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

  • 20 May 2022 7:59 AM | Reggio Inspired Network of MN (Administrator)

    "Education is an opportunity for the growth and emancipation of the individual and collective; it is a resource for gaining knowledge and for learning to live together; it is a meeting place where freedom, democracy, and solidarity are practiced and where the value of peace is promoted." -Reggio Children

    An often overlooked aspect of the Reggio Approach is that it animates a democratic society through its values, structures and practices. This is evident at every level – within the schools, with families, in the management of the schools and in relationship with the city, the country and international partners, but it all starts with the youngest citizens, the children in the infant-toddler centers and preschools. This is where habits, dispositions and principles, essential for democratic life are rooted, introduced and practiced.

    Some of those habits and dispositions were introduced in Part I of Unpacking DemocracyThey include deep listening, a capacity for dialogue, the ability to think critically and a desire to work collaboratively for the common good as the foundation for democratic life.

    Value Difference

    Valuing difference is both acknowledging and seeking multiple identities, practices and points of view. This represents both a disposition and a constellation of pedagogical decisions.

    Accepting, respecting and valuing the differences in others is a great ethical choice, which is possible for every modern person. Differences are not a problem that we annul or eliminate. They are a resource and an opportunity.”
    Sergio Spaggiari, 2004

    Since diversity is an asset, it makes sense to plan for different group structures and composition – large group, small group and individual – and notice the range of perspectives that emerge. Consider how diverse abilities, age groups and home languages add richness to your setting. Select tools that will enhance exploration and provoke surprise. Provide a range of expressive media: clay, wire, digital, marker, pencil, paint, etc. to explore ideas. Reflect on how each medium impacts and challenges understanding. Offer contrasting media to deepen a common theme. In addition to the voices of the children, seek input from families, community and colleagues. Each decision can support democratic life.

    Be Curious

    To focus your curiosity, ask yourself, “what do I wonder”...about the learners, their approaches to learning, the work of teaching and learning, particular areas of learning, learners at different ages or stages of life or particular interests of individuals?

    Deep listening invites both speakers and listeners into unexpected terrain. Consider uncertainty, doubt and error as resources in education.

    Use Language With Care

    Dialogue is enriched when you are genuinely curious about others’ beliefs, assumptions, or theories and when peers share group work. Language is intertwined with deep listening, a capacity for dialogue and the ability to think critically.

    Consider all the possible “think about questions” you might pose, rather than “do you know questions.” For the ‘think about’ questions to be effective, you must listen (with all your senses) and build upon what follows.

    I would like to know more... Some aspect that interests me.... This is very interesting....
    You started to say....
    I am wondering....
    And then...?

    Does this remind you of anything? What do you think about this?
    I wonder...?
    Do you mind if I ask...?
    What do you think about...?

    Would you mind sharing more...? I’m curious...?
    In which way does...?
    What might happen if...?

    I wanted to know...
    What do you suppose happens when...? So it is...?
    Why do you suppose this happens?
    So what aspect impresses...?
    How do you think this happens?

    I see, so... ?
    What are the possible consequences?
    Is it...?
    Do you see any patterns? Has this happened before?
    Why... ?
    What did you notice when...?
    Can I say something?
    What was it like when...?

    Offer language that children can borrow to support peer exchange and genuine listening:

    I think...
    My idea is...
    In my opinion...
    Thanks for sharing your opinion. I have a different one. Here’s mine...
    It’s ok that you don’t agree with my opinion. We can have different points of view. I respect your opinion. I have a different one that I’d like to share with you.

    Think about the way your decisions about space, materials, tools and time affect conversation.

    Use Documentation as an Invitation for Exchange

    Pedagogical documentation is a process which makes this listening, thinking, learning and teaching visible and consequently subject to reflection, interpretation, dialogue and exchange. The point of pedagogical documentation is not to establish what the learner can do, but how the learner is thinking about what he/she is doing. As an iterative and recursive process, documentation continuously generates new questions and challenges. As educators listen, observe, inquire and relaunch, learners experience different perspectives and uncertainties, growing in their capacity to construct knowledge and appreciate complexity.


    When you collect traces, you are simultaneously documenting the learner’s process, your work as a teacher and communicating what you deem important. Documentation is an interpretation of what you see; it defines, refines and reveals your values. Documentation takes many forms: daily traces, photos and transcription, video, sketches; project narratives; class/school/public exhibits; publications; presentations for study.


    These elements are useful as they are shared and contested, allowing new points of view to enter and inviting others to propose avenues to extend this process. Share traces with an individual, with a small group or large group, families or other educators. Find a venue to make your ongoing work public, such as a library.

