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Inspiring News and Events 
from the Reggio
-Inspired Network Of Minnesota

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  • 05 Feb 2024 6:24 PM | Reggio Inspired Network of MN (Administrator)

    Getting to Belonging, Part 3: Navigating Participation and Evolving Perspectives
    Rie Gilsdorf and Christy Spencer
    Rie Algeo Gilsdorf, MS, MA, has broad experience as a principal, arts administrator, instructional coach, teacher of science and dance and parent in many settings, including the Reggio-inspired programs of Portland’s Opal School and The Blake School in Minneapolis. Rie is a past Board Co-Chair and Civic Engagement Committee Chair of the Reggio-Inspired Network of Minnesota and current member of its Resource Development Committee. She now provides racial equity seminars, coaching and consulting through Embody Equity (www.EmbodyEquity.com).

    Christy Spencer, MA is inspired by children’s curiosities and perspectives, and roots her practices in relationships, deep listening, designing dynamic learning environments, observation and pedagogical documentation. Christy has worked in various Reggio-inspired contexts, including The Blake School, Boulder Journey School and the Minnesota Children’s Museum. She has been a RINM Board and committee member. Current professional interests include mindfulness practices, anti-racist theory, neuroscience around empathy and children’s rights.

    Previously in Getting to Belonging, we’ve looked at embracing ambiguity (Part 1), dispelling ideas of developmental appropriateness, and taking on new mindsets and practices (Part 2) in order to welcome negotiated curriculum, discourse, and a view of the teacher as researcher. With these in place several other Reggio-inspired principles surface, each facilitating the next: (1) participation and pedagogy of listening and (2) group construction and multiple perspectives. These, too, are tools of designing for belonging. At the end of this article, we will highlight how these interact with each other to cultivate belonging.

    Participation & Pedagogy of Listening
    Equal Participation is a value statement that tends to float in the aspirational realm. Negotiated curriculum can actualize equitable participation in the here and now by facilitating and valuing participation of all stakeholders. Kelsey Blackwell (2018) argues for creating intentional ‘architectures of conversation’ to disrupt unequal participation perpetuated by the dominant discourse. She views this discourse as “the water in which we all swim. No one is immune. Those values dictate who speaks, how loud, when, the words we use, what we don’t say, what is ignored, who is validated and who is not.” By making everyone’s participation visible, a negotiated curriculum opens the possibility of a new architecture of communication.

    Following the design steps Open Mind, Open Heart and Open Will, the next move is Co-creating. When co-creating we explore the future by doing, remaining open to feedback and reflecting on what’s working and not. This learn-by-doing process is also called prototyping. Reggio-inspired teaching includes a similar responsiveness between provocations and dialogue, as well as observation and documentation of the unfolding process. Engaging in the documentation process provides adults with feedback and opportunities for reflection that are necessary for co-creating. “The most ‘design malpractice’ happens when people are acting but not reflecting,” (Montoya, 2022). Reflection is an active choice that keeps us out of habitual thought and action.

    The co-creating design step requires letting go of the role of the expert with a voice of certainty. In designing for belonging, it can be tempting to try to actualize idealistic value statements in one grand gesture. In reality, change is iterative and generative. Prototyping the smallest practical ideas will produce the clearest insights to inform next steps. We never ‘arrive,’ instead we inhabit a state of ‘perpetual beta.’ Certainty is a facade distracting us from acknowledging the complexity that is a constant in every context, including race and culture.

    Children operate in perpetual beta. We expect conversations and encounters to be revisited as they acquire more information or experience additional interactions. Children will grapple with misconceptions and partial knowledge as they construct  a coherent understanding. Our role is to hold space for children to return again and again to scaffold their learning. As adults we also must extend ourselves the same courtesy. When caught off guard by children’s expressions about race we may falter in the way we respond; however, we also have the opportunity to revisit and ‘repair’ those conversations with children (Haulcy, 2023). Like the learning process itself, the race conversation is iterative and generative.

    In addition to their ideas, children’s vocabulary is in perpetual beta. They don’t yet have an adult vocabulary and we may misinterpret what they are trying to express. A pedagogy of listening grants a reflective pause to consider the child’s context before responding. In practice, we must choose to listen to the words and beyond the words to the emotional content and patterns of lived experience. This allows for reflective discourse, rather than projecting adult meanings onto children's words.

    Group Construction & Multiple Perspectives
    As adults model this deep, reflective discourse, children learn to construct meaning as a group. In a climate of group construction, children feel agency and enhance their capacity to listen and weigh ideas. The standard power dynamic of adult-as-expert is disrupted and children are more inclined to express their thinking. An atmosphere of ‘perpetual beta’ supports divergent thinking. By contrast, environments where a singular ‘correct’ way of thinking is implied engender cynicism in children. Why express ideas when there’s only one that’s right? Current societal shifts, including shifts in public discourse about race, bring us to a place of uncertainty. In Design for Belonging, Susie Wise highlights the example of group construction by reflecting back to constituents that “their inquiries mattered and they were indeed participating in a civic process,” (2022).

    Group construction of meaning requires us to hold and value multiple perspectives. This applies to both children and adults and is embedded in the definition of the Reggio collective design process, progettazione. When participants have equitable but distinct roles, a rich array of results are apt to arise, honoring their individuality within the collective. As in the folktale of the blind people and the elephant, no individual perspective is complete, yet all provide important insights.

    Because human systems are dynamic, we now employ the final design step of  Co-evolving. In this step, constituents create flexible infrastructure that adapts to an ever-evolving context. This requires letting go of the voice of certainty (Scharmer, 2018a). The educators of Reggio Emilia refer to their schools as an ‘an evolving educational project.’ Their infrastructure is a set of principles that are not prescriptive, but rather promote nimbleness. As a result, the educational project of Reggio has adapted in response to societal shifts as they arise, beginning at its inception in the aftermath of World War II. Leaning on the flexible infrastructure of the Reggio principles positions us to co-evolve.

    Belonging via Broader Consciousness
    In addition to providing a flexible infrastructure, the Reggio-inspired principles that we have outlined are cumulative. While there is benefit to practicing even a single principle, the impact is multiplied by their synergy.

    Further, just as understanding each of these Reggio principles helps us navigate the complexity of the whole, understanding multiple perspectives helps us navigate the complexity of human systems and leads us to develop a broader racial consciousness. A narrow consciousness may persist in both children and adults unless we become more aware of others. Broader consciousness disrupts habitual patterns of attention, increasing the capacity to notice patterns of interaction, contribution and flow. Design thinking provides a road map to belonging: when we listen deeply to all constituents, we can be confident enough to take the small next steps to prototype inclusivity, knowing that they are not the end point. We must continue to listen and adapt, both individually and programatically. In essence, to cultivate communities of belonging for adults and children “means creating a learning environment in which the learner can step into his or her highest future potential in the context of hands-on societal challenges,” (Scharmer, 2018b).

    Drawing from the Reggio and design thinking concepts we’ve discussed in Parts 1, 2 and 3, in Part 4 we will continue with the idea of ‘getting to belonging’ by focusing on practice. What might ‘getting to belonging’ look or sound like in adult conversations when talking with young children about race.


    Blackwell, Kelsey. (2018). “Why people of color need spaces without white people.” The Arrow Journal. https://arrow-journal.org/why-people-of-color-need-spaces-without-white-people/

    Haulcy, Diane. (2023). “White Parents Navigating Anti-Racist Parenting in Minneapolis.” Early Risers Podcasthttps://www.mpr.org/episodes/2023/03/22/white-parents-navigating-antiracist-parenting-in-minneapolis Accessed 8/17/23.

