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

  • 17 Jan 2019 7:59 PM | Reggio Inspired Network of MN (Administrator)

    Reggio-Inspired Network of MN

    Trip to Madison, WI to see 

    “The Wonder of Learning” Exhibit from Reggio Emilia, Italy

    Friday, April 12 - Sunday, April 14, 2019

    Join area colleagues for this unique travel opportunity that includes:

    • the “Wonder of Learning” Exhibit
    • a visit to the Pre-School of the Arts, a Reggio-inspired school in Madison
    • time with colleagues to reflect 

    The “Wonder of Learning” Exhibit will be housed primarily in the Central Madison Library and at the Overture Center, right across the street from the library.  http://wonderoflearningwisconsin.org/

    Register for the Trip

    Click here to register for any part of the trip


    Transportation to Madison is on your own. The Network will gather and share information from participants to help with arranging carpools. 

    Where You Can Stay 

    The Reggio-Inspired Network has reserved a block of 15 Standard Double Queen rooms at the Hampton Inn. 

    Address: 440 W. Johnson St., Madison, WI  53703.

    Phone: 608-255-0360.

    Cost: $169 a night for Friday 4/12 and Saturday 4/13 and includes breakfast.

    How to book the rooms: The rooms will be held until 3/15/19,  then released for public sale. You can book rooms for one night or both nights by phoning the Hampton Inn directly, or book online:  


    Friday, April 12 1pm--4pm

    Preschool of the Arts, Madison, Tour and Workshop 

    “The Role of Art and Music Studios in Reggio-Inspired Practice”

    Preschool of the Arts, a Reggio-inspired early childhood program in Madison, Wisconsin, serves more than 200 children and employs a team of full-time art and music specialists.

    Come learn about how these teaching artists and musicians collaborate with the classroom teachers to create vibrant, responsive, child-centered studio experiences. In this workshop, we will explore the Reggio Emilia concept of “the hundred languages of children” through conversation, demonstration, participation, and reflection. 

    Address: 11 Science Court, Madison, WI 53711

    Cost: $35.  Advance registration required (Note: we need to have at least 10 people register to hold this workshop).  See registration above.


    Friday, April 12--Late Afternoon

    The “Wonder of Learning” Exhibit is open until 6pm at the Central Madison Library and at the Overture Center, right across the street from the library if you want to see it on Friday. 201 Mifflin St. Madison, WI 53703

    Dinner on your own. We will provide restaurant suggestions

    Friday, April 12--7:30 – 9 PM

    Reception and Orientation to the Exhibit: “Setting the Stage” in the Hampton Inn meeting room. 

    Wine and cheese reception to informally meet with others from the Network who will be touring the Exhibit. Prepare to visit the Exhibit and explore introductory questions together.

    Address: 440 W. Johnson St., Madison, WI  53703. 

    Phone: 608-255-0360 

    Cost: There is no cost for this event. 

    Saturday, April 13--9am to Noon

    Self-guided visit to the “Wonder of Learning” Exhibit 

    We will spend the whole morning experiencing the Exhibit at our own pace, viewing, listening, reading, thinking, conversing and interacting about “The Wonder of Learning.” 

    Cost: There is no cost for this event. 

    Lunch is on your own. We will suggest places to eat within walking distance; we can have lunch together in small groups for further conversation.

    Saturday, April 13--1:30 to 4pm

    Post-Visit Discussion – Meet in the Program Room at the Central Madison Library. We’ll gather to think and talk together about what we’ve experienced.  

    Cost: There is no cost for this event. 

    Sunday, April 14 

    The exhibit is open 1 to 5pm. You are welcome to explore on your own or in self-forming groups.

  • 27 Sep 2018 10:30 PM | Reggio Inspired Network of MN (Administrator)

    By Barb Murphy

     Over the course of the last year, the Network has spent considerable time engaging with early childhood professionals, parents, and community members-at-large exploring how our childhood experiences shape our values and worldview as adults, and influence the way we view and work with children.  In particular, we asked participants to reflect on questions about where they had grown up; the sights, sounds, and other visceral qualities they remembered from important “places” from their childhood.  How did these “spaces” of our childhoods, in which we existed, and our experiences within those spaces, impact the construction of our adult identities?  How did our own childhood contexts shape our expectations for the current generation of children? We were invited to create a tangible response using a variety of media and materials, which amplified the effect of these exercises and reflections and created a vehicle for sharing our memories with others.

    As a board member, I have had the opportunity to participate in this exercise several times. My initial response, which echoed the responses of almost all participants, were memories of being outside, being able to make choices about what to do, and having connections to trustworthy adults and peers. The predominant themes were of unstructured time vs. structured time; adult-centric constraints vs. personal freedom; in-school time vs. out-of-school time; positive social connections with peers vs. negative; and adults who “saw” children and valued them vs. adults who didn’t pay attention.  As I pondered the important places of my childhood for a third time at our January gathering, I tried to go beyond the happy, cherished memories of time spent in my favorite tree reading a book, playing “horses” in the field behind our house with a group of neighborhood children, packing a bag lunch and heading to the small neighborhood “woods” with my best friends to go exploring and have a picnic, etc., all memories that make me smile and feel a warm, nostalgic glow of “happy.”  These times of freedom to play outside after school and in the summer helped to shape who I am as an adult and an early childhood professional who values relationship-based teaching, play and time spent in nature for all children. However, I was struck by the overall lack of memories and responses from the group that identified adverse or negative experiences. Surely, it is not only our happy childhood experiences that influence our worldview, our values and help to shape us in positive ways.   I have always “known” that those eight years in Catholic school were the catalyst for my desire to find a “better way” to educate children than I had personally experienced. Not only were most of my classes overcrowded, with 50 – 60 children and one nun to keep order and see that we were “learning” by diligently taking us through our workbooks, but also the primary behavior guidance methods were smacking hands with pointers, standing children in the corner, and berating children who struggled to read or finish their workbooks problems. We sat at our desks all day; our only respite from workbooks and worksheets or tests was group instruction and oral recitation. 