    “Sharing the documentation means participation in a true act of democracy, sustaining the culture and visibility of childhood ... a product of exchange and visibility.”
    Carla Rinaldi


    In participation with others, documentation becomes a democratic tool.

    "Participation, in fact, is based on the idea that reality is not objective, that culture is a constantly evolving product of society, that individual knowledge is only partial; and that in order to construct a project, especially an educational project, everyone’s point of view is relevant in dialogue with those of others, within a framework of shared values. The idea of participation is found on these concepts: and in our opinion, so, too, is democracy itself." Paola Cagliari, Angela Barozzi and Claudia Giudici

    Watch Video Here

    Foundations for democratic life ARE BUILT upon being curious, using language carefully to promote exchange and practicing pedagogical documentation to promote transparency and participation. Since how children are treated when they are very young profoundly affects how they will live the rest of their lives, historian Timothy Snyder points out that a “free country thrives over generations.” A free society is strengthened when its citizens think critically, compare diverse points of view, vet sources and consider the common good. These values, structures and practices are central to the Reggio Emilia project.

    Now retired, Lani was an early childhood educator teaching both typical and special rights children and their adults (parents and teachers) for more than 40 years. She is a founding member of the Reggio-Inspired Network of Minnesota, is a current Board member, works on the Network’s Communication Committee and facilitates its Book Study. She is particularly interested in the infrastructural aspects of the Reggio project.

  • 18 Feb 2022 2:27 PM | Reggio Inspired Network of MN (Administrator)

    Unpacking Democracy and Education

    The Reggio Emilia Approach

    Last December, Lani Shapiro hosted the monthly gathering, titled “Unpacking Democracy and Education.” In the piece that follows, Lani was asked to expand on ideas she presented during that meeting.

    Education is “always a political discourse whether we know it or not. It is about working with cultural choices, but it clearly also means working with political choices.”

    Lori Malaguzzi

    Education is always political. Education for democracy, however, is not inevitable; it is a possibility and choice. Democracy can be understood as a way of thinking, being, acting and living together, as Dewey described, “a democracy is more than a form of government; it is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience.” (Dewey, 1916).

    Throughout the evolving educational project that is called the Reggio Approach, there are constant references to democracy, democratic life and democratic participation.

    Historical Notes:

    The Reggio Emilia approach is not just a way of working with preschools; it is a pathway to create a more democratic society. The Reggio project had an explicitly political birth as World War II ended: it responded to fascism, asserted women’s rights and called for greater social equality through collective civic action.

    With proceeds from selling debris left behind by the retreating German army (a tank, six horses and three trucks) citizens from Villa Cella, a small community outside of Reggio Emilia, set about constructing a school for their youngest children because, according to the mayor, their wartime experience had ‘taught them that people who conformed and obeyed were dangerous, and that in building a new society it was imperative to safeguard and communicate that lesson, and maintain a vision of children who can think and act for themselves.’

    “We didn’t want our children to be duped by fascism, as we were.”

    Over seven decades, the Reggio Approach has become an international project of social, cultural, political and economic significance that balances the value of individual difference and understands that individual freedom must be connected to a social demand for justice and solidarity.

    “Education is an opportunity for the growth and emancipation of the individual and collective; it is a resource for gaining knowledge and for learning to live together; it is a meeting place where freedom, democracy, and solidarity are practiced and where the value of peace is promoted.”

    Reggio Children: Indications

    Dispositions that Cultivate Democratic Living

    For Reggio Emilia educators, the goal is not to teach about democracy but to nurture habits, dispositions and values like deep listening, a capacity for dialogue, the ability to think critically and a desire to work collaboratively for the common good, which lay the foundation for democratic living experienced through daily life in school.

    A disposition is a characteristic attitude, an inclination or habit. Listening

    Carla Rinaldi insists that in order to truly listen, you have to give up the idea that you control the outcome. Listening requires genuine curiosity about what you will encounter. This kind of listening invites all parties into new terrain. When we are open-minded, we can listen with empathy, see each person’s unique perspective and learn from each other. Bruner wrote that “open-mindedness is the keystone of what we call a democratic culture.” (Bruner, 1990).

    Capacity for Dialogue:

    The disposition for dialogue is characterized by an inclination to reflect and compare points of view through exchange.

    Four rules for a good discussion

    The children soon learn four things:

    ●  That it is indispensable to have one’s own personal feeling and words about things
    ●  That understanding things often means changing our words and thoughts
    ●  That these changes often come about by communicating with your peers and with adults
    ●  That when this process takes place, it is often perceived as a sort of subtle shift that involves the body as well as feelings, the mind and relationships with things and with others.