    Montoya, Louie, quoted in Andrea Small and Kelly Schmutte. (2022). Navigating Ambiguity: Creating Opportunity in a World of Unknowns. Stanford d.school guide. Ten Speed Press.

    Scharmer, Otto. (2018a). The Essentials of Theory U: Core Principles and Applications. BK, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., a BK Business Book.

    Scharmer, Otto. (2018b). “Education is the kindling of a flame: How to reinvent the 21st-century university.” Huff Posthttps://www.huffpost.com/entry/education-is-the-kindling-of-a-flame-how-to-reinvent_b_5a4ffec5e4b0ee59d41c0a9f Accessed 8/17/23

    Wise, Susie. (2022). Design for Belonging: How to Build Inclusion and Collaboration in Your Communities. Stanford d.school guide. Ten Speed Press.

  • 05 Feb 2024 6:00 PM | Reggio Inspired Network of MN (Administrator)

    Movement, Music and Representation
    Mark Sorvari
    Professional musician, performer, teacher, and event curator, Mark Sorvari is the Director and 
    Lead Instructor of Playing With Music, which began in 2015 as a vehicle to foster, teach and share inspiring and uplifting music and creative movement experiences for young children and their caregivers. Mark has worked in early childhood music education since 2010 and has experience working with children following the Reggio Approach and is certified in Orff-Schulwerk (music education pedagogy) and Music Together.

    Seven years ago, I discovered the teaching duo Segni Mossi, meaning “Leave A Trace” in Italian, while researching music and creative movement in a Reggio-inspired setting. Their interdisciplinary approach prioritizes experimentation as a working method, emphasizing the creative process over the final outcome. The Reggio-Inspired Network of Minnesota Education Scholarship enabled me to attend the Segni Mossi Pink & Red training workshops in October 2023. These workshops explored the interaction between dance and graphic signs, using paper, oil pastels and the human body.

    The Segni Mossi workshops not only provided illumination but also inspired answers to ongoing questions within a Reggio-inspired context. How can educators facilitate cross-domain connections and interweave different competencies within the Hundred Languages? What learning environments stimulate critical thinking and aesthetic feeling simultaneously? How can we advance Malaguzzi’s vision for ateliers to embrace innovation beyond the original visual art template, specifically incorporating music/sound, movement/dance, drama, and poetry? Is the atelier a technique rather than a physical space? If teachers are to become co-creators and co-learners alongside students, is expertise in the Hundred Languages essential or does the lack of expertise open up possibilities brimming with critical thought, creativity, collaboration and communication?

    Segni Mossi’s playful approach challenges participants to engage in art within a social setting, stimulating critical thinking and aesthetic feelings simultaneously. The workshops break barriers between language, body, and line, creating a dynamic, exciting environment. Participants explore expressive qualities of body movements and signs, interweaving competencies and viewpoints. Segni Mossi’s goal is to “liberate the sign from representative subordination,” (https://www.segnimossi.net/en/about.html).

    In an initial proposal, we spoke our names, added corresponding body movements and transferred that movement to leave a trace with oil pastels on a large sheet of paper affixed to a wall. The transformation from name to movement to visual representation was a very powerful experience as it broke barriers between language, body and line. Additionally, we represented a chosen sign with our bodies in space, allowing it to become three-dimensional, interweaving and making connections between the different languages. Carefully curated music accompanied each experience, creating a beautiful dance and interplay between the human body, mark-making tools, paper, space and our connections to others. The whole process was playful and exciting, and it felt like a performance or a story unfolding right before my eyes.

    Fellow educators, many currently working in Reggio-inspired environments, unanimously agreed that such proposals freed them from specific expectations, empowering uninhibited play with materials; no particular expertise or skill sets were required to participate and enjoy these proposals. The environment, materials, and provocations were the basic ingredients. The excitement of watching each participant’s (or group of participants’) creative and cognitive interpretations unravel was added spice! The immediacy and freedom to explore was liberating as it challenged us to move out of our comfort zones.

    In another captivating proposal, we embodied the concept of expansion by moving our bodies as though we were seeds sprouting from the soil. This dynamic movement was translated onto a large piece of white paper (approximately 10’ x 10’) on the floor. Beginning from the center with an oil pastel, each of us expanded our body outward, leaving a distinctive trace of movement on the paper. Observing each person’s unique expansion and the remnants of their movements expressed through oil pastel lines, led to fascinating reflections.

    During the subsequent discussion, we delved into the role of the observer within the context of the Reggio-inspired approach. It became evident that not only teachers could play this role, but observation also emerged as a crucial aspect of the experience for the children themselves. The act of observation contributed to the visual aesthetics of the proposal, creating an intricate interplay between the lines left on the paper, the body movements, and ultimately, between each individual in the experience.

    As these lines organically grew across the paper, so did the connections and relationships between the participants. We forged deep bonds with each other through our interactions with expressive languages in a shared space. In this environment that encouraged freedom of expression without judgment, we found ourselves not only learning about each other but also discovering more about ourselves.

    These encounters pushed me to break free from habit, emphasizing that this space was meant for testing theories, experimenting, taking risks and gaining a deeper understanding of the world. The challenges compelled me to be more adaptable and think on my feet in order to foster ever-evolving experiences for children.

    Upon returning from the workshop, I began offering Segni Mossi-inspired proposals to children. It became evident that this approach inspired new ways to move their bodies and to have a multi-layered sensorial experience. As they danced, the squiggles and lines left on paper overlapped, creating a beautiful fusion. Children embraced the opportunity to dance their own lines, interpret each other’s circle or scribble, mirroring the collaborative dance of lines on the paper. 

    Intriguingly, they started imagining pictures formed by the intermingled lines, giving rise to a series of captivating stories. At one early childhood center with high vaulted ceilings, where children had shown curiosity about echoes, I introduced proposals integrating body movement and mark-making as a tool to explore concepts related to sounds, vibrations and echoes, providing an enriching experience for the young learners that deepened their understanding and gave rise to new questions.

    After participating in the Segni Mossi workshops, I've gained a fresh perspective on utilizing the Hundred Languages, free from hierarchical constraints or divisions. This approach allows for a fascinating dance to unfold among various expressive languages. Excited about the insights gained, I am eagerly anticipating another series of Segni Mossi workshops scheduled for February 2024 in New York City. I look forward to exploring additional avenues for blending and interweaving the Hundred Languages in my work.

  • 05 Feb 2024 5:55 PM | Reggio Inspired Network of MN (Administrator)

    Reflections about Reggio Emilia
    Melanie Lowin
    Melanie Lowin, MEd., M.A. is a Pre-Kindergarten teacher in Blake School’s Early Learning Center, which opened in the fall of 2023. Along with a number of colleagues, she participated in the spring 2023 Study Tour in Reggio Emilia. Melanie also participated in the Early Childhood Education Pedagogy graduate certificate program through the University of Colorado-Denver, in partnership with Boulder Journey School. 

    My first professional exposure to the Reggio approach was in 2021, during Covid, when I virtually attended the Reggio Children International Study Group. Then, in the spring of 2023, I was fortunate to be part of a group of colleagues who traveled to Italy to experience Reggio firsthand and participate in a five-day Study Tour. One thing stood out above the beauty, food and architecture: Reggio Emilia is its own unique place with different geography, government, resources, constituents and community. I know that I cannot take exactly what Reggio Emilia has created and plop it into my school. Still, I wondered “How do I do this at my school?”

