By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. In less than one week’s time I will be on the road to Reggio Emilia, in north central Italy. This will be my third and maybe the last time I participate in a study tour. Reggio Emilia is home to what are considered the best preschools in the world. According to Reggio Children in 1991 a jury of international experts in the prestigious American publication “Newsweek” identified the “Diana” Municipal Preschool (representing the network of municipal infant-toddler centres and preschools) as the most avant-garde school in the world for education in early childhood. I remember in 2006 during my first visit walking into the Diana school and experiencing an odd sensation that I had been there before. Perhaps it was the viewing of the Open Window slides over and over again that gave me the feeling that I just walked into the set of my favourite movie. This first visit to Reggio had a profound impact on the work that I do and, on my life, but in 2011 when I returned it was with trepidation as I could not visualize how I was going to take Reggio home. I knew that I was at a crossroad on my journey and that I needed to forge a new path. In my working life I felt isolated and alone in my values and beliefs. It took a couple of years of roadblocks and detours which I chronicle in one of my most personal blog posts, Journeys of Reggio Inspired Practice Forging New Paths and Possibilities before I felt ready to return. This time on the journey I will be in the company of many friends, acquaintances and followers of our professional learning community #ReggioPLC. I know I can approach this stretch of the journey without anxiety and fear. It is with joy – nothing but joy that I will embrace the experience. I especially look forward to once again seeing the outdoor learning environments of the schools of Reggio Emilia.
In the past five years with my involvement with the York Region Nature Collaborative my journey has often involved professional learning experiences that take place outside – in and with nature. When I was in Reggio the last time I was so struck by the extraordinary use of extraordinary loose parts inside and outside. This time, I want to pay attention to the natural elements of the environments. I want to make connections to nature. When I return home it is with great anticipation that I look towards learning more about how to support the building of nature connections in the early years with the YRNC May 5th #GrowingRoots2018 conference in partnership with the p.i.n.e project.
Then a few months later, the experience of learning with others while immersed in nature continues with the Rhythm of Learning in Nature 2018. The Rhythm of Learning in Nature is an opportunity offered by the York Region Nature Collaborative from August 13 to August 18th for like-minded educators to come together in place to experience nature, outdoor play, Reggio-inspiration and forest school practices. The week follows an emergent curriculum framework, as we will invite both facilitators and participants to decide the direction of the work and the focus of our professional inquiries. There will be six facilitators this year. Five of whom will be together on the Reggio study tour! So, I am sure there will be many reflections to share with others. This year, we are also thrilled to have Juliet Robertson, from Scotland and author of Dirty Teaching: A Beginners Guide to Learning Outdoors and Messy Maths: A Playful Outdoor Approach for Early Years as a guest facilitator.
I anticipate that a wonderful convergence of Reggio-inspired teaching and learning and outdoor and nature play will take place over the course of the week inspired by our time in Reggio and our experiences with Juliet. Helping us make connections will be Hopi Martin who will join us at week’s end to share how Indigenous perspectives relate to learning about the environment in the early years. The outdoor environment is more than the third teacher. It is the ultimate teacher. I have learned from Hopi that the land is our first teacher. This is not a new perspective but one that has a long and important history.
There is so much to learn from the land, whether it be in the forest, the meadow or the beach. Last week I had the pleasure of presenting at the Reading for the Love of It conference. I was asked to make the connections between children’s literature, the principles of the Reggio Emilia Approach and nature. It took a lot of thought and reflection to come up with a focus for the session. I took inspiration from a book by Leo Lionni. For so many reasons I connected to this book. I have a cottage that has been a refuge and sanctuary for me during difficult times on my journey. It is near a beach where there are many pebbles. Walking the shore and picking up rocks and beach glass is always a time of reflection and looking closely, as Lionni explains, the pebbles are not just rocks, but people pebbles, number pebbles and more. I am also reminded of the giant of early childhood education Johann Pestalozzi who supported the idea of learning through the direct observation of objects and I come back to the land and what nature can teach us. What can we learn in place? Please join the #ReggioPLC Twitter chat on Monday, March 5th at 9pm EST as we discuss nature and learning environments. Follow along on Twitter using #ReggioPLC from March 12 to March 16 to see what we learn from the place called Reggio Emilia. Join us for the May 5th conference to learn from nature and at the Rhythm of Learning in Nature to share in another empowering week of learning with others.