    -Reggio Children, Commune di Reggio Emilia – Nidi e Scuole dell’Infanzia

    Valuing Difference

    The Reggio Approach seeks, welcomes and includes a wide array of perspectives on issues, recognizing that multiple perspectives and diverse paradigms are central to democratic living. Each human being is unique, with a wide range of individual and cultural identities: gender, age, race, class, language, ability, temperament, personal history, etc. yielding more than one answer to most questions. These varied perspectives can promote insight and creativity.

    In addition to human differences, there are many ways of viewing and understanding the world, such as through the perspectives of academic disciplines, arts, industry or agriculture.

    Beyond individual differences and interdisciplinary perspectives, a new question arises: whose voices are not here?

    Critical Thought

    Democratic life understands that people (including children) have theories and expectations (whether they are aware of them or not) and an inclination to seek evidence: How do we know what we know? Where do we get our information? How do we vet our sources? What is the evidence? Could there be another point of view? This kind of inquiry is nurtured by the disposition to question and challenge, rather than to accept and obey, especially those things that seem as if they were timeless, natural, unquestionable or inevitable.

    Social Construction of Knowledge and Participation

    The individual constructs their own knowledge, always in relationship with others. Since individual knowledge is always partial and provisional, it is essential to be open to different perspectives. Since learning is the construction of meaning, always in relationship with others, group learning and individual learning cannot be divided.

    Participation is based on the idea that reality is not objective, that culture is a constantly evolving product of society, that individual knowledge is only partial; and that in order to construct a project, everyone’s point of view is relevant in dialogue with those of others, within a framework of shared values. The idea of participation is founded on these concepts: and in our opinion, so, too, is democracy itself. (Cagliari et al., 2004).

    Collaboration and Compromise for the Common Good

    The habit of collaboration draws on an inclination to address questions together, through interaction and discussion. It propels participants to seek input from others, especially people different from themselves, and genuinely listen.

    The dispositions and values of listening, dialogue, difference, critical thinking, socially constructed knowledge and participation for the common good do not exist separately; they intertwine, spiral, complicate and deepen each other.

    In the next issue, Unpacking Democracy, Part Two will offer examples drawn from local work as well as from Reggio, to highlight practical strategies that support these values.

  • 20 Nov 2021 7:56 AM | Reggio Inspired Network of MN (Administrator)

    For many years, the possibility of having a materials gathering space has been a dream of many people in our Network. This dream is inspired by the Remida center in Reggio Emilia, Italy in which the city collects, curates and makes materials available to its citizens for creative endeavors. We want to create such a space in the Greater Twin Cities area.

    We now have some definite positive movement toward this goal. Heidi Wolf, Lisa Small, Sandra Burwell, Deborah Schein and Nancy Nakaoka have formed an ad hoc committee to spearhead, explore and pursue the dream and all it involves.

    There is a unique space in the heart of the Longfellow neighborhood called Belle’s ToolBox where Tamara Weiss Rhodes, a member of the Resource Committee, has been a long-time, regular visitor. This site of joyful learning inspires us, and we see an opportunity for collaboration. Belle’s ToolBox offers a free and welcoming family and caregiver opportunity to join children as they explore a wide variety of engaging, hands-on materials. Areas of exploration are well-stocked and organized to promote children’s autonomy and independence as they do their work, transforming them into eager and focused scientists, book makers, engineers, artists and musicians. There is an outdoor space that offers a winding pathway through native plants, a rain garden and even a special investigation area for budding geologists. The indoor space serves about 10-12 comfortably. They currently require masks indoors as COVID protocol.

    Belle’s ToolBox founder, Lucy Elliott, pours her extraordinary heart into creating a space that connects multigenerational and multicultural populations through the experience of exchanging ideas. She designs all of it through the lens of environmental responsibility, sustainability and stewardship.

    The committee met with Lucy at the ToolBox and she is excited to work with us. We set some short term goals. Many small and large tasks are needed to make this dream possible. We are using two documentation tools to make our process visible. One is a web of possibilities that we have generated so far:

    An online collaborative platform called Miro will also help us document our work and make it visible, so anyone can become involved and be kept up-to-date. Those interested in being actively involved with this work can reach out to Heidi by email: hwolf@bsmschool.org.

    To learn more about Belle’s ToolBox, here’s the link: http://www.belles-toolbox.org

  • 23 Oct 2021 9:43 AM | Reggio Inspired Network of MN (Administrator)

    In our program, transition into early care is supported by predictable daily routines, beginning with each family’s orientation.

    Prior to the arrival of the Coronavirus, our families came into our classroom, we greeted each other and had a daily health check with the child. Parents put prepared bottles away and placed car seats by their child’s crib, then completed information on our large whiteboard in the classroom. Daily, parents were asked about their child’s wake-up time, last feeding and mood. They were also asked to identify who to contact first on a given day, whether the child was given any medications and approximate pick-up time. Families were oriented to how these routines helped us function together for their child’s well-being. At the end of the day, families came back into our classroom and saw how we built their child’s day around the information parents had given us. Each child had their own schedule.