    As I thought about these things I felt a clear sense of urgency to craft my response with a focus on my elementary in-school experience. Those eight years of elementary school were extremely adult constrained with little to no recognition of individual children within the class or adult concern or caring for children as individuals. There were no opportunities to play or think creatively. The spaces of my classrooms were all identically dull and uninspiring.  

    As I chose the materials to represent my thoughts, I began to construct a 3-dimensional portrayal of the restriction and monotony that filled our days; the uneasiness that we felt at the lack of compassion for children with any type of exceptionality; and the pent-up angst that we kept under control until the bell rang. 

    As disturbing as this “childhood experience” may seem, it was clearly the foundation and catalyst for my lifelong passion to work with children. I saw how the school operated, doing harm to individuals by demeaning them and controlling signs of individuality and sparks of creativity. I know that this experience shaped my worldview and my values regarding children, parents and teachers as equal partners in the educational dialogue. It fueled my passion for playful learning and immersion in creative pursuits. It inspired me to carefully get to know the children in my care and “see” who they are. I want to know them, honor and respect them, and help them become their best selves. I want to assist parents to do the same. 

    In the weeks following this gathering, I kept my piece of responsive art on the table in my Director’s office at our school. As parents, teachers and children came in to the office, their responses upon seeing the piece were immediate and enthusiastic. I was asked repeatedly to explain what it was; who made it; what did it represent? The children wanted the detailed story behind the mad faces. They knew it was a story that was not happy. But I could share myhappy ending. The parents’ responses were unexpectedly emotional. Several teared-up and thanked me for being here to make a difference for their children and for all children.  Their response to my depiction of my early school years was remarkable. I could clearly see and appreciate the power of sharing our stories to bring about a feeling of connection and the possibility of opening up to new viewpoints. There is impetus to share the story of The Geography of Childhood Projectwith our families and reflect together on our shared values for our children. When we truly listen to one another’s stories, we can become aware of how similar we all are, no matter where or how we spent our childhood years.  And this can bring about positive change on many levels.

  • 31 Jul 2018 8:14 PM | Reggio Inspired Network of MN (Administrator)

    By Jeannette Lutter-Gardella

    I was able to attend a Documentation Lab in the early spring with Marshall Anderson, kindergarten teacher at Friends School of Minnesota. As the assistant head of school, my role is to support teachers and provide the resources they need to do their jobs as an aspect of ensuring the strength and vitality of the overall educational program. 

    For many years, Marshall and I have been in dialogue about the Reggio-inspired concept of seeing children as capable. We have explored how to provide sustenance and guidance on children’s journey of discovery about themselves and the world around them. We have supported each other to increase and deepen the practice of listening to children, following children's interests and identifying ways to document what the children are learning, in order to inform what might come next. 

    Yet, for twelve years we have struggled to maintain an intentional and focused practice of reflecting on children's learning as it is happening. School is a busy place packed with the unexpected and fluid nature of many small bodies moving in time and space. The urgent can crowd out the important and, before we know it, we are on the downhill side of the school year and summer is fast approaching. 

    At the Documentation Lab I somehow experienced time being stretched out in a thoughtful and deliberate process using a protocol (Documentation Lab Protocol) through which to view and think about children's learning. The protocol promoted a lively and robust dialogue as we explored and mused over a series of pictures documenting the dramatic play of a group of preschool children. It was fascinating to hear others’ thoughts and questions and, equally intriguing, the silence the protocol required of the presenting teacher. It created such a deep curiosity and openness for seeing possibilities. It brought to mind a reoccurring mantra... All teachers deserve this time, all children deserve this reflective "gaze" 

    “A gaze which...sees the resources and potential of each.” 

    (referenced multiple times in the reflection from the NAREA Conference:
    Ideas in Motion, by both Cagliari and Soncini: https://www.mnreggio.org/Blog/6111777).

    Most profound to me was the realization that I, the administrator, need this time with teachers. I need to see what teachers notice, what they hold and what they wonder. The Documentation Lab has fortified my role in ensuring there is collaboration time for teachers during school, to embed the seeing and wondering into our weekly schedule. I want to elevate the learning journey between the teachers and the children, to commit more fully and deeply to the power and promise of what comes from observing, collaborating and documenting. Part of my responsibility is to provide an administrative "gaze" of understanding and honoring the reciprocal nature of teaching and learning.

    The Documentation Lab was a wonderful experience and reminder of the power of collaborating and thinking together about the capacity of children to learn and to teach each of us everyday. 

    I encourage teachers and administrators to come to any one of the Documentation Lab gatherings that will be coming up, resuming in the fall.  The meetings are free, held in various locations around the cities and you can participate fully, whether or not you bring student work.  Joanne Esser can provide further information (jesser@blakeschool.org). The dates will be announced on the Reggio-Inspired Network of Minnesota website.

