A dynamic forum focused on the experience of childhood and the process of learning

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

  • 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

  • 24 Feb 2023 3:25 PM | Reggio Inspired Network of MN (Administrator)

    From the early 2000s, Roberta has held workshops and courses about the creative use of artistic, natural and recycled materials, especially for educators and teachers, collaborating with social cooperatives. She then spent seven years working as an atelierista in a Reggio-inspired preschool, in addition to one year at the Loris Malaguzzi Center of Reggio Emilia, with study groups from all over the world. Currently, she works primarily as a consultant for personal and professional growth.

    How does one find the right balance between rules and freedom, in order to support the creative process?

    The image above is part of a 100 x 70 cm composition made by three five-year-old children with some loose parts. How do you think the creation process developed? What was the proposal (if any) and the role of the adult? First of all, consider it was the last of a series of atelier sessions dedicated to these materials.

    This is quite significant, since the first time children meet a new material, they like to freely explore it for a long enough time, to know its potential and limits. So it’s better to postpone more specific proposals. But let’s start from the beginning.

    I would have liked to offer an experience with loose parts – small pieces of plastic, metal, wood, cardboard, buttons, stoppers, scraps from industrial and artisan processing – all collected in various containers. But how to present them? As a completely free exploration? I could imagine how inebriating the wealth and multiplicity could become, a confusing jumble in a few seconds... So how to “contain” children’s activity and stimulate a rich personal research at the same time?

    My solution was a kind of game with a few simple rules: a small group of children at a time, the materials neatly arranged on a table. Every child had a small container which they could use to “shop” for their chosen materials. On other tables, there were white cardboard bases, where children “played” with their materials.

    Once the game (and the composition on the cardboard) was finished, the children could optionally take a picture of the final composition and give it a title. Then they put all the used materials back into their personal container and divided them in the different respective containers. At this point, children could start the process again and again.

    Another solution I tried is putting all the containers in the center of a large table, where the children could take the materials they needed from time to time. Maybe it was my need of order... Anyway, it worked. The rules were gladly accepted as part of a game and allowed children to manage themselves independently, respecting individual times. Even the final step of “destruction” of the work was “naturally” welcomed by children, immersed in a fast and intense research, without needing to “hold” a result. A demonstration of how the “attachment” to the product is more frequent in adults than children.

    As the children liked it very much, we repeated the same activity several times and I gradually introduced some variants, for example cardboard bases of different formats or a selection of a certain range of materials (according to tactile, chromatic or other criteria). Some variations were stimulating for children, others were not. So I chose the next variant observing children’s responses. It was also interesting to observe how different materials influenced the composition and, at the same time, how the personal style of each child was recognizable through the diversity of materials: personal style and material characteristics are elements that are always intertwined in every work.

    This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is comp-finale-costruzione2-1024x425.jpg

    As a last step, I proposed a group work: three children at a time, on a large format of 100 X 70 cm. Of course I knew that the format was too big to be “controlled” and organized with a shared project a priority. So I invited the children to start individually, from the side they preferred. Then each group followed a process that organically unfolded, bringing the various contributions together. Inspired by the forms that were gradually created and by some questions of mine, children gradually connected the three parts, both aesthetically and narratively. In this case, I proposed to fix the final composition on the sheet with glue, as a tangible conclusion of a long process and enhancement of a collective work. Product and process are both important: it’s up to us to understand when it’s time to focus on one rather than the other.

    Every game has its own rules, which are willingly accepted by those who freely choose to play. Sometimes the rules “allow,” sometimes they “limit,” as well as total freedom can be an obstacle or an impetus for the creative process. There are no solutions that are always good. Each time we have to look for the right balance, taking into account the context and the objectives. It is a flexible dance between two necessary opposites. Listening empathically to children can help us be attuned to their rhythm.

    Reprinted from: https://www.robertapuccilab.com/the-grammar-of-matter/playing-with-unstructured-materials/ Look here for more articles from the Roberta Pucci Lab:http://www.robertapuccilab.com

  • 07 Nov 2022 9:34 PM | Reggio Inspired Network of MN (Administrator)

    The North America Reggio Emilia Alliance publication, Innovations, asked Lani Shapiro to write about the Network’s Open Book Study, in particular The Wonder of Learning. The piece that follows was first published in the Summer 2022 issue of Innovations. Lani Shapiro serves on the Network’s Board, Communications Committee and is the editor of this quarterly newsletter.