    As the shutdown began in March of 2020, our precious routines were disrupted. Our child care remained open but parents could not enter the school. Instead, parents remained at the front door to complete information on a clipboard while we conducted a wellness check. In April 2020, we were required to wear masks and staff were offered furlough. There were additional challenges. We lost our communication app and came up with a way to email parents about their child’s day. We recognized we were living in a pandemic, a state of emergency. Many families began working from their homes, keeping their children with them. We made a few phone calls and received some photo emails as a way to stay in touch with families. These were important to our sanity. In May, we welcomed a few families back. We watched for signs of stress. Together, we encouraged a new normal, trying our best to stay afloat and hold each other up.

    In June, I was overwhelmed by the new tension brought on by civic protests and nearby property damage, knowing we had staff traveling through town and by bus. One day Metro Transit gave notice that they were closing down and we sent one of our teachers home early. Some teachers quit or did not return to the classroom. Our families and staff were additionally stressed.

    Social distancing, disinfectant wipe downs, hand washing, gloves, masks, face shields and gowns were made available and used as needed to ensure safety for staff and families. Classroom staff welcomed and brought in each child from the entry. At the end of the day, one staff person was available to watch for each parent arriving. This continues to be a new dance as we respond to changing CDC guidelines. We are cross training. In the beginning, adjusting schedules helped us get used to wearing masks and working in a new way. Staff are continually needed, days off are less. We grieve for the way it was, while we adjust to the way it is. The children hesitate as we hesitate. The children embrace the situation much like we do. Trust is huge. We can’t do what we do without trust. We are grateful every day.

    Still, connections persevere. One cold day during the winter of 2021 as I was masked, wearing my down coat and trudging through the parking lot on my way to be tested, a weekly part of our routine, a dad and daughter pulled up nearby. I heard the one-year-old call out my name. She recognized me. I couldn’t believe it. I turned and squatted down as my friend ran and gave me a big hug. We wore masks in the infant room while she was growing and learning, listening closely and assimilating language. Our connection and trust is strong, even in this new world.

    Still, so many people are hurting in this new and complicated reality. Recently, I was looking forward to welcoming a new family. I left a voicemail and waited patiently, anticipating the arrival of a family of four. I was asked specifically if the older sister could come and play in our large muscle room while we went over the infant’s routines and how everything was going for the family. We planned to review policy and procedures in the process and welcome the family by creating a family panel with photos.

    But on this very sad day, no one came. The director came into the room. She stood in front of me as I fed an infant and said, “I have very sad news. The worst possible news.” She sat down on the cushion in front of me and told me she received word that the new infant, who was to be oriented today, had lost his mother. His mom was suffering from postpartum depression, had a psychotic episode, and ended her life. Dad, in his grief, had no plans to return to work. There would be a memorial service later as he gathered her distant family.

    I am sad. I grieve for this family. I grieve for the way it was and all of the rich opportunities we had for family connection and support. What next? I’m not sure. How do we keep on? Sometimes circumstances keep us from having opportunities to be with families. But still, I think of the smiling faces of the children and look at what we do have. We can still be a part of someone’s day, and maintaining these bonds is important. Caring is our connection and we must look for the opportunities to care for families whenever we can.

  • 26 Aug 2021 2:27 PM | Reggio Inspired Network of MN (Administrator)

    Re (3) Reuse, Recycle, Repurpose

    Thank you all who responded and expressed interest in the Minnesota Remida Dreaming Project. Here is an update in three areas: survey results, our work thus far and an invitation to think together.

    Survey results:
    We had 30 responses to the survey sent in the Winter 2021 Newsletter. Of those thirty, nineteen people replied with a yes or maybe, with interest in the committee and thinking group. Thank you to all those who responded! 

    Our work so far:
    We met over Zoom with two people who were instrumental in developing the Inventing Remida Project Portland (IRPP), Will Parnell, a Portland State University professor and Angela Molloy Murphy, a lecturer at the University of Melbourne education center. They shared their experience with IRPP and we shared our hopes for moving forward on this project as a collective. We are grateful for their willingness to think with us.

    From our perspective, this Remida - recycle, repurpose center - will be a place to hold materials that can:

    • be reused
    • be offered to children to honor and support their thinking
    • offer education opportunities to educators, parents and community at large
    • invite people to look at the impact of materials on our environment 
    • be an equitable resource that is offered to all at little to no cost

    The heart of our hope will be establishing a creative recycling center with a civic focus. We are on a mission to identify a local name as we find our definition! Maybe you have some ideas.