  • 18 Jul 2018 11:01 PM | Reggio Inspired Network of MN (Administrator)

    Professor Dr. Sabine Lingenauber has pulled together her research on the women of Reggio Emilia and collected it all in this website, Visions for the future - A documentation by Sabine Lingenauber. 

    This website reconstructs the rich contributions of women to the history of the Reggio Emilia Approach (1943-1973).

    Visions for the future - A documentation

    The narrations of Ione Bartoli, Eletta Bertani, Giacomina Castagnetti, Loretta Giaroni, Lidia Greci, Marta Lusuardi and Carla Maria Nironi bear witness to events that should be remembered. 

    They show how female partisans, citizens, councillors, politicians and municipal councillors influence the development of a new form of education (Reggio Emilia Approach) in Reggio Emilia from the Resistenza (1943–1945), to the women’s movement and up until today.

  • 19 Apr 2018 7:08 PM | Reggio Inspired Network of MN (Administrator)

    Reflections on a Professional Development Experience
    Patti Loftus and Lani Shapiro

    What prompts any of us to attend conferences and what expectations do we bring to them? We recently attended the NAREA Winter Conference (held in Seattle in March), titled “Constructing a Culture of Shared Values for Children and Childhood: Honoring Diversity, Differences and Democracy.” The conference presenters, Paola Cagliari and Ivana Soncini, are both from Reggio Emilia with long and deep experience in the municipality’s early childhood education system. The title and speakers immediately drew our interest, and we anticipated a depth of thinking that is typical from the Italians. Paola Cagliari has a background as a teacher and pedagogista and now is director of the municipal infant-toddler centers and preschools of Reggio Emilia, while Ivana Soncini, a psychologist, brought an eye toward children with special rights. We found ourselves intellectually challenged and emotionally moved beyond our expectations by the ideas and diverse modes of documentation shared by Cagliari and Soncini. They focused on the many aspects of participation and the value of difference as a way of promoting and realizing democracy.


    Over three conference days, the speakers wove together values and concepts including the “centrality of participation”, the “power of documentation” and the “importance of place” as they shared the evolution of particular layers of the Reggio-Emilia educational project. They described how teachers engaged families through a narrative of the children’s ideas about and representation of “place,” in this case, the “piazza” both in the town and inside school. Their presentations were punctuated with stories of particular children with special rights which affirmed the enduring participation of allchildren in school life. Click for an example of documentation of this project.

    The concepts highlighted at NAREA closely mirror three areas of focus for the Reggio-Inspired Network of Minnesota. We see the “centrality of participation” reflected at the Network Gatherings, the “power of documentation” made visible by the ongoing work of the Documentation Lab and the “importance of place” illuminated through the Geography of Childhood project. The conference speakers’ portrayals conveyed the coherence of Reggio practice, where: 

    “the actions of instruction, assessment, documentation and research come to contain each other. They cannot be pulled apart in any practical sense; they are a piece. No dichotomy between teaching and research remains.” (Seidel, 2001, p.333).

    A conference, like all teaching/learning contexts, offers participants the opportunity to experience insight and construct understandings in ways that cannot be predicted or controlled by the presenters. This opportunity is enhanced when colleagues spend much of the time between sessions debriefing and considering together the questions that arise from the presentations. There is always, as Cagliari noted,

    “a plurality of different possible journeys.”          

    A particular reflection that we want to privilege for the duration of this article focuses on the notion of “the gaze,” referenced multiple times by both Cagliari and Soncini:

    “Each one of us is asking to be looked at with an optimistic gaze.”

    “A gaze which...sees the resources and potential of each.”

    “… being more aware (as adults) of the gaze that we have. That means knowing about the beliefs we look at children with, the expectations of our adult gaze.”

    “A strong gaze toward the future…”

    We were struck by the repetition of the concept of the gaze, particularly since our broader society is examining this idea when discussing social justice (the white gaze, the male gaze). In those contexts, the gaze has involved a power differential that objectifies and marginalizes the “other,” the person being gazed upon.

    There is an inextricable, reciprocal, complex connection between how we are seen by others and how we view ourselves, both as individuals and in the context of a collective identity or category; as members of a particular gender, race, faith tradition, social class or (dis)ability. The gaze can be an expression of power and surveillance: objectifying, intimidating, disapproving, or anxiety producing. The gaze, as suggested by Cagliari and Soncini, however, can be loving, reciprocal, affirming, respectful, or empowering.

    Here was the gaze in the context of Reggio Emilia. The speakers called multiple times for awareness of the adult gaze: the gaze of the teacher on the children, a gaze that sees and respects differences in children, that does not limit children, that gives them space to be who they are and hopeful expectations for what’s to come, without over-manipulating the present moment by pushing toward where their potential might take them.

    Patti Loftus currently works in a classroom with young children and found this consideration of gaze gripping, which was a testimony to the power of the presenters. The conference led her back to herself, to thinking about her gaze as a teacher and her view of the children in her classroom. The idea of the gaze particularly prompted her to speculate about the children’s view of her as one who observes them.

    This happens as I make notes, (“Ms. Loftus, what are you writing?”) or take photos as they work and play. How do the children perceive me as they are being observed? Do they sense judgment?