    We’re five months into the school year, and I’m energized as I work to incorporate the Reggio Emilia approach in my work with children, parents and colleagues. I’m increasingly seeing children as capable co-constructors of their learning, part of a supportive community. Instead of requiring teacher-directed activities, I’m creating more open-ended invitations and observing to see what direction the children move.

    For example, I set out Legos, not expecting that the children would create an entire Lego City. They worked cooperatively with their own ideas. I listened to their ideas and convened a group where we made a plan and map. This involved using the big blocks as a platform, Lego base plates as the ‘ground’ and then adding small blocks and wooden train tracks to expand the city. I intended to introduce maps at some point during the year, but I incorporated the Lego city experience into map-making more organically, with the work the children had begun themselves.


    I am using recycled materials, as at Remida (the center for reusable materials in Reggio Emilia), to spark resourcefulness and creativity. My experiences in Reggio inspired me to consider materials as ‘languages’ where they use elements such as light, paper, sound, mark making and clay. I increasingly see the classroom as the third teacher, making sure creative supplies are at child-level and are organized in ways to engage children. While blocks and Legos are always available, other resources are changed or reorganized to continue to spark new learning.

    For example, the children chose different materials for their Lego City. They created and attached paper signs providing directions. I offered small desk lamps and the children turned them into different suns and explored light and shadows across their city. Through these explorations, they created signs and played with science, social studies and 2D and 3D math concepts.


    I am making learning visible as I observe, document and display children’s processes (not just the end product). I take photographs, videos and audio recordings of the children’s collaborative work. I share documentation, not only with the families, but it also is on the walls where the children can revisit their work.

    I’ll continue to challenge my own learning through collaborations with fellow educators–locally, nationally and internationally. As a school community, we are gathering to share our experiences and ideas, hoping to create collaborative connections and cross-disciplinary learning for all of our children.

    Just as Reggio Emilia is building an approach to education one step at a time, so too, can I build my educational practice, one step at a time.

  • 05 Feb 2024 5:54 PM | Reggio Inspired Network of MN (Administrator)

    Reflections on First Encounters: “If the Eye Jumps Over the Wall”
    Patti Loftus
    Patti Loftus B.A., M.A.,  is a retired early childhood teacher whose career included twenty-eight years in the Pre-K program at Blake School (Minnesota.) She’s been interested in the Reggio approach since 1992 and has served as a RINM Board member. She’s currently a RINM Communications Committee member.

    For decades, academics, artists, architects and civic leaders from around the world have participated in study tours convened by Reggio Children. How and why does the Reggio educational project resonate with such a diverse group and what inspires folks to move beyond initial interest (even infatuation) toward a deeper understanding?

    Initial Ideas
    This article is a reflection on first encounters with Reggio ideas from varied perspectives. I reached out to a group of educators from Blake School who recently participated in a five-day study tour in Reggio Emilia. In addition, I contacted others who have encountered Reggio ideas, some of whom did so decades ago. A few in this second group have never participated in a study tour while others have done so multiple times.

    Some have made (or hope to make) substantial changes in their work, even upending it. As one teacher described with enthusiasm, “I’m rethinking everything!” It’s as if they glimpsed another world, one that is familiar and at the same time completely different.

    “If the Eye Jumps Over the Wall” was the original title of the first Hundred Languages exhibit. Sergio Spaggiari, former Director of the Istituzione Scuole e Nidi d' Infanzia Municipality of Reggio Emilia, said, “It is important to acquire the skill of going over walls, going beyond boundaries, seeing limits and passing through them…To be able to go over the wall means you can topple cultural paradigms that seem fixed. It means you can turn things on their head. It means you can start with fresh eyes.”

    The Reggio educational philosophy is both appealing and challenging. In part, it is appealing because the city itself offers a beautiful backdrop to uniquely designed and organized schools. Teachers, pedagogistas and atelieristas work with children to offer unusual materials and surprising experiences to prompt unexpected subjects for study. One recent visitor noticed that “in the midst of a garden, the children focused on three invasive weeds growing out of the sidewalk,” which led to extended project work.

    Reggio is also challenging, because the educational project is multi-faceted and inseparably woven into the city’s historical, civic and cultural context. While the Reggiani share their stories through publications and conferences, they resist marketing their approach as a curriculum. They do not promote their approach as the only way to work with children, instead they invite visitors to enter into a dialogue about values, theory and practice, a conversation that is now over 70 years old.

    The existence of this newsletter and the twenty-six-year-old Reggio-Inspired Network of Minnesota (RINM) is evidence of the impact of Reggio in and around Minnesota. For years, numerous Minnesotans, and others who identify with the Network, have been encountering Reggio ideas primarily through local experiences, not study tours.

    Responses and Perspectives
    The first exposure to Reggio ideas for the people I contacted for this article included:

    hearing about Reggio from a colleague;
    happening upon a magazine article;
    wandering into a session at a national conference;
    visiting the classroom of a Reggio-inspired teacher;
    hearing Loris Malaguzzi’s classic poem “The Hundred Languages;”
    visiting one of Reggio Children’s traveling exhibits;
    reading a book from Reggio;
    being the parent of a child in a Reggio-inspired program;
    participating in a parenting class with a Reggio-inspired teacher;
    viewing documentation of children’s work;
    seeing photographs of the environments or of children working with materials.

    There were many on-ramps.

    When I asked folks about their first responses to Reggio ideas, they easily recalled the occasion–“amazed,” “gobsmacked,” “overwhelmed,” “struck,” “wonder and delight.” It’s not surprising that first reactions are to what’s visible–the layout of the schools, the aesthetic environments, the unique materials and experiences presented to the children and the documented work of the children that makes their thinking visible. Some people noticed aspects that lie below the surface, for example, how key principles intertwine to connect and support thinking processes. “The level of deep and serious thinking that I encountered from the Italian educators about how to create schools that truly respect and support young children was like nothing I had ever experienced before.”

    Those who participated in a study tour looked for and posed questions that emerged from their frames of reference: a musician looked for evidence of music in the schools; a tech specialist noticed their technology equipment and the ways in which it was being used; a teacher observed the multicultural nature of the population and wondered how the schools respond in culturally responsive ways; an art specialist responded with some relief that they do some skill instruction in Reggio, for example in teaching children how to attach pieces of clay. (This refuted the notion she’d had that everything in Reggio involved unhindered exploration of materials.) Another participant reflected, “I was most struck by its beginnings as a female-led anti-fascist movement and its commitment to equity and democratic advocacy.”

    Each of us approach Reggio ideas with personal and particular curiosities. We come from varied contexts and, whether we’re aware of it or not, have frames of reference that affect what we notice and remember. Even when we acknowledge those perspectives, this awareness can be fleeting. If priorities in our teaching practice involve, for instance, behavior management or assessment, we may not realize the ways these preoccupations influence what we notice about Reggio and, without intention, what we may miss. Again, in Malaguzzi’s words: “To be able to go over the wall means you can topple cultural paradigms that seem fixed. It means you can turn things on their head. It means you can start with fresh eyes.”

    Peter Moss writes about the larger educational concerns that are typical of leaders in the U.S. and U.K.: Does it work? Is it evidence-based? How much will it cost? How can we take it to scale? Moss notes that Reggio educators ask: Where does this lead? How can we build on this? What does this experience tell us about the children and their thinking? How does this connect with our stated values? What other perspectives might be helpful?