    • Do you or know of someone in your circle with grant writing skills?
    • Do you have an idea of space for a first home for the project?
    • Do you have a connection to a small business with possible materials to donate?
    • Do you patronize a small business or local artist that could be involved?

    A few committee members are investigating two nonprofits in Minneapolis in the coming weeks: Belle’s ToolBox and Twin Cities Makers to see if there are possibilities for collaboration.

    We have planned a virtual brainstorming session via Zoom on September 26, 2021. We will discuss, question, dream and envision possibilities! If you are interested in joining the conversation or have ideas, email Heidi Wolf (hwolf@bsmschool.org). It is not necessary to be local to the Minneapolis area to be involved - all are welcome! 

    Lani Shapiro recently reminded me that the "thinking with" process we hope to offer the children in our care is often left out of our adult experience and practice. In order to work this way with children, we need to have such experiences ourselves. We hope growing this recycle/repurpose center will be a process of true collaboration where we look at the task and move forward together.

    Heidi Wolf
    Teacher and Director
    Little Knights Early Childhood Program
    Benilde-St. Margaret’s School

  • 07 Jul 2021 3:20 PM | Reggio Inspired Network of MN (Administrator)

    My first child is growing up, up, up and away, faster with each passing day. He is in the last few months of his fifth grade year, just four months shy of turning twelve and five months or so from his first day of middle school. I’m not sure how it is possible, but my son is now a tween, and I can see the hints of it in the ways he is beginning to pull away; he is well on his way to becoming a teenager.

    Much of this was evident in the winter of 2020, when he was ten, and in the fourth grade. He was more interested in playing basketball than building creations with LEGOs, more intrigued by his Nintendo Switch than the games of make believe he’d played for so many years with his younger sister. School took much of his time, sports practice and games ate up some of our precious evenings, and the weekends flew by in a blur of socializing and activities. I felt that it was too hectic, but that was just the way life was for most all of the families we knew.

    But something happened when the world shut down last March. With the influence of fourth grade and peers removed, time didn’t just slow down. In our home, time actually reversed course. My son had the time to be bored, to imagine and to play again. My son had a little more time to be little.

    This didn’t happen on its own. We had the amazing good fortune of friends of ours moving into a home behind ours the first weekend of March of 2020. They have three children, and since we were all staying at home from everything by mid-March, we decided to band together to weather the storm as a sort of two house commune. There were so many gifts that came along with this decision. We cooked meals for one another, gave each other a social outlet and watched over each other’s children to alleviate the stress of remote learning. But the most special gifts of all were the relationships that developed between the five children and the imaginative play that followed for all of them together.

    The youngest of the group was four, the oldest was my son, then ten. But they never separated by gender lines or into age groups. They just spent time as a group, three boys and two girls, grateful to have each other. They played in the woods and captured a snake, and many little frogs and toads, creating habitats and then releasing after observing. They made an art studio and painted water colors and held a gallery show, and the grownups were instructed to dress up in order to attend. They built elaborate LEGO houses and then a LEGO world where they hosted each other for holidays and birthdays – bountiful LEGO social lives where birthday parties could actually be attended and holidays could be celebrated with others, unlike the actual world they were living in. They wrote and filmed a stop motion LEGO film, choreographed a dance recital and rehearsed and performed a couple of choral concerts - all for only four lucky adult attendees - their parents. They played endless games outside: four square, freeze tag and cherry bomb, and my personal favorite, “Shipwreck,” where they pretended they were shipwrecked children that had to survive on their own in a new and different world without adults. Shipwreck made me wonder about how much their new Covid world influenced this imaginary world. Their Covid world was without teachers, coaches, or grandma and grandpa and aunts and uncles. It was a world with only their parents - and even then, their parents were not the same parents - they were frazzled by the responsibilities of remote learning, navigating an often stressful and heartbreaking world that changed each day, and some with jobs that had demands like never before. Shipwreck gave them agency, and didn’t saddle them with the baggage of parents who often seemed either distracted or on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

    His time with his neighbor crew changed with the seasons. When the two families went back in person to different schools in the fall, the children preferred to play outside, even when chilly, and play inside included masks. They still had plenty of time to create together, as no one was socializing or rushing off to any kind of practice. With hybrid and pod models and distancing all around, school peers had less influence. The lure of imaginary play remained for him all through the fall and winter, though I can finally see it losing some of its lustre this spring. He recently rearranged his bedroom and made a huge give away pile of toys and treasures of a younger era, and the pile included some LEGOS.

