruitful to hang out at Camp Creek for a while reading through all the archives. Sarah at Amongst Lovely Things is also posting all her reading notes.
So that's the easy question. Now onto the harder question, did you find it was a lot different than what you had already implemented with your young ones?
Hmmm. Not exactly. But that is one of the reasons I have found reading about Reggio to be especially fruitful -- because I recognized so much of how my kids actually learn there.
When I started reading about Reggio, I was trying to jam my family into a Montessori model. (I wrote about some of my frustrations here.) It wasn't that Montessori was completely at odds with the personalities and learning styles of my children (and me). I had been led to Montessori in the first place based on the need to allow my children freedom while providing structure, giving them hands on work (especially in reading and math), hoping to improve some attention spans, and encouraging independence. When Montessori popped up in my radar, I was nearly 20 weeks pregnant with twins. My other kids were 8, 6, and 2 at the time. Independence -- skills like pouring, making your own breakfast, vacuuming a carpet with a stick vacuum -- was high on my priority list. Kids like to be independent, and some of the most valuable lessons I learned from Montessori were about how to encourage independence in daily life with children.
But many of the standard Montessori exercises and materials were not working with my family. They either didn't hold the kids' interest or I couldn't maintain that kind of environment with that many kids under the age of 3... especially since two of them have affectionately been refered to as "Stuntman" and "Crash."
Anyway, what I was trying to do with my little ones (and to a certain extent, my big ones, too) wasn't working. So I took stock of what did work and I went looking for some other model to help me gather all the various threads of our learning into a cohesive tapestry. I could have just decided to focus on what worked without reading anythng, but unfortunately, I tend to be the kind of person who needs to read. In my first stage of learning, I gather up lots of data -- as much as I can -- then I push all the books aside and let the data stew a while. Then I write about it and try out anything that strikes me as being useful.
So. Here's what does work around here (in general terms):
- Pretend play
- Following/developing interests as they arise
My first stop was Waldorf, but I ended up deciding that Waldorf is too scripted for us. I had seen a brief mention of Reggio Emilia in an online article comparing "alternative" forms of education, so I went there next.
Reading about Reggio was a pleasant surprise because I recognized so much of what actually worked in our house in the pages of the books I read. So in that sense, no, it is not so different than what I do instinctively with my kids, and what my kids do instinctively. On the other hand, that's exactly what makes learning about the approach so valuable to me. Instead of having to alter our personalities to fit the program, I can accept our personalities (including my own) as they are and find suggestions about how to build on that and make our natural learning environment fuller and richer -- not just for the little ones, but for the older kids, too. Part of what I have gotten from reading about Reggio is just feeling a little more comfortable in my own skin.
I don't like everything I read about the Reggio approach. For instance, the literature is avowedly secular, and there is a strain of "all knowledge is subjective, there is no objective knowledge" running through it. But I guess it's like anything else: I take what I can use and leave the rest.
I'm battling with finishing up here at this vague point just because I'm not sure I will ever get this post published otherwise, and with taking longer by giving you an example of how my reading has helped build upon what I would normally do.
An easy example is our art cabinet. Art shelves have been a fixture in our house since Gareth was very small. Even before I read a single piece of educational philosophy -- before homeschooling even crossed our minds -- we instinctively, as parents, supported Gareth's interests by giving him opportunities to play with them (toy garbage trucks, laundry baskets -- as trash cans -- , and a bunch of "stuff" to take to the "dump" in his case as a two and three year old) and provided tools for him to use to express himself -- crayons, markers, paint, glitter glue, collage materials. Organizing all the "stuff", however, has been a constant learning process, especially as we have added more children. I would notice that various materials were not being used because either I would forget about them, or the children would forget about them, or maybe they were just buried at the bottom of a bin and hard to get to.
Reggio schools are known for their ateliers, or studios, in which a huge amount of art supplies are made accesible to children and teachers by storing them in transparent containers arranged in an aesthetically pleasing way. It's not a new concept in the art world, but it isn't something you see in children's environments all that often. After thinking about it for a while, I decided that I could use my stock of mason jars to make our materials visible, usable... and also to keep the small stuff away from the baby. I reorganized our art shelves last November and just did my annual summer clearing out to tidy them up (the batteries in my camera are dead, so I can't take a picture right now), and have in general been very pleased with the results. A bonus has been that the art supplies also become like decorations, enhancing the beauty of the room. They're much easier to keep neat, too, even with a toddler who has never met a chair he can't use to get what he wants. The under 3 set seem to recognize that the art supplies are tools, which does not apply to the Montessori materials which often become missiles. So while we do our share of washing crayon and colored pencil off walls and floors, I do not continually have to pick up an entire shelf of pencils that have been tossed all over the floor and used as bombs. What I am running into now is that we don't have enough shelf space, so I'm looking at all our walls with a critical eye.
That's just a small example, but it has made a difference in our learning. Another example: I've been encouraged to keep a learning journal, not exactly along the lines of the project journals Lori describes on Camp Creek, but sort of. So, for instance, I have an entry on 12/15 that goes like this:
After the boys washed the floor, walls, coffee table, and benches this morning (J&N always on the edge of silliness), E took the canister I was saving for the baby and wanted to make a shaker using buttons, pasta shapes, and tape. I rescued the tin by providing water bottles, lentils, black-eyed peas + glue and tissue paper. K, E, J, and N each made a shaker -- much more absorbing and calming than washing the floor... Shakers were interesting, though, and maybe part of E constructing an "alphabet of materials" -- in this case, recycled materials, which has been a theme with E for a long time. It's often buildings out of cardboard... but I suppose the larger theme is toys. He usually builds things to play with. Then the other kids then follow along w/his creativity.
"An alphabet of material -- In the Spirit of the Studio, 'From the Beginning of the Atelier to Materials as Languages', p. 13 - an interview with Giovanni Piazza... "It is through interactions between a child and a material that an alphabet can develop. As the children use paper, clay, wire, and so on, different alphabets will develop from different materials. As children use their minds and hands to act on a material using gestures and tools and begin to acquire skills, experience, strategies, and rules, structures are developed within the child that can be considered a sort of alphabet or grammar."
You can see the results of this day's work here if you scroll down through the Christmas stuff. It's hard to say what I would have done if I hadn't been doing so much reading. Would I have suggested making the shakers? Maybe. Would I have connected making shakers to the larger processes of building skill and knowledge Farmerboy (he's E) was working on at the time? Probably not. In this case, I had also noticed that the kids were doing sort of the same thing when they worked with clay. They weren't interested in making finished products so much as they were interested in learning how clay worked. The products they made to express themselves with the clay were only vehicles for the larger process of simply learning how they could express themselves.
Whew. You may now be sorry you asked! But I think your questions were important. It's so easy as a homeschooling mom to be drawn into "what's going around" just because "everybody else is doing it" -- at least it is for me. So I think it's right to have a healthy skepticism. And I also think that if you're happy with how the learning is going -- if it works for you and your kids-- then you should do what works and don't worry about the "stuff" that's floating around.
But, if you're curious, I do think it's worthwhile to investigate the Reggio approach. It isn't anything that you have to adopt wholesale, but the ideas are fertile ones which can be applied in a variety of situations. And they may make you feel better if you find yourself unable to make your kids stick to plans for long periods of time. ;-)