    What Followed
    Following their initial experiences with Reggio, folks consistently expressed their desire to talk with colleagues, to experiment with new materials and approaches, re-think their practice and examine the values behind that practice. They talked about incorporating Reggio ideas in their relationships with parents and the larger community.

    As they reflected on their encounters with Reggio, they asked:

    What are our (school’s) values for education?
    How does the environment reflect those values?
    What are the fundamental ideas and how can I use these ideas?
    What can we do, what can we change?
    How can we slow down to do richer work?
    What is the central nature of the role of the atelierista?
    What languages are we allowing children to communicate in?
    What is the role of documentation for my school? What does it look like every day and who is doing it? What’s the objective in documentation – for the teachers? parents? broader audience?

    In contrast to the notion that one must change their internal beliefs before their teaching practice will change, the opposite is also possible. Making a small change in teaching and then reflecting on it may lead to a significant shift in thinking. 

    The Network as a support
    All of the participants who shared their first encounters with Reggio acknowledged that the Reggio schools are only in Reggio Emilia. They realized that creating beautiful spaces and open-ended materials for children to explore can be a starting point for becoming a Reggio-inspired teacher or program. Experiences like conferences, study tours and workshops built around Reggio ideas end, and then participants return to their contexts. What happens when the eye jumps over the wall but the body remains on the other side?

    The Reggio-Inspired Network of Minnesota doesn’t provide answers but is a flexible community composed of a wide variety of people with an interest in exploring and deepening their understandings of the Reggio approach. The Network provides resources and convenes opportunities for listening and talking with others about ideas, possibilities and practice. Deep insights are possible through reflection, particularly when in dialogue with others.

    The Network, a 501 c3 for which there is no membership fee, is a hub of resources available to all. Throughout the year, the Network sponsors in-person and virtual events, most of which are free:

    • Monthly Gatherings – hosted in various community locations 
    • Monthly Book Study – meets virtually and studies Reggio-inspired publications, each over many months
    • Let’s Talk – virtual or in-person, open discussion
    • Documentation Lab – participants share and discuss traces of their work, some virtual, some in-person
    • Loose Parts Lab – which collects, curates and makes recycled materials available, housed in the Toolbox Collective in Mpls.
    • RINM website – contains a wealth of information and links
    • Quarterly newsletter – free to everyone on the mailing list, also available through the RINM website

    The Network makes available books published by Reggio Children and other books about the Reggio approach through the Debra Fish Library, a collection of the Saint Paul Public Library. Books can be checked out through any metro library. www.mnlinkgateway.org/

    In addition, there are two annual educational scholarships available. More information can be found here.

    First encounters with Reggio ideas are, for many, the catalyst to learn more about the approach and find ways to incorporate those ideas in their work with children and parents. Because the educational project in Reggio is complex and so different from U.S. educational paradigms, it requires ongoing awareness and effort to experiment, reflect, dialogue and experiment again. There are plenty of fellow travelers available as companions on that journey. The Reggio-Inspired Network of Minnesota is one place to find them.


    Thank you to Tom Bedard, Joe Druskin, Joanne Esser, Jen Kalika, Kim Lane, Melanie Lowin, Taylor Rose, Lisa Small, Jeanne Vergeront, Mary Watson and others for responding to my questions and to Lani Shapiro for thinking with me.


    Cameron, C. and Moss, P. (Eds.), (2020). Transforming Early Childhood in England: Towards a Democratic Education. UCL Press https://doi.org/10.14324/111.9781787357167

    Edwards, C., Gandini, L., Forman, G. (Eds.), (2012). The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Experiences in Transformation (3rd ed., p. 35). Praeger.

    Giamminuti, S., Cagliari, P., Giudici, C., Strozzi, P. (Eds.), (2024). The Role of the Pedagogista in Reggio Emilia:Voices and Ideas for a Dialectic Educational Experience. Routledge.

    Landi, L. and Pintus, A. (2022). “A Critical Approach to the Reggio Emilia Approach.” Open Access. https://iris.unimore.it/retrieve/1861203e-e021-42ee-b42a-d20195c206c9/216-713-1-PB.pdf

    Spaggiari, S. (2004). “The path toward knowledge: The social, political and cultural context of the Reggio municipal infant-toddler center and preschool experience.” Innovations in Early Education: The International Reggio Exchangehttps://www.reggioalliance.org/downloads/path:spaggiari.pdf

  • 04 Feb 2024 3:40 PM | Reggio Inspired Network of MN (Administrator)

    “We are well aware of what is meant by ‘scientific research’ and of the debate surrounding the so-called ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ sciences. But in Reggio we feel that the concept of research, or perhaps better, a new concept of research, more contemporary and alive, can emerge if we legitimate the use of this term to describe the cognitive tension that is created whenever authentic learning and knowledge-building processes take place. ‘Research’ used to describe the individual and common paths leading in the direction of new universes of possibility.”

    -Carlina Rinaldi

    We have learned from Reggio Emilia that the notion of research is a more approachable process than typically comes to mind when the word is used. Research is both a noun and a verb that often involves a compelling question or point of curiosity followed by studying closely. It involves gathering data, digging deeply, hypothesizing, testing and observing followed by reflection and dialogue to develop new understandings. Research, even when begun by a single individual, is rarely a solo endeavor, but involves multiple points of view in dialogue with each other.

    Reggio-inspired teachers view research as an essential part of their work.

    • They ask questions that serve to focus observations.
    • They imagine possibilities and invite children to materials and experiences, with the intention of provoking responses and thinking.
    • They gather traces of experiences and study them for insights and potential next steps.
    • They invite the points of view of others.

    “…Topics emerge, teachers document and wonder and provoke, children respond, and so on in an exquisite, often non-linear dance with layer upon layer of meaning. It cannot be planned, but it can be planned for through the teacher’s disposition to observe, document, provoke, and think, through the preparation of the environment to invite the interactions and encounters through which children’s ideas emerge, and through the development of a culture of conversation and construction of theory.”

    -Pam Oken-Wright

    In a Reggio-inspired context, research takes place as children and teachers alike make sense of daily life. Teachers ask the children, What do you notice? How does that feel? What does this remind you of? Teachers ask themselves, Why? What happened? What does it mean? What else could happen if…? Drawing on their deep listening made visible through documentation, they invite each other into dialogue, What do you see? How do you understand…? 

    This research is, at the same time, a way of thinking, an attitude and a strategy. The children’s and teachers’ research sustain each other. This co-constructed (re-)search, characterized by curiosity, exchange, uncertainty and unpredictability, creates space for innovation through the pleasure of thinking together.

    “Research is a habit of mind, an attitude that can be developed or neglected. It is a response to curiosity and doubt. It constructs new knowledge, makes for critical thinking and is part of citizenship and democracy. Like everything else about Reggio, research is not a solitary activity, but a process of relationships and dialogue.”

    -Rinaldi, C. and Moss, P.

  • 04 Feb 2024 3:30 PM | Reggio Inspired Network of MN (Administrator)

    The Reggio Approach is a complex system of thought and practice with many dynamic entry points that interact; it is not a method, program or curriculum.
    Key Principles of the Educational Project of Reggio Emilia, Italy

    In this issue, we will begin to unpack the image of the child, introduced by Loris Malaguzzi and others who elaborate on this foundational idea.