    Did my son lose some things during all of this? Yes, of course. We all lost things, and as we know, some lost much more than others. His losses are minor compared to so many, but in his world, they loom large. He lost precious time with his grandparents and other dear family members that live far and wide, he lost three months of his education, as remote learning was a struggle for him. He lost time playing basketball, a sport he loves, and he lost time with his friends from school - friends he has known for years and years. But I saw him gain so much, too, in our tiny world. As he played in the woods, spun stories and got lost in the possibilities of LEGO parts with his band of friends, I saw the pressure of growing up slide away. I saw him letting go of the real world, and instead, choosing the pretend world, where anything could happen with the right storyline and willing partners. And so, even though this last year was painful in so many ways, I can look back at it with gratitude for the magical gift it gave our family. As I see him today, back in school and growing up and away at an alarming clip, I look back at the chaos and confusion and can see clearly what our time at home gave to him - a bonus year of being a child.

  • 26 Mar 2021 9:57 AM | Reggio Inspired Network of MN (Administrator)

    As I write this my children are back in virtual school after two weeks of winter break. During the break, my four children (two grade school-aged, a preschooler and a toddler) engaged in deep imaginative play. They wrote, designed costumes and sets, and performed plays; built a freeform Lego Hogwarts (all the while constructing a series of cars for the 2-year old to keep him occupied); and busied themselves making endless little trinkets for one another as gifts. Outdoors, they developed an elaborate imaginary game of warring kingdoms. Each child constructed a fort in one corner of the yard and met in the middle for swordplay and council meetings. As a parent, I make a practice of observing them with a critical eye, noticing all they are learning and working through in play. As I watched them over break, I was struck that this play seemed both so familiar and typical for them, but also that it had been a long time since I had seen them play in this way.

    What started as a small nugget in the back of my mind during break, became obvious when school resumed. Now my older children spend their mornings on zoom, and the afternoon is mostly taken up with reading quietly in their beds or maybe playing in their room. This was what I became accustomed to seeing since school started and why their play over break had struck me. After a morning online, there are no sweeping imaginative games that engross all four kids for hours.

    The tenor of my childrens’ play changes on distance learning days. They seem lethargic, tired and spent from their morning online, while simultaneously vibrating with pent up energy. I push them outside, but they struggle to get into the same wonderful play groove they previously enjoyed. There is more fighting as siblings struggle to remain on the same page or some will want to play while others do not. They do not seem able to problem-solve their differences in play ideas. Rather than being motivated to work it out simply to ensure play continues, they give up and retreat to read alone in their room. Meanwhile, my little two happily play with one another, but they also yearn for the bigger ones and do not understand their absence.

    I deeply appreciate and marvel that my children can self-regulate in this way. I know that after a stimulating morning online perhaps an afternoon of quiet reading is just what they need. Also, I want to provide the caveat that I am thrilled with how their teachers structured distance learning and know that my kids are primarily happy, engaged and learning. Still, I wonder what these play changes signify and watch my children for clues as to their mental health and how they are weathering these times. We are all walking through this global crisis together for the first time, and no one knows how to navigate past every hurdle. I am finding value in this Reggio-inspired practice of curious observation and allowing my noticings to affect how I respond to my children’s changing needs.

    -Reba Batalden

    Reba Batalden co-founded and currently serves as Board Chair of St. Paul School of Northern Lights, a Reggio-inspired K-8 school. She holds a Ph.D. in Ecology and during her graduate tenure developed and taught inquiry-based, interdisciplinary science curriculum for St. Paul Public Schools and professional development courses for middle and high school science teachers. In a pandemic, she is mama, teacher, chef and playmate to 4 children, ages 10, 8, 5 and 2.

  • 02 Mar 2021 1:38 PM | Reggio Inspired Network of MN (Administrator)

    by Meredith Dodd

    As lead teacher at the University of Chicago Laboratory School, Meredith’s teaching is structured to build young children’s democratic dispositions through social emotional learning, mathematics, symbolism and ecological systems approaches. Meredith loves to help people understand the power of documenting children’s learning in ways that reveal children’s growth in comprehension and understanding - and inform teachers’ decision-making.

    The goal (of educators) is to better understand and reflect on the capacity and skills and way of thinking of children.
    Magdalena Tedeschi, Pedagogista

    The Reggio Emilia Approach views interactive, kinesthetic mediums as languages children use to express their knowledge. At the November Network Gathering, Sandy Burwell presented a rich tableau for how light and shadow are such languages. Her examples of children enthusiastically engaged in playful, creative ways demonstrates a natural and yet intentional approach to learning.   