    My hope is that the children sense the affection and appreciation I feel for them, but what evidence do I have that this is true? Do they sense when the gaze is intended to influence behavior (for example when I ask, “Who looks ready?” expecting each in the group to get ready.) What message is the child sending me when she uses her hand to cover the drawing she is doing as I pass by? Alternately, do they “feel the love” when I marvel at what I observe in their work or interactions?

    Questions I’m pondering:

    • Do children interpret my gaze differently by my posture, position or expression?
    • How do the tools I use in observing affect my gaze and the children’s perception of my observations?
    • What gazes do the children offer each other? In what ways do I create a culture of optimism and empathy that imbues a spirit that can be shared?
    • Do children in school have ways to avoid the gaze of teachers?
    • What gaze (or gazes) do I have of the parents? How are they perceived by the receivers?

    Soncini noted that children aren’t always kind, but in Reggio Emilia, the schools construct a community of shared values, one of which is dialogue that doesn’t assume or require agreement, but dialogue that is built around difference.

    “…that positive trusting gaze is trusting attention…”

    “adults must be aware of the gaze that they have of children.  These are adults, in schools . . . who recognize the different ways children have of giving a shape or form to the world around them."

    "We're trying, in our meetings, to build together the gaze of empathy, of proximity, welcoming of all children.  It's about permanent, ongoing education for us, participation, building education together."

    "Schools promote the value of diversity when they are capable of stimulating gazes that are divergent.”

    “Gaze of empathy,” “positive trusting gaze” and “optimistic gaze” – these, referred to by Paola and Ivana, are all favorable gazes, reminiscent of the “image of the child” so often talked about in Reggio Emilia, the view that children are competent, powerful and unique protagonists in their own growth and development.

    Ivana and Paola referenced the 20th century French philosopher, Foucault, who explored “the gaze”, and its relationship to power and knowledge in institutions, including schools.

    Foucault's argument is that discipline creates "docile bodies", ideal for the new economics, politics and warfare of the modern industrial age - bodies that function in factories, ordered military regiments, and school classrooms. But, to construct docile bodies the disciplinary institutions must be able to (a) constantly observe and record the bodies they control and (b) ensure the internalization of the disciplinary individuality within the bodies being controlled. That is, discipline must come about without excessive force through careful observation, and molding of the bodies into the correct form through this observation. (Discipline and Punishment, 2012)

    The idea of gaze as control, gaze as an invasion of another’s being is troubling, but it’s a wake-up call, suggesting that our gaze might be perceived negatively by the children in our care, even a source of distress. It’s important for us to remember the power that we have over children and be thoughtful of how we wield it. It’s not just that the gaze might be perceived as negative. Relentless surveillance hasactual unintended negative consequences, affecting the delicate balance between attention in the name of “safety” or “control,” and the essential role of trial and error in the development of agency, autonomy and problem-solving skill of a growing child (Rooney, T., 2010 p. 344-345).

    The challenging presentations and compelling documentation Paola Cagliari and Ivana Soncini suggested a possible gaze that teachers and families might direct toward each other and, further, how we might be more intentional as we create a community of learners, families and educators with this awareness. They described the “sideways gaze,” which reminds us there are other angles from which we can view things that might otherwise go unnoticed. The sideways gaze is connected to diversity, with learning anew, and with avoiding certainty and rigid mental constructs. Soncini elaborated,

    “As Foucault often said, complexity requires looking at things slightly side-on.  It’s too easy to look straight forwards, from one frontal point of view, but if we can see side-on, then we can see different points of view on the same subject. In today’s world, in the culture, it is becoming more and more difficult to practice the ability to look at things side-on vs. frontally with one gaze.”

    We activate a sideways gaze when we engage a community context or a parent’s narrative that helps us see children’s unique experience and expression. We exercise the sideways gaze when we create opportunities for all children to express their different perspectives and when we offer multiple avenues for representation. Pedagogical documentation animates this work.

    “If you want to give voice to the multi-dimensional aspects of human learning, then we have to be capable of creating contexts in which children can leave traces of themselves.”

    Respect for diversity, recognition of multiple perspectives, welcoming curiosity, uncertainty, and subjectivity, and participation are conditions necessary for democratic practice to flourish (Moss, P.). Reggio Emilia demonstrates exceptionally cohesive theory-and-practice that is not limited to the education of young children. The “diversity, difference and democracy” highlighted at this conference made visible multiple perspectives of children, families and pedagogical teams in Reggio Emilia, and their relationship of observation, reflection, interpretation, and decision-making through documentation and dialogue. As adults who attended this conference, we were among those who experienced the “multi-dimensional aspects of human learning” that Ivana and Paola noted. We were struck side-on by concepts we encountered anew and took pleasure in opportunities to discuss particularly salient ideas proposed by the speakers and illustrated by the documentation they shared. The conference constructed a context that enhanced our desire to listen and exchange views, and to contest our thinking.


    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discipline_and_Punish. Wikipedia. Discipline and Punish Published July, 2012 Accessed April 08, 2018

    Moss P. Democracy as First Practice in Early Childhood Education and Care. In: Tremblay RE, Boivin M, Peters RDeV, eds. Bennett J, topic ed. Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development [online].http://www.child-encyclopedia.com/child-care-early-childhood-education-and-care/according-experts/democracy-first-practice-early. Published February 2011. Accessed April 8, 2018.

    Rooney, T. (2010). Trusting children: How do surveillance technologies alter a child’s experience of trust, risk and responsibility? Surveillance & Society 7(3/4): 344-355.