    There are hundreds of different images of the child. Each one of you has inside yourself an image of the child that directs you as you begin to relate to a child. This theory within you pushes you to behave in certain ways; it orients you as you talk to the child, listen to the child, observe the child. It is very difficult for you to act contrary to this internal image. For example, if your image is that boys and girls are very different from one another, you will behave differently in your interactions with each of them (Malaguzzi, 1994). 

    The educational project of Reggio Emilia offers an image of a child, each child and all children, as curious, competent learners who desire to be in relationship with others and the world. In this way, the Reggio Emilia Approach constructs a ‘rich’ child, with enormous unknown potential. This ‘rich’ child calls for comparably ‘rich’ parents and teachers, similarly disposed.

    When we engage in dialogue with Reggio Emilia, we are asked to become aware of and think critically about the image of the child that we hold. This image resides mostly outside of our awareness and is challenging to make visible, even to ourselves. It is, however, revealed through action: the words we use; the nature of our expectations and how we convey them; how we organize time, space and materials; and how we prepare and use documentation.

    The idea of the child that Malaguzzi introduced, and which the Reggio Emilia project has elaborated over decades, contests customary understandings. These children are not innocent, naive or cute. Nor are they passive, ‘at risk’ or constrained by standards. 

    The child is called the ‘rich’ child. But not ‘rich’ materially. Rather ‘rich’ in potential, strong, powerful, competent and, most of all, connected to adults and other children …The ‘rich’ child is an active learner, seeking the meaning of the world from birth, a co-creator of knowledge, identity, culture, and values. (Moss, 2010).

    The children that Malaguzzi described discuss and represent their thinking about identity, love, war, peace and liberty as well as light, shadow and color. We come to know these strong children through educators’ collaborative work of pedagogical documentation. “This is a gifted child, for whom we need a gifted teacher.” 

    One of the focal points of the Reggio Emilia philosophy… is the image of a child who, right from the moment of birth, is so engaged in developing a relationship with the world and intent on experiencing the world that he develops a complex system of abilities, learning strategies and ways of organizing relationships. This is:

    A child who is fully able to create personal maps for his own social, cognitive, affective and symbolic orientation.

    A competent, active, critical child;  a child who is therefore ‘challenging’, because he produces change and dynamic movement in the systems in which he is involved, including the family, the society and the school.  A producer of culture, values and rights, competent in living and learning.

    A child who is able to assemble and disassemble possible realities, to construct metaphors and creative paradoxes, to construct his own symbols and codes while learning to decode the established symbols and codes.

    A child who, very early on, is able to attribute meanings to events and who attempts to share meanings and stories of meaning. (Loris Malaguzzi, as revisited by Rinaldi, 2006).

    ...and most of all connected to adults and other children, (Malaguzzi, 1993).

    Malaguzzi, L. (1994). Your image of the child: Where teaching begins. Exchange, 3, 52–56. Retrieved from http://www.reggioalliance.org/downloads/malaguzzi:ccie:1994.pdf

    Barsotti, C. (2004, March). Walking on Threads of Silk: Interview with Loris Malaguzzi. Children in Europe, (Issue 6), 10 - 15.

    Moss, P. (2004). Dedicated to Loris Malaguzzi: The town of Reggio and its schools. Retrieved from https://www.sightlines-initiative.com/images/Library/reggio/townofrepmoss.pdf

    Rinaldi, C. 2006. In Dialogue with Reggio Emilia: Listening, Researching and Learning. New York: Routledge

  • 06 Dec 2023 8:12 PM | Reggio Inspired Network of MN (Administrator)

    by Rie Gilsdorf and Christy Spencer

    Rie Algeo Gilsdorf, MS, MA, has broad experience as a principal, arts administrator, instructional coach, teacher of science and dance and parent in many settings, including the Reggio-inspired programs of Portland’s Opal School and The Blake School in Minneapolis. Rie is a past Board Co-Chair and Civic Engagement Committee Chair of the Reggio-Inspired Network of Minnesota and current member of its Resource Development Committee. She now provides racial equity seminars, coaching and consulting through Embody Equity (https://www.embodyequity.com).

    Christy Spencer, MA is inspired by children’s curiosities and perspectives, and roots her practices in relationships, deep listening, designing dynamic learning environments, observation and pedagogical documentation. Christy has worked in various Reggio-inspired contexts, including The Blake School, Boulder Journey School and the Minnesota Children’s Museum. She has been a RINM Board and committee member. Current professional interests encompass exploring the intersection of design thinking and the Educational Project of Reggio Emilia, mindfulness practices, anti-racist theory, neuroscience around empathy and humanitarian projects focusing on children’s rights.

    In Part One of “Getting to Belonging,” (in the Spring 2023 issue) we acknowledged that conversations about differences, especially differences across race and culture, are apt to fall into well-worn patterns. We also noted that, unless all stakeholders have agency, entrenched habits of thought and practice inhibit the development of greater consciousness around curriculum, conflict and the role of the teacher. In Part One we also began to uncover ways in which a Reggio-inspired design process invites adults to reframe ambiguity as an opportunity to question the status quo, including the concept of developmental appropriateness. In this article we examine 
    how we might reimagine mindsets and practices, specifically curriculum, communication and the image of the teacher.

    Embracing Negotiated Learning

    In Reggio Emilia, progettazione refers to a key principle: negotiated, co-constructed curriculum. This negotiated curriculum typically emerges in cycles of inquiry, as each investigation generates many new questions. The progettazione design process is a way to manage ambiguities that arise when there is no predetermined curriculum or fixed destination. In order for there to be negotiation, the teacher holds space for discourse by maintaining an attitude of listening and valuing broad participation. “This discourse mindset carries over into teachers talking to parents, to the public, and all possible relations [between children, teachers, parents, and the public],” (Foreman and Fyfe, 2012).

    Foreman and Fyfe further define discourse: “Discourse connotes a deep desire to understand each others’ words. Discourse is more than talking. Discourse connotes a more reflective study of what is being said, a struggle to understand, in which speakers constructively confront each other, experience conflict, and seek footing in a constant shift of perspectives,” (2012).

    Appreciating Constructive Confrontation and Conflict

    In our experience in American early education contexts, the ideas of “confrontation” and “conflict” are typically viewed as problematic. In response to individualistic cultural norms, educators often look for and emphasize commonalities in an attempt to create communities of belonging – fearing the repercussions of constructive confrontation (Hofstede, 2023). This reduces the richness and vibrancy of a diverse group to a generic uniformity.

    If we truly “desire to understand each others’ words,” we need to listen not only for commonalities but also for differences. Activating Open Mind, the first step in the design process we outlined in Part One, requires listening to the experiences of all stakeholders, specifically listening for “disconfirming facts,” those ideas and experiences that do not align with the experiences of the listener (Scharmer, 2018). Listening this way grants everyone agency. Counter-intuitively, leaning into understanding differences allows us to move from contrived uniformity to valuing the vibrancy of the collective.

    A conversation with the goal of winning an argument is a debate; a conversation that embraces the give and take of dynamic tension is discourse. An argumentative stance can produce the feelings of a fight: cheeks flushed, heart racing, muscles tensed. When conversations are approached with curiosity rather than defensiveness, there is potential for change. To have space for curiosity, there needs to be space for pause–whether it’s a momentary pause to get your bearings when something unexpected or jarring transpires or a longer reflective pause to consider the context. Embracing dynamic tension means embracing ambiguity. Stepping into this way of being, we lay the foundation for civil discourse, civic participation and advocacy, and belonging. In the words of Susie Wise, “No community can thrive without understanding how to work with conflict and disagreement,” (2022).