    The Wonder of Learning – The Hundred Languages of Children

    By Vea Vecchi, Ilaria Cavallini, Tiziana Filippini, and Lorella Trancossi, Eds. Translation by Jane McCall

    The Reggio-Inspired Network of Minnesota’s (RINM) “Open Book Study” participants have gathered on the third Sunday of every month for 15 years to engage in an ongoing conversation about Reggio-inspired publications. A flexible and ever-changing group, we arrive as individuals with diverse perspectives—parents, students, teachers, administrators, and citizens—who work or learn in varying contexts, in homes, preschools and childcare centers, schools, graduate schools, clinics, and civic institutions. We have met at coffee shops, and we have convened more recently via Zoom and consequently assembled participants from both near and far with numbers ranging from two to 15. Each meeting we form a flexible learning collaborative without a fixed destination with the intention of cultivating a context that can welcome uncertainty, diversity, and complexity. We have become a learning group. This learning together in groups is highlighted in the following quote from Wonder of Learning: The Hundred Languages of Children exhibition catalog:

    Learning in groups which provide a space for argumentation – for sharing interpretations, emotions and reflection - creates favourable conditions for subjective learning; acquisition of content; and awareness of ways of learning: a capacity for understanding that “viewpoint” has a pluralist nature. Learning in groups gives rise to social forms of knowing and knowledge which are essential to an idea of citizenship for the world today and the world tomorrow. (Pedagogical Co-coordination of Preschool and Infant-toddler Centres – Istituzione of the Municipality of Reggio Emilia, 2011, p. 15)

    Our goal has never been to “finish” our texts. Instead, our intention has been to practice working with Reggio values and dispositions. We listen carefully to one another, examine content, read closely, formulate questions, wonder, and speculate about what is included or excluded while

    examining the structural details of the text. We read methodically, never more than one chapter per month. Sometimes we repeat a chapter if we don't feel finished. This has afforded us an opportunity to grow our capacity to listen generously and practice building knowledge together in an environment that welcomes “roomy ideas.”

    We have explicitly discussed ways we approach a text: How will we work with each other? Where do we start? What do we notice about the structure of the text (table of contents, bibliography, graphical details)? We ask each other: What stood out for you? What questions are you holding? We probe: What do you want to understand better? What is it about this selection that is salient for you? We bring our attention to the specific page, passage, or image of interest. Then we can explore: How does this inform our work? How do you consider these provocations in light of your own context? In a discussion with Carolyn Edwards (2015), John Nimmo, Loris Malaguzzi, and Vea Vecchi, Tiziana Filippini illustrates the importance of educators thinking and asking questions together:

    Yes, the important thing is not just to hear diverse points of view, but instead to go so far with the discussion that it is clear that each person has taken something in and moved in his or her thinking, as a result of what has been heard. (p. 19)

    Book study participants have asked and noted:
    “What does the text mean? How does it relate to our own context?”
    “How do we put these ideas into practice?”
    “The pedagogues of Reggio Emilia think about how children think 
    and think about their own thinking.”
    “Book study transformed how I read and how I view my practice as an educator. I find myself reflecting even more deeply about my practice. I changed from thinking how I can make an activity better to how I can create conditions that will help me see children’s thinking processes.”

    Over the last 2 1⁄2 years, following a RINM-organized trip to Madison, Wisconsin to visit The Wonder of Learning – The Hundred Languages of Children exhibit, the RINM’s book study immersed itself in the exhibit’s catalog, The Wonder of Learning: The Hundred Languages of Children. This volume, published in 2011 by Reggio Children, is a lively synthesis and distillation of experiences, representations, interpretations, and re-interpretations from the infant-toddler centers and preschools of Reggio Emilia. This book, like other Reggio Children publications that derive from an exhibit, is characterized by captivating glossy images and poetic narratives of the children and their theories. The publication speaks in the languages of graphics, images, photography, and text. The chapters are brief, generously illustrated excerpts that highlight children’s thinking, drawings, and constructions that represent a distillation of previous work, re-considered and re-written. The delightful work of the children is bookended by essays that introduce the exhibit, the catalog, the principles of the work, the collaborative working journey, and the historical context.

    Readers may be tempted to leap into the visual story of the children’s experiences in volumes laden with imagery. However, to overlook the essays and narrative is to read only half the book. Our book study tradition is to read and discuss the book cover to cover, mining the insights and perspectives of various contributors beginning with the introductions. The voices that precede the visual narrative in The Wonder of Learning catalog include Graziano Delrio, the mayor of Reggio Emilia from 2004–2014, Jerome Bruner, and Howard Gardner. As noted, we go slowly, considering and mulling over each point of view. In subsequent meetings, we delved into the stories of the children’s work. We were surprised and curious about the children’s observations and their use of metaphors and creative interpretations. We were both impressed and intimidated, asking, “How does this work happen?” We find the answers to our wonderings within the text, images, narrative and especially the reflections of the educators.