    Seidel, S. (2001). The question cannot be satisfied with waiting, In Project Zero & Reggio Children, Making learning visible: children as individual and group learners. Reggio Emilia, Italy: Reggio Children.

    Patti Loftus is an early childhood teacher at Blake School in Wayzata, MN.

    Lani Shapiro is a consultant and early childhood, early childhood special education, and parent educator (retired), St. Paul, MN. lani.shapiro@gmail.com

  • 15 Feb 2018 7:36 PM | Reggio Inspired Network of MN (Administrator)

    by Eileen Galvin

    What does it mean when you are trying to get someone to do something? What kind of relationship do you have? How does the language we use shape our relationships or reveal how we see our relationships?

    Last November, I attended the Saturday Gathering titled "Whose Agenda Is It? Mapping the Terrain of Parent Engagement from Multiple Perspectives," facilitated by Lani Shapiro. With a good mix of parents, teachers and administrators in the room,we explored the relationship between these three roles as co-constructors of a school community and as citizens. What do we, as educators, mean when we promote ‘parent involvement’? What do families have in mind when we seek to be ‘engaged’ in our children’s education? How do school communities understand ‘being involved’?

    There was one word that kept surfacing. At times we discussed the word, its meaning, and context. Other times it was used without further comment. The word was get.

    “How do we get parents to participate?”

    “How do we get different people with differing perspectives to come together with openness and curiosity?”

    And the question that resonated with me the most, “how do we get parents to be interested in documentation that isn’t focused on just their child?”

    I have never minded the word get. It is small, efficient, and implies action. This gathering made me think of the word differently. It inspired me to reflect on the power of this tiny little word.  Now, I think the word implies manipulation. It implies a power dynamic that is out of balance. It implies superiority. It implies a “right way.”

    ...if we want to have a school based on participation, we must create spaces, contexts, and times when all subjects—children, teachers, and parents—can find opportunities to speak and be listened to.”

    --Paola Cagliari, Angela Barozzi and Claudia Giudici

    If you are trying to get others to do something you are not listening, you are not considering their truth, their perspective. When we use that word, what do we communicate about how we see our relationships? What does it say about how we define the democracy within our educational systems? How can documentation draw parents in and inspire them to think differently about the important work of all children?

    In a shared partnership, we value differing perspectives, we are open to possibilities, we inspire, and we are inspired.  For me, this simple shift, moving away from this efficient little word, is a concrete way to remind myself of the kinds of relationships I want to build in this world.

  • 15 Jan 2018 6:47 PM | Reggio Inspired Network of MN (Administrator)

    By Joanne Esser

    This autumn, the Reggio-Inspired Network of Minnesota created our newest initiative, the Documentation Lab, as a way for educators to share our documentation practices with each other and to practice critically analyzing the documentation we study.

    Documentation is one of the most essential practices that the educators in Reggio Emilia, Italy developed and modeled, a way of looking at children’s thinking that has inspired authentic child-centered practices in schools around the world. One definition of documentation in the Reggio sense is: “a process for making pedagogical (or other) work visible and subject to dialogue, interpretation, contestation and transformation,” (Gunilla Dahlberg, in The Hundred Languages of Children). It is only through sharing with other thoughtful educators the visible traces of our work with children that we can more deeply understand and support the children’s work. The Documentation Lab creates a forum for comparing interpretations, providing multiple perspectives to inform our practice, whether we are presenting documentation or we are participants studying another’s work.

    The Documentation Lab met three times so far, once a month. Each time we gather, one participant offers visible (or auditory) observations from their own work with children. These could be photographs, video clips, transcripts of conversations, anecdotal notes, work samples done by the children or any other tangible recordings of their thinking and play. Then the group follows a specific step-by-step discussion protocol that we are adapting from a process used by Steve Seidel and colleagues at Project Zero. We spend time in turn to observe, describe, raise questions and speculate about the work we see children doing in the traces offered. Then the group hears more from the presenting teacher, who has been listening all along to what was said about the children’s work. Finally, together we discuss implications for learning that have arisen from the conversation.

    Perhaps the place in the structured conversation where the deepest learning happens is discussing the implications for teaching, learning and understanding children’s strategies. Everyone is invited to share thoughts stimulated by examining the work. One of the big questions we consider is, What could we do next or differently to move this learning forward? For example, in October, Bridget Keefe, a teacher from St. David’s Center, brought a series of photographs she had taken of toddlers interacting with one another. After studying the photos of the toddlers, the group considered ways that the teachers at St. David’s might share their insights with the children’s parents and gather the parents’ perspectives. We wondered whether revisiting the photos with the children themselves would result in language that could further illuminate what they were doing, and whether adding some of the teachers’ own questions to the display of photos might highlight for families what they were noticing.

    At the end of each evening of studying documentation, we reflect on the process itself. After looking at the toddler photos, these were some of the participants’ comments: “Using the protocol treats the documentation like primary sources. We look at the primary sources first, not simply the secondary retelling of what happened.” “I found that our questions and observations got better as we went along, richer and not as predictable, and we got better at our critical thinking. This takes practice.” “It gave me a broader understanding of the deliberate, purposeful choices we make as teachers.”

    Because we are studying real traces from real children in our own Minnesota teaching practices, rather than hypothetical examples or experiences retold from Italy, the Documentation Lab process allows us to directly examine our work in practical ways. We hone our skills at observing, critical thinking and planning in collaboration with supportive colleagues. Then we can return to our own settings and apply to our work with children what we have discovered. This is the essence of Reggio-inspired practice.