    Supporting Teachers as Protagonists

    Reggio-inspired practice holds an image of the child as curious, competent and desiring to be in relationship. In order to enact this view of the child as a competent protagonist, we need to reconsider the image of the teacher. A persistent traditional view of the teacher holds that teachers’ main role is to deliver predetermined curriculum in engaging ways. In this deficit model, children are empty vessels whose heads are to be filled by teachers.

    The deficit model denies agency of both teachers and children and undermines negotiated learning. This can lead to a culture of cynicism and exhaustion as the promise of each formerly shiny new curriculum gives way to the next. Shallow levels of understanding and practice, change fatigue and defeat may result in teachers maintaining a tight grasp of familiar mindsets and practices. Inquiry, by contrast, is iterative by nature as each question generates more questions. This is the mindset of a researcher. There is limitless potential for deep understanding and practice.

    Indeed, Professor Carolyn Edwards proposes that alongside children, “teachers are likewise protagonists,” (2012). Tiziana Filipini has characterized the role of the teacher in Reggio as “provoker of occasions, on the one hand, and co-actor in discoveries on the other,” (Edwards, 2012). This combination of teacher as protagonist, provoker and co-actor is encapsulated in the term “teacher as researcher.”

    This brings us to the second and third design steps, Embracing Open Heart and Cultivating Open Will (Scharmer, 2018). Embracing Open Heart requires redirecting the voice of cynicism by quieting the paralyzing inner critic. To do this, we must come back to a sense of curiosity that activates empathy. Cultivating Open Will necessitates the letting go of being an expert and allowing new possibilities to arise, including talking to children about race.

    When we embrace negotiated learning with its ambiguity and dynamic tensions, we can focus on nurturing a group construction of understanding, rooted in a pedagogy of listening. By doing so, we increase the possibility of designing equitable learning environments. In the next article we will examine how these practices engender multiple perspectives that broaden the community’s racial and cultural consciousness.


    Edwards, Carolyn. (2012) “Teacher and Learner, Partner and Guide: The role of the Teacher.” In The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Experience in Transformation, 3rd ed. C. Edwards, L. Gandini and George Forman, Editors. Praeger.

    Foreman, George, and Brenda Fyfe. (2012) “Negotiated Learning through Design, Documentation, and Discourse.” In The Hundred Languages of Children:The Reggio Emilia Experience in Transformation, 3rd ed. C. Edwards, L. Gandini and George Forman, Editors. Praeger.

    Hofstede, Geert. “Country Comparison Tool.” Hofstede Insights, https://www.hofstede-insights.com/country-comparison-tool?countries=united+states . Accessed 8/17/2023

    Scharmer, Otto. (2018) The Essentials of Theory U: Core Principles and Applications. BK, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., a BK Business Book.

    Wise, Susie. (2022). Design for Belonging: How to Build Inclusion and Collaboration in Your Communities, A Stanford d.school guide. Ten Speed Press.

  • 27 Sep 2023 9:22 PM | Reggio Inspired Network of MN (Administrator)

    Accorpamenti - Resonances between dance and music Reggio Children, 2022

    Rie Gilsdorf
    Rie Algeo Gilsdorf, MS, MA, has broad experience as a principal, arts administrator, instructional coach, teacher of science and dance, and parent in many settings, including the Reggio-inspired programs of Portland’s Opal School and The Blake School in Minneapolis. Rie is a past Board Co-Chair and Civic Engagement Committee Chair of the Reggio-Inspired Network of Minnesota and current member of its Resource Development Committee. She now provides racial equity seminars, coaching and consulting through Embody Equity, www.EmbodyEquity.com.

    As a former dance teacher and atelierista, I was excited to read this book that focuses on two of the 100 languages that I’m passionate about and have spent time studying. Its title, “Accorpamenti,” is a play on words. The word means “amalgamation” in Italian, and it contains “corpo,” meaning body, and “menti,” meaning mind. So, it’s a book that looks at amalgamations of body and mind as well as of dance and music. The volume itself is an amalgamation of documentation of various music and dance experiences with scholarly articles from the viewpoints of neurobiology, music and dance history, linguistics and culture. It physically represents theory and practice by alternating academic articles with links to video “Counterpoints” from the schools of Reggio Emilia. There’s even a video of a music and dance workshop presented to staff of several of the schools so that they could reconnect with their own ability to explore these artistic expressions. Ultimately, the goal of the book is to improve the ability of adults to develop and observe provocations using music and dance–even, or especially, for those who don’t have much experience in them.

    There are moments of insight in the book, for instance this description of how children’s artistic experience is not in need of what adults think of as academic disciplines:

    . . . [Children] explore the world in a way that is very similar to how an artist works, first of all in an immediate (before mediated), presentative (before representative) and sensitive (before symbolic) manner.

    I wish I had had this language to help other adults understand that a dance about, for instance, teeth wiggling and falling out arose from the children’s immediate experience and was a far richer experience for them than copying some more symbolic, abstract adult ballet!

    As usual, the video documentation of Reggio environments is stunning and inspirational. From babies exploring the distinct sounds of pounding hands on a wooden box and brass discs on a copper pan, to 3- and 4-year olds sculpting themselves across a nature playground, there are plenty of ideas to be had. As a dance teacher, the latter is remarkably beautiful as children play and dance freely in a bamboo forest on the grounds of the Allende Municipal Infant-toddler Centre. I admit I had a moment of envy, never having had access to a bamboo forest for my children. But, on second look, the freedom of their movement is engendered by their local environment as well as their teachers willingness to let them explore.

    page9image3697959728 page9image3697960080

    What is in my environment? Have I unnecessarily limited children’s exploration of it?

    Much of the book’s text is written in a dense, academic style that made it challenging to read–even as a person with degrees in both biology and dance. Compounding this are instances of what seems to be poor translation, for instance, using the word “withhold” where “hold” clearly makes more sense. Other sentences never did make sense to me. And yet, there are sections, such as the discussion of the origins of rhythm, that provide insight into the body-mind connection and the ways that children use these body-based languages that can open doors to their use in early childhood programs.

    Who should read this book/watch these videos?

    • Dance and music teachers and teaching artists who want to deepen the Reggio-inspired aspects of their practice or to broaden their approach past a strictly disciplinary one.
    • Classroom practitioners who want a better understanding of music and dance as languages of learning. 
    • Early childhood educators who are looking for inspiration on ways to incorporate sound and movement into their provocations.
  • 29 Jun 2023 12:35 PM | Reggio Inspired Network of MN (Administrator)

    by Rie Gilsdorf and Christy Spencer

    Rie Algeo Gilsdorf, MS, MA, has broad experience as a principal, arts administrator, instructional coach, teacher of science and dance and parent in many settings, including the Reggio-inspired programs of Portland’s Opal School and The Blake School in Minneapolis. Rie is a past Board Co-Chair and Civic Engagement Committee Chair of the Reggio-Inspired Network of Minnesota and current member of its Resource Development Committee. She now provides racial equity seminars, coaching and consulting through Embody Equity (www.EmbodyEquity.com).

    Christy Spencer, MA revels in playing with possibility. She is inspired by children’s curiosities and perspectives, and thus roots her practices in relationships, deep listening, designing dynamic learning environments, observation and pedagogical documentation. Christy has had an array of experiences in various Reggio-inspired contexts, including being a part of the kindergarten faculty at The Blake School and serving on the teacher education program advisory council, as well as being a mentor teacher at Boulder Journey School, a member of the RINM communications committee and board, the Learning and Impact Specialist at the Minnesota Children’s Museum and an educational consultant in a variety of settings. Current professional interests encompass exploring the intersection of design thinking and the Educational Project of Reggio Emilia, mindfulness practices, anti-racist theory, neuroscience around empathy and humanitarian projects focusing on children’s rights.