    A deceptively straightforward declaration by the pedagogical team highlights principles that underpin the Reggio Emilia educational project and are reflected in the exhibit and essential to the text. Each section is introduced with a brief narrative that identifies the rationale for the “big idea” of the section and the specific projects selected to represent children’s nuanced relationship to place, materials, light, and mark-making. This way of working highlights educators’ decision-making nodes and illuminates their thinking, resulting in a map of the unfolding project. This provides a privileged window into the thinking of the Reggio educators as they initiated a project, maintained momentum, and searched for clues to relaunch the work. It’s all there!

    For example, in the section of the book titled “Dialogues with Places,” the educators declare their assumptions and rationale. They wanted to better understand how children approach a place and the processes children use to build relationships with that space. Introducing the section, educators make their ways of working visible. They chose a place, the yet-to-be completed Loris Malaguzzi International Center, placed themselves (as adults) in dialogue with its sensory aspects and, after that, invited the children “to think of a gift which would please them and please the place” (Vecchi et al., 2011, p. 19).Then they identify their process, summarized in the following steps:

    • Educators visit the building (to experience the context).

    • Invite children’s thinking about “listening” to a place (What does it mean to listen?).

    • Take small groups to visit the center and suggest the children look, draw, photograph, and then choose a particular detail they find interesting that could receive a “gift.”

    • Children’s work proceeds. Each group has a unique encounter with the unfinished space and creates a gift through their work.

    • Educators meet, consider the work generated, and relaunch.

    • Educators reflect and refine their documentation tools, interweaving visual and written traces.
    • Educators select projects that highlight children’s recurring strategies: physical movement, sensory input, attention to detail, creating stories, and games.

    Through dialogue, we grappled with this behind-the-curtain view of the structures and processes that support project work in Reggio Emilia. Examining these details together gave us a map or a compass to make sense of the results.

    We began to contest the common understanding that Reggio-inspired work always follows the child’s lead. The educators explicitly made proposals to the children. They identified possibilities worth pursuing, listened generously to the children’s responses, and then supported their thinking. With these insights, we inquired about our own processes: What essential understanding informs our proposed projects? What do we need to understand to be useful to the children’s investigation? What essential knowledge, understanding, or experience precedes our work with the children? What are we, as educators, interested in understanding? We noticed that the children’s questions and the educators’ inquiry are not always the same.

    The animating force and foundation for everything we have read is daily documentation, without which there would be no small traces to reflect upon, no projects to share with families, no exhibits to share with the community, and no books for international readers. The reflective process of the educators, as authors, invites us, as readers, to revisit, rethink, and reconsider. This results in a refractory reading with angles that reveal many possibilities, not just one. This reminds each book study participant to capture small traces and use them to reflect, not to prove a single story but to make space for many perspectives.

    As I write this, we are nearing the end of The Wonder of Learning catalog, a journey that pre-dated Covid-19. Some of the other books we have studied to date include Making Learning Visible: Children as Individual and Group LearnersThe Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Experience in TransformationBeyond Quality in Early Childhood Education and Care: Postmodern Perspectives; Dialogues with PlacesArt and Creativity in Reggio Emilia: Exploring the Role and Potential of Ateliers in Early Childhood EducationThe Diary of LauraChildren, Art, Artists: The Expressive Languages of Children, The Artistic Language of Alberto Burri; and In Dialogue with Reggio Emilia: Listening, Researching and Learning. We have decided our next text will be the Digital Educational Toolbox, which includes readings and videos from Reggio Children.

    At first glance, a book study is a modest undertaking. However, within this small time and space, we continue to learn together and practice skills and dispositions fundamental to the Reggio Emilia Approach: deep listening, reflection, and collaboration. In “Open Book Study,” we transform ourselves into a learning community as we engage in the pleasure of dialogue, debate, and inquiry.

    Now retired, Lani Shapiro was an early childhood educator teaching both typical and special rights children and their adults (parents and teachers) in public settings for more than 40 years. She is a founding member of the Reggio-Inspired Network of Minnesota (RINM), a current RINM board member, editor of its quarterly newsletter, and facilitator of the “Open Book Study” since the inception of this initiative in 2007. Lani is particularly interested in the democratic aspects of the Reggio Emilia educational project.