    For example, in October, Bridget Keefe, a teacher from St. David’s Center, brought to the Documentation Lab a series of photographs she had taken of toddlers interacting with one another. She laid out the photos on the big table and the group of fourteen educators silently observed the photos. Then we took some intentional time to describe what we noticed in the photos – withholding any assumptions or judgments, not evaluating the photos or mentioning any personal preferences– simply answering the question “What do you notice?” Bridget took notes on what she was hearing. Sometimes people noticed details she had not previously recognized, even though she had taken the photos herself.

    We went on to raise questions about what was happening in the photos. Bridget did not answer the questions at that point, but a note-taker recorded them, since the questions the documentation raises are important in themselves. A few of our questions about the toddler photos included: How much are the children verbally communicating? Are they playing together with each other, or is the play more about the objects they are using (like a ball, a paintbrush, a toy)? How well do these children know each other? What instigated the action? What was the provocation? How have these photos been shared with parents? What were the parents’ perspectives? Does this represent toddlers in general, or is this a unique group? We went on developing questions until we had approached the photos from every possible direction.

    Next we speculated about the photos, guessing what the children were working on, their skills, their theories and motivations. For example, perhaps their game of playing “catch” with a ball was a way to practice give-and-take, to make social connections with another child. We saw examples of toddlers seeming to solve problems and communicate nonverbally through the use of materials. We speculated as well about the point of view and values of the educator who had taken the photos, how she seemed to want to highlight the children’s interactions with each other and their confidence.

    When it was the presenting teacher’s turn to speak about the process, Bridget answered some of the group’s questions, such as how long the children in the photos had known each other and what her intentions were in taking and displaying these particular photographs. She shared how her toddlers are seeking each other and how she observes them moving from parallel play to cooperative play. Our hypothesis was that toddlers working together in this way over time grow more in language, communication and social skills.

    Bridget, who was applauded for her willingness to take the risk of being the first educator to share her documentation, said at the end, “I learned so much. Your perspectives were great. I looked at it (the children and their work) differently after hearing from all of you.”

    Each month, we have new material to study. In November, Joey Schoen, a teacher from Dodge Nature Preschool, offered a transcript and audio recording of an active dramatic play scenario her children enacted, involving “dangers” like a tornado, “bad guys” and a fire. It led to a rich conversation about how the role of adults can foster – or interrupt – children’s imaginary play. In December, Stephanie Ponticas brought many photo scrapbooks she has put together over a number of years to show the wide variety of activities the children at her home childcare engaged in. The discussion centered on the format of the documentation itself, the difference between “memories” and “learning stories,” and ways we can most effectively communicate children’s experiences and thinking.

    Documentation Lab Protocol

  • 15 Jan 2018 3:12 PM | Reggio Inspired Network of MN (Administrator)

    by Damian Johnson  

    “When do we stop noticing the little things?” This question came up while discussing the network’s Geography of Childhood project and I immediately thought of my friend Sarah and her child, Owen, and his somewhat epic treasure collection.  The Geography of Childhood is in part an investigation of the children in our communities and what childhood is lived like today. My interview with Sarah tells a story about a 5 year-old who constantly takes home little things that he has noticed. It’s a reminder that people of all ages need time and space to make connections between all the little things that our larger ideas are built from. It’s a story about how one parent provides for that, when she could easily choose to make things more convenient for herself.

    Have I myself stopped noticing the little things? I see tiny treasures and sense little mysteries just as much as Owen, but there’s no time to dig in. Now, I have to collect and save little pieces of my schedule, scraps of evenings and weekends, to use for reflection and connection, the way that Owen tries to hold on to every bubble gum wrapper for his mini-comics.

    And that’s not the way I want it. At home and at school, I’d happily trade away every educational device, every light table, every tree cookie, magna-tile and mirror, I’d give up so much of the stuff if it meant more time to just be present with the people.  Owen’s play ends up having a significant impact in the world of adults.  Could this be more common if there was more space for children in the "real world"?  Ultimately, this story is intriguing to me because of the way Owen relates to people; his grandfather, his teacher, his mother and more- through his collecting and creativity with his treasures.

    Sarah: Since Owen was an infant everyone is like don’t put anything in his hands that he can choke on. And that’s all he wanted to do was hold on to, like, acorns or little bowls or anything. He just always wants a little something in his hands. I think it’s just that tactile… partially tactile, but he likes the little things.

    Damian: Is it also kind of the magic of finding something?

    S: A little bit. He’s also very good at that. I don’t know. He’s just always done it.

    D: Do you often catch him crawling underneath stuff, or moving furniture in order to see what’s behind it?

    S: More crawling than moving I think. The sandy playgrounds are his favorite, I think, because people drop stuff in them all the time, and it’s the treasures he finds in those that I think are like the most exciting. And then he kind of hoards them away.

    D: Where does he usually put his treasures?

    S: Usually in that little container or the shelf by his bed. That yogurt container. . .That’s all my dad’s doing. It originated at my parents farm, because when we go there usually it’s usually like my brother in law and my sister and he kids, so it’s all cousins, and he always brings home a metal detector. Which reminds me of finding stuff on the ground. Because it’s a 100 year old plus farm house. People just dumped stuff wherever. And we find crazy… like, most of it’s junk, but it’s like horseshoes and old pocket knives and old money and just you know like parts of cars and who knows, you know? So you find all this stuff and then… and there’s rocks in the driveway, cause it’s a big ‘ole gravel driveway, so owen holds a lot of that, so my dad pulled out that big container. He’s the one that wrote “owen’s stuff” on the lid. That’s all him, my dad. So that’s where it came from. He had all these rocks and bits from digging in the dirt.


