By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE and Cindy Green, BSc, RECE. We have written about our long-standing relationship in previous posts and how we connected when we were working at the same community college, teaching early childhood education, many moons ago! We became critical friends, before we knew the term. In our context, we were pedagogical leaders before we truly understood the difference between pedagogy (how learning happens) and curriculum (the content of the learning). We shared a passion for teaching and learning in early childhood education. We loved to talk about all things, early childhood education. We challenged each other but we supported each other, wanting the best for each other.
We were early adopters of emergent curriculum. We felt strongly that our students and other faculty teaching the students were open to what takes place in experiences with children. We advocated for others to consider changing plans to go with what might grow. Each one of us needs to have curiosity, and we need to be able to try something new based on the ideas that we collect from the children and document as we go along. This we learned from Malaguzzi (1994):
Of course, many things that happen in school can be seen ahead and planned beforehand. But many things that happen cannot be known ahead of time. Something will start to grow inside the child and suddenly what is happening in the school will move in that direction. Sometimes what happens starts inside the adults. School can never be always predictable. We need to be open to what takes place and able to change our plans and go with what might grow at that very moment both inside the child and inside ourselves.
When we first heard of this innovative approach to early childhood education that began in Italy shortly after the Second World War, we were curious and excited. Based on the theories of social constructivism and focused on a pedagogy that supports an emerging curriculum, long-term investigations are a key feature of the approach. I (Diane) remember being at a session for early childhood education faculty in Ontario in the very early nineties where I first heard about the place that is called Reggio Emilia and the principles of the Reggio Emilia Approach. It was overwhelming to learn about this complex philosophy and when someone in the audience suggested that it was not realistic in our contexts, the presenter recommended the Project Approach. I immediately went off and purchased the book by Katz and Chard and began teaching my students about emergent curriculum and expecting them in their placements to focus on projects with the children. Later, I wondered whether, I had supported the creation of long-term themes and worried about the structure of the Project Approach and whether it focused too much on topics (nouns) rather than ideas (verbs). This became a musing in my doctoral dissertation, and I wrote about it in an article published in Exchange in 2011.
I (Cindy), also reflect back to the early nineties after first hearing about Reggio Emilia from Lella Gandini and Carla Rinaldi at the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) conference in the US. I left the workshop feeling so energized and curious to learn more. After exiting the session, I remember sitting in the foyer making numerous notes about the notes that I had documented. In those days, I was so busy writing notes it minimized my ability to listen but I sat there and pondered the ideas that I had captured. I knew this was big. It felt right. I didn’t know it then, but I now know that my thinking and practice took a full turn that day. I also became a “groupie”, soaking up Elizabeth Jones’ wisdom about emergent practice and fortunately was able to attend many sessions with her at subsequent NAEYC conferences. Her book Emergent Curriculum (1994), co-authored with John Nimmo, became a favourite. There were so many things to think about and thankfully Diane was there to have conversations with. Diane was and continues to be a mentor, nudging me to think, rethink and dive deeper in my pedagogical practice. For that I am forever grateful.
We continue to muse, thinking and rethinking about early childhood education pedagogy and practice. We wonder if there are still educators implementing the Project Approach? For those unfamiliar, it “refers to a way of teaching and learning as well as to the content of what is taught and learned” (Katz & Chard, 1989, p. 3). It is a set of teaching strategies which enable teachers to guide children through in-depth studies of real-world topics (Katz & Chard, 2000). As suggested by Katz and Chard, projects are intended to be emergent as they develop from the ongoing interests of the children. A project may be for a short period of time or extend over several weeks, depending on the complexity of the project, the authentic questions that evolve, and the resources available to maintain the child’s interest and intrigue in the topic. The similarity between the Reggio Emilia Approach and the Project Approach are that children are involved in project-based learning. John Dewey was one of the first who suggested that project-based learning was ideal. Under the assumption that children learn best when their interest is fully engaged and centred, the project method was used in Dewey’s Laboratory School at the University of Chicago at the beginning of the 20th century. In more recent times, project work was a central part of infant and primary education during the Plowden Years in England of the 1960s and 1970s, and in the corresponding North American open education years of the same era (Katz & Chard, 2000). In the nineties and early years of the 21st century, we supported our students in placement while they implemented projects and witnessed many early childhood educators engaging in project work. Now in 2019, as early childhood education consultants, we work with small independent child care centres and large multi-site agencies and projects for some reason, are not so evident. Where have all the projects gone? Are they still there but are labelled as an inquiry? Do these inquiries last over time? When children engage in long-term investigations, does it not make sense to assume that the learning will be more evident? We do see a resurgence of emergent curriculum as educators respond to children’s interests in the moment and short term. However, we are left musing, where have all the projects gone? How do you plan and program for children? Do you engage in long-term investigations as co-constructors with children? Do you call these inquiries or projects or something else? How do you ensure that your project work supports authentic learning over time rather than the children remembering facts about a topic?
We would like to share this example, based on the photo above.
A group of children were playing with some blocks on a table. One child lined the blocks up and said that he had created a road. Another child said, “then we need cars”. He went to the shelf and took five small cars, holding two in his right hand and three in his left and placed them on the table. They began “driving” the cars all over the table but did not use the road that had been built. One girl picked up her car and walked away. She went to the loose parts shelf and brought over a basket of popsicle sticks. ” Here” she says, “this is to get the cars onto the road”. One child picked up two sticks and placed them down to create a ramp. Another child followed and did the same. They drove the cars up onto the road and then used more sticks to create ramps going off the road.
We are wondering what you would do to respond to this scenario. If you decide that the children are interested in cars (noun) where would that lead? Would the children be able after investigating cars over the long term be able to recite parts of cars, types of cars? Or would you focus on the building (verb) of the ramps or the lining up (verb) of the materials? Where would that lead? We are calling to you, the readers of this blog to muse along with us as we wonder about emergent curriculum and where all the projects have gone? Are long-term projects now referred to as inquiries? Please share by commenting below.