    Belonging is a common theme across websites and pamphlets about early childhood programs. And who wouldn’t want to send their children to a place where the family feels a sense of belonging? Programs intend to create inclusive and equitable educational systems, yet often get stuck in the realm of intention. Efforts to propose positive systemic change generally rely on well-crafted but superficial diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) statements, which can result in a display of aspiration without implementation. In a rush to action, these DEIB statements are often developed internally without taking the time to engage with the invaluable perspectives and insights of key stakeholders, including children. Without a road map, people may feel left uncomfortably floating on a cloud of ambiguous possibilities. Discomfort with ambiguity frequently leads to these statements being rooted in a “one and done” lesson or in a packaged curriculum that is delivered as a quick fix. What if we considered a different approach that embraces ambiguity as an asset?

    Reggio-inspired educators structure children’s choices by creating finite holding spaces for their encounters. They provide provocations which open a multitude of possibilities, yet focus children’s work. We’re proposing a Reggio-inspired design process for adults to animate substantive change and actualize early childhood communities that are dialogic and democratic. Contrary to a “one and done” mindset, this learning process is iterative and generative.

    What is a Reggio-inspired design process and how can it apply to antiracist practice?

    In Reggio Emilia, “progettazione” describes the process of design and the development of educational projects. This is a “process of thought and action that takes into account the multiple viewpoints of children and adults and allows for doubt, uncertainty and errors as part of the rich context of learning,” (Reggio-Inspired Network of Minnesota, 2010). Reggio educators firmly state that every context is different, which necessitates a process that can respond to the uniqueness of each community. Neither the process nor the outcome can be standardized; this can be daunting, as is true for anti-racist practice. Reggio-inspired practice “requires a deep awareness and a suspension of our judgments and prejudices. It requires openness to change. It demands that we value the unknown and overcome the feelings of emptiness and precariousness that we experience when our certainties are questioned,” (Rinalidi, 2012).

    The design thinking resources we encountered also offer steps that, like progettazione, invite multiple perspectives and reframe uncertainty and error as a necessary part of learning. These steps are so generative; there is always the probability that stakeholders will be surprised by the outcomes.

    The broad strokes of the design process are:

    Activating Open Mind - Listen to the experiences of all stakeholders. This requires suspending the voice of judgment.

    Embracing Open Heart - Quiet the paralyzing inner critic that says “why bother?” or “it’ll never work,” and instead engage children’s sense of “Why not?” This requires redirecting the voice of cynicism.

    Cultivating Open Will- Detach from the old ways of doing and let new possibilities arise. This requires letting go of the voice of fear. ·

    Co-creating - Explore the future by doing, while remaining open to feedback about what’s working and not. The smallest practical idea will produce the clearest insights to inform next steps. This requires letting go of the voice of grandiosity.·

    Co-evolving - Create flexible infrastructure that adapts to an ever-evolving context. This requires letting go of the voice of certainty (Scharmer, 2018).

    These five design thinking steps parallel what we ask of children: express and listen to ideas across multiple languages, embrace multiple perspectives with a sense of “why not,” disrupt habits and try new things, learn by doing and cope with variable circumstances.

    With these steps in mind, we wonder how anti-racist practices might evolve if we trust the competencies of young children to understand difference and fairness in the United States? When afforded this trust, children might develop a deeper disposition to enact their rights and ultimately create a more equitable future. When trust is withheld, we inadvertently position children to perpetuate the status quo. Instead, we need to redesign environments of belonging for the future.

    “Developmental appropriateness” perpetuates an antiquated, dominant narrative

    In early childhood communities, there are competing narratives about what is developmentally appropriate with respect to race. The dominant narrative suggests that discussing race challenges young children’s innocence. A counter-narrative, that young children must engage in these conversations, is frequently asserted by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) families. They share concern for young children’s innocence, yet feel obligated to initiate conversations about race, framed in ways that honor children’s sense of agency. This reflects parents’ views of their children as competent. Although an increasing number of White families and educators are beginning to acknowledge race with children, the dominant narrative is still that it’s not developmentally appropriate. This perpetuates a view of White children as not competent to have these conversations. When we embrace ambiguities as assets we can begin to dismantle the dominant narrative and trouble the discourse of what is deemed “developmentally appropriate.”

    Dominant discourses are powerful because they operate outside of awareness. They make “assumptions and values invisible, turn subjective perspectives and understandings into apparently objective truths and determine that some things are self-evident and realistic,” (Moss, 2018). Most White parents are not accustomed to talking to their children about differences, perpetuating the dominant narrative that conversations about race are developmentally inappropriate. By contrast, BIPOC children’s experiences often include ongoing conversations about race, beginning at an early age, which may lead to greater social awareness and intercultural competence.

    We revealed a nest of ambiguities: are children competent or aren’t they? Which children are competent in which circumstances? How can we leverage the strengths of each group to see the possibilities of competence for all children? Are we willing to acknowledge both children’s innocence and competence? Taking note of this ambiguity, we can begin to imagine a broader understanding of what “developmentally appropriate” could mean, leading to an expanded image of the child.

    Conversations about difference fall into well-worn ruts unless we actively course-correct to be sure that people of all ages, races, genders and lived experiences have agency. For those who have lived many years within a dominant narrative, careful listening offers insight into the world in which children are growing up, which is not the same environment that today’s adults did; projecting adult understandings onto children’s experiences is futile. We can’t afford to wait until we or the children are “ready” to initiate and build upon this conversation. If we design conversations to connect with children’s awareness and lived experiences of race before they cement the dominant narrative, then they are able to play an active role in co-constructing a new narrative and co-creating equitable communities.

    In a future issue, we’ll take up working with the uncertainty of emergent curriculum.


    Goel, Ashish (2022). Drawing on Courage: Risks Worth Taking and Stands Worth Making, A Stanford d.school guide. Ten Speed Press.

    Moss, Peter (2018). Alternative Narratives in Early Childhood: An Introduction for Students and Practitioners, Contesting Early Childhood series. Routledge.

    Reggio-Inspired Network of Minnesota (2010) “Key Principles of the Educational Project of Reggio Emilia, Italy.” Reggio-Inspired Network of Minnesota. Adapted from Indications: Preschools and Infant-Toddler Centres of the Municipality of Reggio Emilia. Reggio Children.

    Rinaldi, Carlina. (2012) “The Pedagogy of Listening: The Listening Perspective from Reggio Emilia.” In The Hundred Languages of Children:The Reggio Emilia Experience in Transformation, 3rd ed. C. Edwards, L. Gandini and George Forman, Editors. Praeger.

    Scharmer, Otto. (2018) The Essentials of Theory U: Core Principles and Applications. BK, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., a BK Business Book.

    Small, Andrea, and Kelly Schmutte. (2022) Navigating Ambiguity: Creating Opportunity in a World of Unknowns, Stanford d.school guide. Ten Speed Press.

    Wise, Susie. (2022). Design for Belonging: How to Build Inclusion and Collaboration in Your Communities, A Stanford d.school guide. Ten Speed Press.