    D: And then what does he do with the stuff, like, after he collects it is that it? He just holds onto it like a dragon?

    S: They will spark ideas I would say. Like, he says “Oh! I gotta go do something and then he’ll go rummage through his pile of… you know.

    D: I can hear your opinion of it. Pile of garbage.

    S: (laughs) I mean it doesn’t bother me but it’s pretty much literally garbage. . .

    D: But it’s not. It’s not to him. It’s treasures of little…

    S: Exactly. So he’s like, Oh, I just gotta go do something.” And then once he gets that idea he can’t stop it. He won’t go to bed. He won’t do anything until he finishes what that little thing he’s doing. And he’ll often times go pull out something that he found who knows how long ago. It’s like he has an inventory.

    D: That’s interesting. He knows everything he’s ever found.

    S: He has a memory for that stuff that I never had.

    D: Because it’s important to him. Can you remember a specific time when times when he wouldn’t go to bed?

    S: It’s usually some sort of craft. Or like putting them together. Like “Oh, gosh I just remembered that this would fit with this.” One thing that I can remember, he put inside two milk caps was a pom pom and that became a creature. Right? So that was Fuzzy. Fuzzy lived between the milk caps. Stuff like that. Or he’ll be like “I need to put this eraser on this popsicle stick, like, right now.”

    D: Like he gets home and…

    S: . . . A lot of time it’s at night time when you’re really frustrated and you’re like “Just go to bed” and he’s like “No. Wait. Where’s the glue  . . .

    D: And you’ve had to make sure he doesn’t steal stuff that he finds interesting.

    S: Yeah, that’s a problem. It still is. And sometimes he’s at that age where he’s pushing the limits on what he can kind of get away with. So it’s like I think there are like prizes in his classroom for whatever, good behavior or they read the ten books a month and they get to choose a prize… sometimes they’ll come home with him and are not given to him. And it’s seven different versions of the story. . .If I know for sure I usually make them go explain to the teacher what he did. And she’s really good at making it a positive thing that he brings it back. Like the cross that he found?”

    D: What’s that story?

    S:  Once I was cleaning out his backpack and there’s this gold cross on a pendant.

    D: Real gold?

    S: Right? Something with actual value. But I think for him, it has the same value as a milk cap. He doesn’t see that and say “That’s a gold necklace.” He says “That’s a little treasure.” He’s not there yet. So I find it in his backpack, and he’s like “ooooh… someone put that in my backpack…” And he’s got this look when he lies. He tries not to smile. . . so we went to bed. I went in with him (to school) and his teacher was like “Oh, my gosh this is mine. I lost it last year in May.” So it was probably October, the next school year, when he found it. She was like “I thought this was gone forever. My dad gave it to me in eighth grade for my confirmation. And I tried to replace it but some things just aren’t replaceable. I thought I’d never see it again. Owen… You are the best little treasure finder I’ve ever seen. You just need to show me what you find, so we make sure it’s not important to somebody.” And she wrote him a thank you note. It was really sweet what she did. She loved that quality in him and set expectations of how he should deal with it in the future.”

    For more reading about loose parts, available through the public library:

    • Cathy Weisman & Lella Gandini, Beautiful Stuff
    • Lisa Daly and Miriam Beloglovsky ; Loose parts : inspiring play in young children /
    • Lisa Daily and Miriam Beloglovsky, Loose parts 2, inspiring play in infants and toddlers
  • 16 Nov 2017 7:11 PM | Reggio Inspired Network of MN (Administrator)

    At our most recent Saturday Gathering, parents, educators, administrators, and citizens gathered to collaborate around the topic of Parent Engagement, facilitated by Lani Shapiro, in a session titled "Whose Agenda Is It? Mapping the Terrain of Parent Engagement from Multiple Perspectives." 


    We framed our discussion around the following questions . . . 

    • What do we, as educators, mean when we promote 'parent involvement'?
    • What do families have in mind when we seek to be 'engaged' in our children's education?
    • How do communities understand 'being involved'?

    We will discuss these questions, as parents, educators, administrators and citizens, framed by ideas from Reggio Emilia.

    • What are the possibilities?
    • Where are the boundaries?
    • How do we construct shared agendas?

    “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 founded on these concepts; and in our opinion, so, too, is democracy itself. Therefore, if we want to have a school based on participation, we must create spaces, contexts, and times when all subjects—children, teachers, and parents—can find opportunities to speak and be listened to.”

                Paola Cagliari, Angela Barozzi and Claudia Giudici

    We discussed Loris Malaguzzi's "A Bill of Three Rights," expressing Reggio Emilia's view of the essential participation of each of the protaganists in their educational project; children, teachers and parents.  

    Here is the link:  A Bill of Three Rights

    Our discussion generated a spirited dialogue which raised new questions and considerations . . .

    ·       There is a difference between “getting parents involved” and “inviting families to participate."  Which way leads to a feeling of belonging

    ·       Sometimes we have to persist in our efforts to encourage families to participate. One way to approach families that do not respond to our initial invitation to participate might be, "I know you have something to offer, and I’m genuinely interested in that.”  How can we let families know that we genuinely value them and see them as equal participants?