    Burwell’s presentation reminded me of the 2020 Reggio-Children E-Learning Webinar, Children and the Digital. Teachers in Reggio Emilia are intentional in the integration of materials into classroom learning spaces. In fact, they view their spaces as living environments. Their classrooms grow and change to reflect children’s developing interests and acquired knowledge.  The webinar presenters, Magdalena Tedeschi and Simona Spaggiari, described three important concepts that guide the Reggiani educators thinking, decision-making and planning: agency, beauty, and time. They use these concepts to thread together images, anecdotes and the idea that digital is a place for expanding upon languages to interact with each other.

    The language of light and shadow naturally lends itself to support children’s agency. Burwell’s examples for exploring light and shadow invite children to independently construct their learning about the world around them. Children enter into a magical world of light and shadow intentionally constructed by teachers to create deep, feelings-based relationships with the language. Children have space to actively explore the language and begin to use it with their own intentions. 

    The Italians believe beauty is a necessary condition for learning. Beauty, in our interpretation, is not a characteristic to just be added. It is a crucial condition. It’s part of our DNA in the construction of the environment so that children and adults can feel at ease and can support each other.  Tedeschi

    The images shared in Burwell’s presentation and the Reggio webinar were environments of simplicity. Children’s use of open-ended materials with the languages of light and shadow emerged due to an absence of distraction. The beauty of the spaces appeared because the children could clearly read and interact with the materials presented by the teachers. There is not too much, not too little.  Burwell states, “What matters is the intention you have for the materials. What are you thinking or focusing on with a few materials?  What are you and the children excited about? Keep it simple.”

    In their webinar the Italians describe that time is experienced differently as an adult and as a child. “We found a sort of oxymoron in the construction of the culture of the adults around technology…As adults, we speak about time as a dimension that passes by very fast.” Thus, the adult’s intention for a language may be at odds with how children desire to explore and utilize the language. “Children can really just lift up the dimension of time by unzipping their mental steps and by slowing down their reflections.” Tedeschi’s statement focuses on the dichotomy between a child’s use of technology and an adult’s understanding of the purpose of technology.  The adult views technology as a tool to accomplish tasks faster. The Italians found that children’s use of technology can be a tool for slowing down time. Children use technology to look closely at an object, an idea, or to bring together many languages to express their understanding of the world around them.

    This idea of using a language for different purposes as a result of one’s experience of time resonated with me in one particular example in Burwell’s presentation. Like Burwell, I love the overhead projector as a material to explore the language of light and shadow. The projector provides so many possibilities for individual and group discoveries. Burwell shared an image of a child’s assembly of mixed objects illuminated on a white wall:  transparent, colored plastic alongside and on top of opaque letters and necklaces. I have seen images such as this in my classroom. There are moments when I question my purpose for offering this exploration of an overhead projector and loose parts. Why do children seemingly always create a mound of materials onto the projector? Am I not listening to the children correctly? Have I provided too many loose parts? Is this language of light being lost?  What happens next? The following quote from Burwell brought me comfort, gave further insight into this “oxymoron,” of time’s purpose, and reminded me of why I love what I do. She states, 

    There is a tendency of children to keep intentionally and carefully placing objects on the overhead until the whole thing is a pile and you can’t see the light. I wonder what problem they want to solve? What wonder!

    Agency, beauty and time are all found in this image of a child’s first experiences with an overhead projector. Burwell’s presentation challenges us to explore languages alongside children.  In doing so, the adult needs to model patience and curiosity. It is the responsibility of adults to reflect on their assumptions of children’s purpose. We need to consider the meaning of a child’s use of a language as a part of their relationship with time. Burwell ends with a gift for early childhood educators during this time of separation due to COVID-19. She reminds us of the power we have to influence generations of human beings. We have a commitment to play with children in the ever-growing environments we co-construct. 

    We need stories of hope. These stories can nurture our spirits for a future of joy. We get to be a part of it!  

  • 22 Jan 2021 1:42 PM | Reggio Inspired Network of MN (Administrator)

    “Children build knowledge of the world with their bodies. Their actions precede and follow one another in an unfolding process in which children continually create new actions. So many of those actions are non-verbal. Because mind andbody are one, those actions are imprinted in the brain kinesthetically and lay thegroundwork for later thought.”   -Tom Bedard 

    I did not grow up with plans to be an early childhood educator. The thought never even crossed my mind until I was 30, so anything I have learned has not come from a master’s degree or even a bachelor’s. All my knowledge has come from the three-, four-, and five-year-olds that I am lucky enough to spend my days with as well as information I have acquired from books and blogs by play-based educators and any others who share my pure joy and passion for the field.

    One of the magical aspects of our senses is that they are universal, they cross language barriers and completely disregard race or gender. The conference featured Tom Bedard, who creates wonderful and thought-provoking experiences in sensory tables for his students. He does not hold preconceived notions. The installations are there for children (and adults) to learn, problem-solve, socialize and have fun! As I watched the videos in his presentation I could imagine the learning taking place as his students explored the oobleck dripping down through the pegboard and the sense of wonder when things disappeared into the hidden compartments.

