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Journey of possibilities

By Betty Rice

For many people, the Reggio Emilia philosophy of early childhood education is a familiar one, and one they embrace. Yet it is challenging for educators inspired by the principles of the Reggio philosophy originating in early childhood education to bring these ideas into their work with students in elementary and secondary school context.

This educational philosophy began in Italy in the years following World War II in the small village of Reggio Emilia. Determined to offer new possibilities for their children and to prevent a re-emergence of fascism, parents, educators and other citizens in the community realized the timing was right to restructure early childhood education based on democratic values. They worked together to develop programs to enrich and enhance the educational experiences for their youngest students. In fact, a key component of the Reggio philosophy is community involvement.

With any such movement or change to the mainstream philosophies of teaching and education, there are and always will be questions. For example, how do the principles which ground this philosophy negotiate mandated and emergent curriculum? How should researchers measure and document success in the Reggio classroom? How do proponents of Reggio educate others to the benefits of this method of teaching, learning and engagement with the youngest students?

More than 350 people discussed the answers to these questions as they converged at the Rozsa Centre for a two-day conference focusing on the Reggio philosophy. Journey of Possibilities: Reggio Inspirations in Elementary Contexts was organized by the Calgary Reggio Network Association. It brought together a prestigious group educators from across North America and Europe. A keynote panel on April 29 featured Paola Cagliari, Director of the Preschools and Infant-Toddler Centres in Reggio Emilia; Harold Göthson, a senior consultant with the Reggio Emilia Institute based in Sweden; and Mara Krechevsky of Harvard’s Project Zero and Lella Gandini, the U.S. Liaison for Reggio Children.

Dr. Pat Tarr, associate professor, education and past president of the Calgary Reggio Network Association, says hosting the conference at the University of Calgary has been a unique opportunity to explore how these ideas can take life in elementary and secondary school contexts.

“Calgary has been one of the areas of the world where this philosophy has inspired teachers in elementary schools and it was timely for educators from around the world and from across North America to come together to discuss the unique challenges this presents,” she says.

The Reggio philosophy has challenged us to reflect on our own cultural contexts and values of education, and to consider what it means to be inspired, Tarr continues. “We have been challenged to consider our image of children as capable meaning-makers, children with the rights of citizens to have voice in their educational experiences. We are also challenged to become researchers of our own lives with children, and to listen carefully to children to fully support them as learners and to continually question what we take for granted.”

The Calgary Reggio Network Association is a group of educators, students, child care providers, parents, artists and other professionals whose focus in education is inspired by the Reggio Emilia philosophy. While based in Calgary, the network is made up of more than 780 members throughout Western Canada.