  • 24 Mar 2023 11:59 AM | Reggio Inspired Network of MN (Administrator)

    Originally Posted in “Museum Notes” June 2018

    Jeanne Vergeront is a museum planner interested in helping to move museums forward as they start up, expand, reinvent themselves, or deepen their impact. Museum planning intersects with professional practices, organizational processes, and planning approaches to engage visitors, make museums stronger, and increase community vitality. Jeanne has been an advisor and friend of the Reggio-Inspired Network of Minnesota since its inception and is director at Vergeront Museum Planning in Minneapolis.

    Loose parts, or at least the term, has captured attention and imaginations in museums, early childhood centers, libraries, nature centers, parks, and playgrounds. The assorted, moveable, and found materials and objects that spark, enrich, and extend children’s play and imaginations can be almost anything: feathers, pinecones, corks, bricks, shells, spools, or sticks.

    In a world where increasingly little is left to chance in childhood and play, loose parts are wonderfully unscripted. These uncategorizable pieces and parts come with no specific directions for what they are or what children might do with them. Tucked into pockets, resting as a sedimentary layer in the bottoms of backpacks, clutched in small hands, or reverentially collected at the shore, children find, pick up, and carry treasured objects. They combine, line up, take apart, exchange, and rearrange loose parts in countless ways. In their play, children are writing the operations manual for shells, a cache of pinecones, bottle caps, or buttons with their play and imagination.

    Loose parts, however, are not just stuff, junk, or a jumble of pieces and parts no one else wants or can use. To be sure, there are treasures in discards and by-products of households, industry, and nature. But since children explore the rich possibilities of these objects, meaningful exploration relies on thoughtful selection of materials. Thinking with their hands, bodies, minds, and imaginations, they observe, ask questions, and have ideas. They arrange and change objects, their settings, or even themselves. These explorations and creations are beautiful, but they're not necessarily art.


    When children build, collage, or trade objects, they are comparing, sequencing, and seriating. They are exploring and valuing color, size, shape, and materials. As they lift, move, and occasionally drop glass pebbles, marker caps, or paper clips, they are discovering the properties of glass, plastic, and metal. In building with tubes and discs, they deal with balance and stability, use spatial reasoning, and solve problems three-dimensionally. New words about shapes, texture, designs, and structures are essential to describing how the fabric feels, the certain flat blue disc that is needed, or the delight a child is feeling.

    The value, however, is not in working with specific concepts, but in the curiosity, agency, imagination, and knowing the world that these materials afford.

    We might think that only young children are inclined to explore possibilities and make discoveries with loose parts. In fact, regardless of age, exploring materials not only changes the material, but changes the way we see materials. Anyone with limited experience to freely follow their curiosity and ideas about interesting materials and loose parts–and to do so often–will engage in similar ways. As children of every background have fewer experiences of messing around with “stuff” from the basement workbench, sewing drawer, or the town dump, they have less fluency with materials, objects, and their own vocabulary of materiality.

    What Makes Good Loose Parts? There are many objects that can be gathered for exploring in a classroom, an exhibit, home, under the bushes, or at the playground. Are all loose parts equal? What makes the difference between materials that foster meaningful, extended engagement and ones that fail or minimally engage children’s delight, imaginations, and experience?

    As Without Windows blogger Misha asks, why not just shop at the dollar store? Cheaper materials do save money. But, he argues, their low cost is at the expense of child labor somewhere else. Why not make loose parts from scrap lumber? The measuring, cutting, and sanding are time consuming. Keva Planks/Kapla Blocks probably do it better with greater precision. Besides, loose parts are more than blocks.

    Why not use toys or commercial play objects as loose parts? Usually these are single purpose play objects. Once a child has mastered the key function—pushing the button to make a pinwheel spin—the child is ready for more. Due to their cost, these objects are seldom in great enough quantities to combine in novel ways. Ultimately, however, when children use designed toys, even very well designed ones, they become consumers of someone else’s creativity. With loose parts, children exercise their own. Loose parts, especially natural loose parts, change with time and use. They acquire a patina, reveal something new about their nature; they decay.

    Rich in Possibilities

    While dollar store items and commercial toys may be loose and moveable, they lack other vital qualities that imbue loose parts with powers of attraction, fascination, exploration, and discovery. They are open-ended, beautiful, and plentiful.


    As Antoinette Portis’ book, Not a Stick assures us, a stick is no single thing in children’s play. It is not scripted; it can be a wand, a baton, a fishing rod, or a snake—or combinations. Like other open-ended materials, it is responsive to children's questions, interests, and ideas and capable of changing use or meaning in a flash. Often an object’s very simplicity or its ambiguity lend versatility and provoke new ideas. Small tree cookies, for instance, are variously stacked into a tower, used for money, become stepping stones, or are incorporated into a design–all in quick succession.

    Features like shape, color, texture, and smell make loose parts even more interesting, suggesting new paths to explore. A child may gather all the red objects or all those that sparkle; arrange keys in a radial pattern and then end-to-end in a train; set pine cones on end to create a forest and arrange them in a spiral. Loose parts sized for small hands allow children to pick up easily, bring close for careful visual inspection, and arrange in many ways. Adding paper and markers to the mix can further extend the exploration and thinking.


    While saying that beautiful loose parts are more engaging than “ugly” ones may seem obvious, deciding what makes some beautiful is not. In the eye of the beholder will always be at work, but some qualities tend to make loose parts intriguing, attractive, and promising, if not, in fact, beautiful.

    When all of an object’s qualities are not immediately apparent, an object can become more extraordinary. Up close, tiny sparkles in the stones are apparent, as is the fringe of the Burr Oak acorn caps. The crack in the stone looks like a bird. Objects that are similar but not identical are intriguing; natural variations in color, pattern, shape, carry information, reveal the diversity in nature and invite new language.


    Ordinary objects and materials also become more fascinating when combined, mixed, and set in different contexts. Light interacting with objects shines through, reflects off of them, and casts shadows. Adding mirrors multiplies objects. Water splashed on objects intensifies colors and makes them shiny. Combining ordinary objects points to new possibilities: shells arranged on an oval mat creating a mandala; sticks alternating with stones in a giant running pattern; a giant star defined by sticks filled with colored leaves; or multi-colored glass beads pressed into a large disk of clay.

    Ideas about what is beautiful may be particular to the context. In a nature preschool, for instance, natural and local materials might be a high priority. Without Windows blogger, Misha, is particularly interested in “loose parts from the earth” that “can be disposed of in the earth.” Tree cookies, sand, rocks, and acorns might be valued over cardboard and buttons.

    At the same time, manufactured discards and by-products can be compelling when carefully selected. Clear plastic colored shapes, especially when placed on a light table, or multi-colored plastic caps in great quantities can inspire designs, patterns, narratives, and self-portraits. Discarded objects like tubes, reels, and gaskets in similar shapes and sizes, and deliberately selected in only black and white invite exploration of shape without the distraction of other colors.


    As important as open-ended and beautiful materials are, seeing objects in great abundancjolts us out of our usual mindset. Perceptions of the object itself and what it can do change. Seemingly ordinary objects like buttons, brushes, cardboard tubes, or rubber bands suddenly seem remarkable. The abundance of objects feels contagious, infecting us with a sense of expanding possibilities. Vast quantities seem to confer permission to explore freely, take risks, make mistakes, and start again.

    When time is also in abundance–when there is time to look closely at each pebble, feel and compare them, arrange them just so, and rearrange them again–then the possibilities for thinking and creating that loose parts offer also expand.

    Reprinted from: https://museumnotes.blogspot.com/2022/07/there-are-loose-parts-and-then-there.html

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