    3,000 sense receptors in each fingertip!

    As we observe our students’ learning we often think about what they are seeing, what they are hearing or even what they are tasting or smelling. When reflecting on myself I know that more often than not I forget about touch! And when I say that, I am saying that I am forgetting the experience of 3,000 sense receptors in each finger, that’s 30,000 sense receptors at the very tips of our hands. As adults, we have lived with these receptors for decades and have grown to take them for granted, whereas the children we are teaching have only lived with this experience for a few short years or some only months. Take a moment and imagine how it would feel to experience thousands of grains of sand cascading over your hands for the first time or if the feeling of water flowing between your fingers was a complete unknown. Better still, collect a cup of sand and a cup of water, close your eyes, hold your hands out and ask someone to surprise you by pouring one of them over your hands. That feeling is the beginning of fluid dynamics and solid mechanics, something which, when studied, can take you into what I think is one of the most interesting areas of science.

    Tom Bedard explained that building varied sensory table apparatus is his creative outlet.  I would love to invite children from my class to help brainstorm, collaborate, design and build with their peers, teachers and even parents, to come up with their very own sensory experiences that we could all explore together. We miss details when we become too involved, instead of quietly observing and noticing clues such as - the interest in gravity from crashing down blocks or curiosity about water that appears from the student who waters the plants each day. From moments like these we can elaborate our sensory tables, in collaboration with our children, to ensure that we can all explore together, growing the many languages of children.

    Tom Dodd grew up in the North of England and after studying sustainable engineering and working for eight years ineconomic development as an architectural, planning, and design consultant, he moved to Grand Rapids, Michiganwhere his career changed paths completely. He has spent the last three years at Grand Rapids Early DiscoveryCenter, a Reggio Emilia inspired early childhood school, as a teacher, and a few months ago took on the role of pedagogista.

  • 17 Dec 2020 1:54 PM | Reggio Inspired Network of MN (Administrator)

    Kristenza Nelson is a lead teacher at Dodge Nature Center Preschool. She earned a BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and is working on her Master Degree in Environmental Education from Hamline University. Working with children in nature combines both of her passions. She considers it an honor to foster these connections.

    In early March of 2020, the children at Dodge Nature Center Preschool were tapping maple trees in the woods. Together we stretched our trunks and reached our fingers toward the blue sky. Children gave thanks to the Pancake Tree as they whispered, “Wake up!” Spring is a magical time together. The children were relaxed and comfortable in the March thaw. Hope returned with the light and the earth began to squish beneath our feet.

    Then, news of Minnesota’s first COVID case came. Within days our joyful preschool fell silent. Our school doors closed as COVID arrived. It was heartbreaking on so many levels. 

    How were our young children and families coping in isolation? How could we continue to cultivate the many relationships we’d fostered? Could we engage three, four and five-year old children in ZOOM meetings?  These were trying times, a far cry from being together on the trail. How could we bring children’s voices back to the center? The project that follows emerged from those days of isolation. 

    During the closure we invited families to stay connected to our classroom community by offering twice weekly ZOOM meetings that included songs, stories, and time to share. We reached deep to find ways to stay connected. I knew that screens were not ideal and wanted to continue to support their connections to the natural world. I encouraged the children to choose a nearby tree that spoke to them. I asked them to create drawings to share in our virtual spaces and newsletter. We created our own forest, as amazing and unique as each child. How would we continue to grow in place? Perhaps like trees. This was my proposal to families:

    Hello Beautiful Spruce Families,

    The last time we were together at Dodge we were learning all about Maple trees. Tasting the sweet sap and noticing the buds emerge on the branches.

     We are proposing a long term project that begins with choosing a tree to observe over an extended period of time. You don't have to be experts to learn together. There is magic in discovery.

    Begin by having your child make a drawing or take a photo of a tree.

    Write down one observation a week to share with the Sprucies.

    What does your child notice?

    Remember to ask open ended questions.

    • Who lives in a tree? 
    • What do you think is happening?
    • Where are the leaves?
    • Do trees eat?

    • There are never any wrong answers!

      With my whole heart I believe that nature is the best medicine for whatever ails us. Encouraging families and children to go outdoors to observe their trees brought them outside and brought us together. We came together through art, nature and observation. We came together while staying apart, just like trees in the forest.


    This fall we are grateful to be welcoming children back to Dodge Nature Center Preschool. COVID is still present in Minnesota, but we have learned spending time outside is the safest way to be together. For that we are grateful. It is beautiful to see children back on the trail enjoying the autumn glow beneath the beautiful pancake trees.


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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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