    Dahlberg, G., Moss, P., & Pence, A. (1999). 
    Beyond quality in early childhood education and

    care: Postmodern perspectives. Falmer Press.
    Edwards, C., Gandini, L., & Forman, G. (Eds.). (2012). 
    The hundred languages of children: The

    Reggio Emilia experience in transformation (3rd ed.). Praeger.

    Edwards, C., Gandini, L., & Nimmo, J. (Eds.). (2015). Loris Malaguzzi and the teachers: Dialogues on collaboration and conflict among children, Reggio Emilia 1990. Zea Books.

    Edwards, C., & Rinaldi, C. (Eds.). 2009. The diary of Laura: Perspectives on a Reggio Emilia diary. Redleaf Press.page6image1430883488

    Filippini, T., Giudici, C., & Vecchi, V. (Eds.). Dialogues with places. Reggio Children. Giudici, C., Rinaldi, C., & Krechevsky, M. (Eds.). (2001). Making learning visible: Children as individual and group learners. Project Zero; Reggio Children.

    Pedagogical Co-coordination of Preschool and Infant-toddler Centres – Istituzione of the Municipality of Reggio Emilia. (2011). The theses of the exhibition: The wonder of learning. In V. Vecchi, I. Cavallini, T. Filippini, & L. Trancossi (Eds.), The wonder of learning: The hundred languages of children, pp. 14–15. Reggio Children.

    Rinaldi, C. (2006). In dialogue with Reggio Emilia: Listening, researching and learning. Routledge.

    Vecchi, V. (2010). Art and creativity in Reggio Emilia: Exploring the role and potential of ateliers in early childhood education. Routledge.

    Vecchi, V., Cavallini, I., Filippini, T., & Trancossi, L. (Eds.). (2011). The wonder of learning: The hundred languages of children. Reggio Children.

    Vecchi, V., & Giudici, C. (Eds.). (2004). Children, art, artists: The expressive languages of children, The artistic language of Alberto Burri. Reggio Children.

  • 21 Sep 2022 2:02 PM | Reggio Inspired Network of MN (Administrator)

    Every material has got a set of specific characteristics and qualities resulting from its nature, that defines its limits and potential as well as its range of possible transformations, reversible or not. It is what I call a kind of “natural grammar”, meaning some inner rules that can be empirically investigated. How? Observing and transforming the material with a friendly approach, remaining attuned to its nature, with the curiosity and discretion of a guest. If we do not want to impose a shape but are in a respectful interaction, the material itself will suggest us what to do. Take for example a sheet of paper.

    Just taking it in your hands, you immediately understand it can can be rolled or folded. But how many ways? The exploration of this simple action opens up a world of variations: different dimensions, inclinations, proportions, forms of the starting sheet, and so on. Could we have imagined all these possibilities without a thorough investigation? Likewise, many other actions can develop (rubbing, piercing, cutting, rolling, wetting …) and be combined. The richer this inventory will become, the more possibilities you will have available to creatively transform the material.

    continue reading Roberta's piece on The Grammar of Matter

  • 20 Aug 2022 2:35 PM | Reggio Inspired Network of MN (Administrator)

    Reflection of an Experience
    Rie Gisldorf
    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.

    During the Network’s End-of-Year Celebration/Annual Meeting, I led a social arts activity called 3-D Mapping. This is a methodology for adults that is deeply aligned with Reggio-inspired practice in its collaborative, emergent practice, its inclusion of the community as researchers and its use of multiple languages of thought and learning. Over the course of the evening, a dozen people stopped by to consider how to represent the current state of Early Childhood Education in Minnesota as seen from their unique perspective. We are interested not only in perceptions of the system as a whole, but also in how the Reggio-Inspired Network specifically fits into it.

    3-D Mapping comes out of the systems thinking lineage of Peter Senge, Otto Scharmer and others at the MIT Center for Organizational Change, now a separate organization called the Presencing Institute. Senge’s work, in turn, comes out of Kurt Lewin’s writings on Action Research. Interestingly, our consciousness of a system and our ability to change it are interrelated. Here’s the evolution of the ideas:

    • You cannot understand a system unless you try to change it - K​urt Lewin
    • You cannot change a system unless you transform consciousness - ​Peter Senge
    • You cannot transform consciousness unless you make a system see and sense itself - ​Otto Scharmer
    • You cannot make a system see and sense itself until you see and sense yourself as part of the system - ​Ubiraci Pataxó

    3-D Mapping is a process for increasing our awareness of our system, part of an “Awareness-Based Systems Change” approach.. Notice that in addition to thinking about a system, 3-D Mapping invites members of the system to sense into it by using the aesthetic language of found objects placed into a collage. The meeting venue of Belle’s ToolBox, which houses the Network’s Loose Parts Laboratory Materials Center, provided a rich source of small objects to use. I collected a basket of items and placed them around the edges of a card table, then invited people to place them on a sheet of paper representing our system. As they placed their objects, I jotted down their words on post-its and placed them in a corresponding spot on a sign that invited people to participate.

