By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. As someone who has researched and reflected on early childhood education over many years, I have often wondered why practices that stifle creativity and agency continue. I wonder why these dubious practices are left unquestioned? I have visited countless early learning programs and wonder why from location to location the themes are the same and the days appear to begin the same way. First there is a morning circle focused on the calendar, then there is time for “play” but children’s choices are limited by cut outs and worksheets. There is no play in worksheets. To this day, I hear these practices defended. One particular teacher told me that it is important to have a balance. I question this because I believe that this view regulates the child to a position of passivity as choices are removed and a wall erected that seems to reflect a lack of understanding about how children learn. I believe a balanced approach is not possible. Children learn through play. Play is play. Work is work. Opportunities for inquiry are limited when children don’t have choices. A child should be an agent of inquiry. When a child has a sense of agency, they are able to make choices and decisions to influence events, and to have an impact on their world. They should be drawn not to just colouring and filling in numbers or letters or to adding a few paint strokes to a cut out of a flower but to a desire to inquire during play. This is how learning happens. I travelled many miles to visit the schools of Reggio Emilia to see what is possible when we look beyond the wall and let go of habits of practice that limit.
According to Malaguzzi (2001) there is a wall, which prevents us from going beyond what we know. His poetic words tell us that, “beyond the wall there is always a beyond” (p. 6). When the Hundred Languages of Children Exhibit was in its first incarnation, it was called “When the Eye Jumps Over the Wall.” According to Malaguzzi (2001), inside the title there was a message “that the eye, when it looks beyond the wall of habit, of custom, of the normal, of the non-surprise, of assumed security” (p. 6), will find the possible. When the wall of old habits and customs is broken down the quest for the possible can begin. Teachers can choose to erect the wall that Malaguzzi (2001) calls the wall of the “finite” (p. 6). When responses to curriculum become habituated and when they are left unquestioned, the result is the continuation of dubious practice and a limited view of what is beyond the wall. If the impetus for change comes from within, teachers can have a “sense of the infinite” (Malaguzzi, 2001, p. 6). I felt this sense of the infinite when I visited the Seneca College Newnham Labschool recently. This is a space that holds a special place in my heart. I remember standing in front of the building during the grand opening ceremony almost three decades ago. Whenever I get a chance I visit for a dose of what is possible. This week upon entering the building for the umpteenth time, I saw this intentional invitation for families and children to play, dedicated to growth and I am filled with joy.
Then when I entered a room that over the last few years has become a site for the infinite I see that these dedicated and passionate educators have brought to life what is possible with the Many Layers of Paint Exhibit. This exhibit is the result of years of questing for the possible. The exhibit is a testimony to what the eye can see when we hold an image of children as capable of learning through play.
I look forward to returning to the Labschool again and again for inspiration about what is possible when time is taken to question, to think and rethink. I am excited to see what will unfold as others have a chance to visit this exhibit. For an opportunity to visit join us for the Rhythm of Learning in Nature knowledge retreat this summer. I am grateful that this recent experience of visiting drew me back to a 2001 edition of ReChild to be reminded once again of what is beyond the wall as beyond the wall there is always a beyond. I believe that this quote that appears on the front page of the newsletter will resonate with my friends at the Labschool and I thank them for renewing my sense of hope in what is possible.
Nothing and no one will ever be the same again. We who work with children have the duty to renew a sense of hope through our daily work (ReChild, 2001).