By: Diane Kashin, Ed. D, RECE. and Rosalba Bortolotti, RECE.
It has been a hundred years since the birth of Loris Malaguzzi who inspired the Reggio Emilia Approach™. Malaguzzi, from Reggio Emilia, Italy died in 1994. He was a teacher, philosopher, poet and theorist. This year, 2020, marks what would have been Malaguzzi’s 100th birthday. We wrote this blog, early in 2020, before the year also became marked by a global pandemic. We were not sure what to do with this post. After much consideration, we felt that Malaguzzi’s words can be impactful and transformative during this difficult time. They can give us hope. We felt that it was more important than ever to honour the 100th birthday of Loris Malaguzzi.
Reggio Emilia is one of several cities in Emilia Romagna, a region in northern Italy. Shortly after World War II, at the end of the Fascist dictatorship in Italy, parents worked with Malaguzzi, to create a system of early learning programs based on a democratic philosophy that supports critical thinking and collaboration. For many years, Rosalba and I have shared a passion for this philosophy. Three times, we have travelled together to Reggio Emilia. To see the schools that have given this philosophy life has been transformational. During this difficult time of social isolation, we have these wonderful memories to revisit. At this time, I am so grateful to Rosalba for seeking me out 26 years ago. I am not sure where my journey would have taken me if she had not reached out. In her words:
When I first visited Reggio Emilia as a young teacher our group was to hear Loris speak but then we learned of his sudden death. I was sad and disheartened but motivated to learn more about this man from Reggio. I became more entrenched in the philosophy and his profound way of sharing his thoughts on the image of the child, and relationships with educators, families, children. When I returned, I needed someone to dialogue with and was introduced to Diane. This way of learning and being has become who I am as an educator, presenter, mentor, and as a person. It is a way of being, a way of thinking, a way of day to day living, set with intentions. It is a way of looking at ourselves as learners and people who are researchers. I think what has really resonated with me over time is this idea that learning and development is not linear, rather we look at learning in a pedagogical way, through reflective thinking and continuous questioning. I felt truly honoured to do this presentation alongside Diane. Our relationship for all these years has been respectful and reciprocal on a professional and personal level. Our relationship allows me to be more expressive and speak from the heart. I continue to think about Malaguzzi’s words and the Reggio Emilia Approach™. I think about his view on human nature which he did not develop on his own but with others from around the world. I think about the languages that Malaguzzi makes reference to so many times. A language is not enough, it’s the passion and the many languages coming together in unity that is important. It is the many values and cultures we bring to the table. It is about having open and deep conversations. We need to dig into Malaguzzi’s philosophy and to turn to our own society and see our own uniqueness and beauty. Malaguzzi said, “If you wish to do like us then do not copy us. You live in a different country with a different culture.”
We want others who aspire to be inspired by the approach to consider the principles of the philosophy. Sadly, we continue to see what seems like a surface understanding as reflected in photos, shared on social media and labeled as “Reggio-inspired”. While these do share the commonality of aesthetic appeal, it is uncertain whether those who share these photos have a deeper understanding of the philosophy. The central notion of the philosophy of the Reggio Emilia Approach™ resides in the concept of images depicted in a set of principles. These principles are used to guide practice and are evident in the environment, in the documentation posted throughout as well as the organized spaces that value aesthetics. These principles are evident in the hearts and minds of those who continually reflect upon them in deep and meaningful ways.
Programs and individuals who reside outside of Reggio Emilia and have values that align with the philosophy may describe themselves as Reggio-inspired. We feel more comfortable with describing ourselves as in dialogue with the Reggio Emilia Approach™. This represents our journey of continuous learning. We were very honoured to have been asked to facilitate a celebration of the life and thinking of Loris Malaguzzi. We did not want to just offer information about Malaguzzi and the Reggio Emilia Approach™. We wanted to create a space for dialogic learning in celebration of 100 years of Malaguzzi in 100 languages. Malaguzzi wrote ‘The One Hundred Languages of Children’ poem in recognition of the multitude of ways in which children can express themselves. Children possess a hundred languages, a hundred ways of thinking, of expressing themselves, of understanding and encountering others, with a way of thinking that creates connections between the various dimensions of experience rather than separating them (Rinaldi, 2013). Follow this link for the full version of the poem.
The child is made of one hundred. The child has a hundred languages a hundred hands a hundred thoughts a hundred ways of thinking of playing, of speaking. A hundred. Always a hundred ~ Loris Malaguzzi
On February 19th, in collaboration with the Affiliated Services for Children and Youth (ASCY) we used Malaguzzi quotes to invite the attendees to represent Malaguzzi’s words in many languages of expression. There were many different Malaguzzi quotes to choose from, demonstrating the power of his words. Below are the quotes we chose to provide in our session and photos of the representations created by the attendees.
Teachers must leave behind an isolated, silent mode of working, which leaves no traces. Instead they must discover ways to communicate and document the children’s evolving experiences at school. They must prepare a steady flow of quality information targeted to parents but appreciated by children and teachers ~ Loris Malaguzzi
The environment should act as an aquarium which reflects the ideas, ethics, attitudes and culture of the people who live in it. This is what we are working towards ~ Loris Malaguzzi
Ideas fly, bounce around, accumulate, rise up, fall apart, and spread, until one of them takes the decisive hold, flies higher and conquers the entire group ~ Loris Malaguzzi
Children need the freedom to appreciate the infinite resources of their hands, their eyes, and their ears, the resources of forms, materials, sounds, and colors ~ Loris Malaguzzi
Learning and teaching should not stand on opposite banks and just watch the river flow by; instead, they should embark together on a journey down the water. Through an active, reciprocal exchange, teaching can strengthen learning how to learn ~ Loris Malaguzzi
Our task, regarding creativity, is to help children climb their own mountains, as high as possible. No one can do more ~ Loris Malaguzzi
All this is a great forest. Inside the forest is the child. The forest is beautiful, fascinating, green, and full of hopes; there are no paths. Although it isn’t easy, we have to make our own paths, as teachers and children and families, in the forest ~ Loris Malaguzzi
To end the session, we invited each table of participants to offer a pledge that would represent how they will carry on the legacy of Malaguzzi. We were gratified to hear them speak Malaguzzi’s words and in one case, we were also quoted! Before the pledge, we had invited the participants to help us tidy up but instead of saying the usual refrain, we asked that they “reset the materials so that they can live to play another day”! Here are the pledges:
We pledge to …
Support children’s exploration of their 100 worlds! Through thoughts, materials, nature and play!
Live like a child with joy!
Be active listeners to have freedom of ideas. To be more joyful!
To mentor educators as they advocate for children to ensure the 100 languages are heard.
Continue to thrive as researchers alongside the children.
Become researchers of the greatest researchers on earth—our children.
Approach our work with joy and “reset the materials so they could live to play another day.”
We continue to be inspired by these words and as we journey together, bringing Reggio home in our hearts and in our beings. This is what grounds our friendship. We argue, talk over each other, laugh and cry together. We have long and wonderful deep conversations. We connect in heart and mind. Most importantly, we embrace the Reggio Emilia Approach™ in a way that permeates who we are in our own contexts. We support each other as critical friends journeying together in dialogue. It is within this spirit that we invite you, the readers of this blog to share your thoughts about what it means for you to be in dialogue with the Reggio Emilia Approach™.