    ·       We have to remember that not all families have positive memories or associations with school. How can we reframe parents perceptions about school by developing positive relationships with both children and parents and persisting in our invitations to partnership?

    ·       “I cannot assume the way I bring myself into a community is the same for everyone else.”  How can we clearly communicate that we value everyones unique qualities? How do I check myself to ensure that I AM valuing everyones unique qualities?

    ·       Do we offer a variety of opportunities for families to participate in the life of a school in ways that work for them?  How can parents share the responsibility for educating their children once they arrive at our schools? How can schools make room for them?

    ·       Some ideas that may work: Invite parents to stay and eat breakfast with their child at drop off time, come in and eat lunch with them, or have brown bag dinners at pick up time.  Invite parents to co-teach with you. Read a story or tell a story, sing a song, bring in a CD for us to listen to, lead an activity, play a game, share a talent or skill with us. The possibilities are endless. How can we include everyone in ways that make them feel valued and competent?

    What are your ideas for creating schools of participation, schools that include spaces, contexts and times so that all children, parents and teachers can speak and be listened to?  

  • 15 Sep 2017 2:25 PM | Reggio Inspired Network of MN (Administrator)

    by Joanne Esser

    For many of us educators, learning about the early childhood centers in Reggio Emilia, Italy was immediately inspiring. What they were doing with children made sense and fit with our ideals about how we wanted to teach and learn. We wanted to dive in, adapt and embed their practices into our own classrooms right away.

    Each of us then had to choose a place to begin incorporating Reggio-inspired practices into our own work. It is often hard to know where to start, since even an initial study of those beautiful Italian classrooms and the deeply considered philosophy that undergirds them reveals how incredibly complex it is.

    Some people begin by redesigning their environments. They evaluate and make changes to their physical spaces, room layout, the materials available to children and even the colors and containers in the room. Other people begin by introducing project work, building children’s interests into some deeper, bigger study of a topic, stimulating children’s thinking in a way that recognizes their strong capabilities.

    But one of the most basic and essential places we can begin to emulate the effective practices we see in Reggio Emilia is with documentation.

    Documentation is a term that is becoming common and almost jargon-y in early childhood education. When that happens, the word can begin to lose its true meaning, becoming over-simplified or interpreted in a shallow way. There are even companies promoting products and systems to help teachers “document,” often for the purpose of accountability, gathering data to prove that the children are meeting some set of predetermined standards. But in Reggio Emilia, documentation has a much deeper meaning.

    At its heart, pedagogical documentation in the Reggio-inspired sense is the practice of paying close attention to what children say and do. It is a stance, a way of seeing with intention and curiosity. The practice of documenting is based on the belief that young children are innately driven to learn, that their actions and words are powerful and purposeful, and that they are actively engaged in making meaning all the time from their daily lives.

    Documentation does not mean simply taking lots of photographs, writing down quotes from children or posting panels on the walls – although those activities are often part of the documentation process. The artifacts alone are not the essence of the concept. Authentic documentation in the Reggio sense involves making intentional choices about what data to collect, reflecting on the data, interpreting and analyzing it with colleagues, communicating what you’ve observed with families and with the children themselves, listening to their interpretations and using what you’ve learned to plan for new experiences. It’s a very complex cycle!

    In the words of Reggio educator Lella Gandini, “When we document, we make the deliberate choice to observe and record what happens in our environment in order to reflect and communicate the surprising discoveries in children’s everyday lives…Documentation is not…the collecting of data in a detached, objective, distant way. Rather, it is seen as the interpretation of close, keen observation and attentive listening, gathered with a variety of tools by educators aware of contributing their different points of view. In fact, our views about childhood and our personal theories influence what each of us sees and hears; that is why we need to compare interpretations among colleagues.”

    Many of us in the Network have felt the need for more reflection and collaboration with colleagues about our documentation efforts. When we closely observe a group of toddlers playing together at the water table, or a five-year-old making an original “invention” out of recycled scrap materials, we are naturally excited. We want to share our questions and our observations of what our children are doing with others who can help us understand more deeply what is really happening. Having other sets of eyes and ears to look at our assorted photos, notes and snippets of collected dialogue often brings new perspectives to our work – even when those colleagues might not know our children or be part of our program. 

    To meet this need, the Network is creating a new initiative: the Documentation Lab. We want to offer educators an on-going way to share traces of their work with each other, get and give feedback about documentation and generate ideas for next steps in learning based on what children have been doing. We envision the Documentation Lab as a co-facilitated, collaborative working group where participants can bring work-in-progress, critically analyze it and learn from each other, at whatever stages we are in our practice. 

    A core group of interested Network members started tossing around ideas for the Documentation Lab this summer. But we also invite input from potential participants to help decide when, where and how often we’ll meet – probably one evening a month or every other month, meeting at a public site such as a library – and what our format should be. The Lab gatherings will be free and open to anyone who wants to learn more, whether you are experienced in using documentation or whether you are brand new to the idea.

    The official “kick-off” of the Documentation Lab initiative will be on September 23, as part of the regular monthly Network gathering.  Join us for a workshop focused on documentation: “Set Your Intention to Pay Attention,” 9:30 a.m. to noon in the Lakeview Room in the Hyland Lake Park Reserve in Bloomington, Minnesota. Then add your voice to give direction to this new opportunity. More information about the Documentation Lab will be widely shared within the Network as it takes shape.

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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