    Participants were curious but a bit shy at first – how could their experience in one corner of the system inform the whole? Interestingly, as more objects and quotes were placed, people resonated with others’ experiences and were stimulated to add their own ideas. Also, the languages of the process, both visual and tactile, added to the play of the ideas. For example, the first pair of people approached the table and talked about how their program, a center housed in a larger organization, experienced both synergies and misunderstandings with the wider community. They noticed a couple of puzzle pieces, first placing them near each other, then trying to fit them together. They giggled at their first attempt, which seemed to fit, but on closer inspection, the words didn’t line up correctly. “Exactly! The communication is off!” they said.


    Then one of them said, “Wait, or do they actually fit? Like this? She turned the pieces and, voila, the words, “Thank You” appeared.

    But, after considering it for a moment, they eventually decided to place the two pieces in proximity to each other, but not touching. It was important for them to have seen that the pieces could fit, but weren’t currently connected. The process itself had not simply allowed them to express their thoughts, but had in fact furthered their thinking. Starting from an initial complaint, they had come up with a more nuanced understanding. Their final quote: “Community Relationships (puzzle pieces): They do fit, but they’re misaligned.”

    That first pair started with an idea and looked for an object to represent it. Others were strongly drawn to an object and then let a meaning emerge. For instance, one person kept coming back to an old compact disk.

    Eventually she placed it in the center and then said, “Oh! It would spin, and it’s reflective and shiny!” Her final quote: “Creativity (CD): Keep spinning out those ideas!”

    Some had no trouble choosing at all. “Outdoors!” said one woman, immediately reaching for a pinecone and plopping it down. That was her full quote: “Outdoors (pinecone)!” An important dynamic of the map is not just what objects are picked, but where they are placed in relationship to other objects. In this case, it’s significant that the outdoors pinecone is in close proximity to the CD of creativity and spinning out ideas. Others who came by later commented on the truth of that, that we, and children, are stimulated by time in nature and emerge with more ideas spinning out of us. It’s a small and simple truth; it’s also profound and needed to be captured in our map.

    Several other items were similarly clear to everyone that saw them: the “Tinker Toy of Play,” the Bird of “Launching kids so they can fly” and the worn Elastic Circle of “Hoops we have to jump through.” Although these are clear representations of elements that most observers would agree are features of our system, it is important to place them in the map.

    In any efforts to co-create a future evolution of the system, we wouldn’t want to leave out play or launching kids, and we would want to deal with those nagging hoops.


    We can really see the co-construction going on in a conversation about a corn cob. Someone had picked it for its color and texture but was feeling bad that all its kernels were gone. It certainly had been a nourishing thing. . . but what was it now? At that point, another participant chimed in to suggest the empty cob being “the wise woman who has given away all her kernels.”

    The corn cob is now standing for the wise elders of our network whose kernels of wisdom nourished generations. Interestingly, this is the only item in the map that represents an individual human role in the system. In a system that depends so heavily on human beings – children, caregivers, educators, family members – it’s interesting that most of the elements of our map were abstract concepts. What does that say about how we perceive the system with its conflicts, agreements and sources of power. Would adding more human elements help us to reframe our challenges? And where does the Reggio-Inspired Network fit into Minnesota’s early childhood system?

    Another item reveals a desire to synthesize and operationalize an abstraction – a lump of concrete. Concrete is both a mixture that includes gravel and cement and also a durable material that forms foundations. It’s human-made, mixed by trial and error. Concrete is a common metaphor for things that have substance and aren’t only abstract. The quote for this item: “(Concrete): Mixing it up; Starting with something concrete in all the change; try the best and leave behind the baggage.” 


    This unique object also generated multiple ideas – a small wheel with an S-hook on it. The original idea for it was Spinning our wheels…” Then in the ensuing conversation another idea built on this: “Training wheels.” As the back-and-forth continued a unifying theme emerged: “Looking for connection and support. It’s an idea that connects to and shows motivation for our Community Relationships puzzle pieces above. Of course we’re yearning for those puzzle pieces to snap together, in a way that gives connection and support. 

    As I was getting ready to pack up someone came by and grabbed this rubber stopper, plopped it at the top of the map and said, “Put a cork in it!” She turned out to be expressing the desire for oversight organizations to Trust our love for children.” And, I experienced her expressing the sense of humor that is also a feature of early childhood education – I personally couldn’t have survived without it!

    Looking at the full map of our Early Childhood System, it seems a bit random and disconnected to me. There are parts with hooks, slots, claws or holes to offer connections, but they aren’t relating to each other. Verbalizing these kinds of descriptions is the next step in the 3-D Mapping process, all a part of becoming more conscious of the details, relationships, obstacles and opportunities in our system. The process asks the participants to look at the map from different perspectives, physically walking around the table to get a fresh view. Since we’re no longer gathered in one spot, I’ve included four different rotations of the map, along with questions to think about as your eyes wash over the image.

    What emotions arise when you look at this picture? What about it ignites your best energies? What makes you feel curious? What are the relationships (connections, separations or proportions) between the parts? What do you sense? Is your intuition telling you anything important about what is happening?

    What are some key agreements in the system that determine how it works? What are key conflicts or hard truths that you have to face in order to move forward? Where do the different sources of power lie in this system?

    Is there a way to reframe the challenges or see them from a different perspective? Where is the hidden leverage? What are the most important barriers that, if removed, could help the current system to evolve?

    What is ending in this situation? What’s the old skin that needs to be shed? What is seeking to emerge or wanting to be born? What’s the highest future potential that’s being called for in this situation? What will a better system look and feel like in 50 - 100 years?

    Just as our documentation of children’s ideas, work and conversations is meant to be revisited collectively as we ponder what is emerging, what might come next and what provocations could open new doors, the 3-D process also doesn’t stop with creation of the map. The set of questions connected to each view are meant to inform a second round of mapping where we would modify the objects’ placements to represent the future we want to co-create. This simple activity is so rich in surprising ways – often people that have been quiet bring ideas forward visually or people find their limiting concepts dissolving as they move pieces into new relationships. In the schools of Reggio Emilia, this documentation-based design process would be called, “progettazione.” I invite you to think about these questions, perhaps in dialogue with your team or community, and see what insights bubble up.

  • 22 Jun 2022 1:48 PM | Reggio Inspired Network of MN (Administrator)

    “We are at our best when we serve others. Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

    This quote speaks to me about the Reggio-Inspired Network in general and the Loose Parts Laboratory in particular. Our initiative is making small changes in our own small context. For many years, members of the Network have talked and dreamed and attempted to create a resource center where donated materials could be purchased for a very low cost in order to recycle, re-purpose and reduce waste in order to re-imagine experiences for children. Through the work of our thoughtful committed members we have created an instrument for change.
    page3image3609906656 page3image3609907056 page3image3609907360

    Our soft opening on March 26 was a joy-filled occasion - to actually have shoppers visiting our venue and purchasing “beautiful stuff.” A Grand Opening celebration is planned for Friday evening, May 20th, 6:30 to 8:30 PM. Please come for our annual end-of-the-year social gathering. There will be refreshments. a short presentation, information about the work of the Network, visiting, shopping and an auction. Look for prizes to be announced soon on our Facebook page.

    Mission: The Loose Parts Laboratory is a space curated with a variety of materials donated to distribute for low or no cost.

    Vision: The Loose Parts Laboratory aims to provide a growing initiative of increasing materials, patronage and volunteers.

    Updates and Particulars

    Facebook page: Loose Parts Laboratory: Materials Center Project Minnesota Be sure to check out the video on our Facebook Page.

    Instagram: @loose_parts_laboratory
    Address: 3400 42nd Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55406 

    Visit us: June 14, 16 and 18 July 12, 14 and 16 August 16, 18, and 20

    Sandra Burwell's professional career includes over 50 years in education as a teacher, director, supervisor, mentor and educational coordinator for children birth through high school but primarily early childhood. Presently, she is a consultant and presenter for professional development inspired by the philosophies of Reggio Emilia and Maria Montessori in the areas of authentic experiences, material exploration and the environment.

All content and articles may be used for educational purposes with proper citation (Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License).

Reggio-Inspired Network of Minnesota is a 501(c)3 non-profit located at 525 Pelham Blvd. N., Saint Paul, MN 55104 

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