On Saturday the 21st of May, Wendy, Taryn, Claire any I were fortunate enough to attend ‘An Encounter with Tiziana Filipini’ in Sydney, a conference organised by the Reggio Emilia Australia Information Exchange (REAIE). Titziana is a Pedagogista and former Director of the Documentation and Research Centre in Re...

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On Saturday the 21st of May, Wendy, Taryn, Claire any I were fortunate enough to attend ‘An Encounter with Tiziana Filipini’ in Sydney, a conference organised by the Reggio Emilia Australia Information Exchange (REAIE). Titziana is a Pedagogista and former Director of the Documentation and Research Centre in Reggio Emilia, Italy.

The Reggio Approach is an educational philosophy which originated in the town (and surrounding areas) of Reggio Emilia after World War II. It was born at a time when educator, Loris Malaguzzi, and parents believed that children were in need of a new way of learning. It is not a method which can be replicated as the Reggio Approach is unique to the context of Reggio Emilia, however, this approach has been inspiring educators all over the world to consider the principles of teaching and learning which are advocated by their philosophy. In the Reggio Approach the image of the child is that of a strong, capable protagonist in his or her own learning. The philosophy promotes a strong commitment to continual research into teaching and learning and educational environments are… “spaces where young children are offered daily opportunities to encounter many types of materials, many expressive languages, many points of view, working actively with hands, minds, and emotions, in a context that values the expressiveness and creativity of each child in the group.”

Key Ideas

The presentation was engaging, heart-felt, thought-provoking and incredibly inspiring. I wanted to share some key insights from the day in the way that they were shared with us by Tiziana.

Education is not technical or methodical

The Reggio Approach is not a method. It is a way of thinking. It is an approach that asks educators to consider the relationship between theory and practice. Educators need to talk to each other: (as Deborah explained at the recent Big Ideas Day, we need to rigorously defend our practices). This is what the educators in Reggio do. In their schools there is a ‘continual dialogue between theory and practice’ and this dialogue includes educators, parents and children. The three must come to an agreement.

Values

Do our practices follow our values? Many schools (especially primary schools) have a ‘top-down’, governing approach to education. In this methodology the teacher ‘knows’ and the students are empty boxes needing to be ‘filled’ with knowledge. The Reggio approach is a ‘bottom–to-top’, values approach to education, beginning with the children. It is so important that our schools have clear values and that every educator knows what they are, because these values should underpin everything that we do with children.

Children are learning from birth

There is a common belief in our society that in our profession we prepare children for learning. We prepare them for school where they will begin their education. This is ridiculous! By the time children go to school they have already been learning for 5 years. There is a belief that school is where life begins. Children don’t know how to ‘get prepared’ for living. They are already living.

100 languages

Children are born with 100 languages which are used to express and communicate. This metaphor welcomes differences. Different ways of learning and understanding. Schools should have a wide range of possibilities which allow children to ‘interact’ and ‘think’ with us. We cannot narrow the child because we are narrow. If we empower the child we will empower the teacher, and we will empower the school. This cannot be done alone! Educators need to collaborate, to share ideas and understandings. Through communication we will learn to speak 100 languages. If we find meaning in what we are doing, the children will feel it.

Image of the child

Is our image of the child that of a ‘human being’? A human being who is a citizen of our society, a person who is ‘complete’ at each stage of his life? We sometimes feel the need to push children to ‘learn’ something, or ‘be’ something, to move them on to the ‘next stage’. But we must remember that children are complete at every stage. They are complete as the person they are at that time of their life. Do we credit this child, this human being with constructive and interpretive potentials? Do we consider that a child is not only the recipient of care, but also the producer of relationships, a person engaged in seeking the sense of her actions?

The child as Protagonist

Children have the right to be recognised as:

  1. Unique
  2. Complete
  3. Protagonists

If children are protagonists in their own learning and teachers have a responsibility to teach, where can the two meet?

Laboratories for democratic life

Reggio schools are laboratories for democratic life. They are places to develop rules for how to discuss, argue and compare ideas. They are places where children are not raised as individuals, but as individuals who form a group:  a community of learners. In every occasion we should be thinking about how we can connect children to each other: to create this community. Point out the importance of working together. Find ways that children are connected. This may be as simple as how they get to school in the morning.

 

Documentation

  • Documentation should support the ongoing relationship between children and educators.
  • Documentation is used to share with colleagues and decide where to go next with children’s learning. By communicating with colleagues we find different ‘lenses’ to look at what the children are doing. The more we brainstorm the more flexible we can be, because we will have more lenses through which to view what the children are doing. We will also have more lenses to decide on where the children could go next.
  • Once we decide on the key ideas we would like children to explore (i.e. empathy, ecological ways of thinking, respect for change/differences etc.) we will look at what the children do next through those lenses. We need to document learning with these milestones (empathy, respect etc.) in mind. We will see many things but we need to look for the things that are connected to what we are hoping to see.
  • If children show an interest in something but come to a point where they can no longer continue then this is an opportunity for educators to consider how to bring children back to that interest. When we document children’s interests and collaborate with educators we can offer children a new lens to re-motivate them to keep going, because once they understand a new meaning they will begin working with lots of detail.
  • Educators need to share ideas, thoughts, visit different schools etc. to see how other educators are doing it, because children are quick! We need to be on the ball and prepared with a number of ‘lenses’ to view their learning.

What stood out for us?

“Documentation is a vehicle for extending and sustaining children’s and adults’ learning. This experience showed how documentation is an integral part of educational theory and practice and as an ongoing vehicle for professional development. This has opened up our eyes into the world of documentation and how we should look at what the children are doing and why.”

-Taryn and Wendy

“The conference reminded me to take things slowly and allow children to guide where the ongoing project will lead. Not just to jump from zero to a hundred in a week. This will allow for a deeper, richer learning experience and increased engagement as well. Also, it is so important that educators collaborate to gain more diverse perspectives about where projects could lead.”

-Claire

“If the values of the school support the importance of creating a community of connected learners then we will always have a lens through which to document learning. When educators collaborate we will find new ways of seeing things. Being an educator is all about making decisions, collectively. Our colleagues are the most valuable resources that we have.”  

-Rebecca

 

Rebecca Morgan, Treehouse in the Park Early Education Centre

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Last week I was fortunate enough to attend the National Reconciliation Symposium in Sydney. The Symposium was a two-day event with a range of inspirational speakers including representatives from the Australian Human Rights Commission, Kids Matter and representatives with Early Childhood Educational backgrounds. Bu...

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Last week I was fortunate enough to attend the National Reconciliation Symposium in Sydney. The Symposium was a two-day event with a range of inspirational speakers including representatives from the Australian Human Rights Commission, Kids Matter and representatives with Early Childhood Educational backgrounds. Building and nurturing strong relationships between Early Childhood Education and Care services and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities was a central focus of the event. There were a number of key messages discussed, which apply to every educator working with young children, which included:

  • Fairness is about everyone getting what they need, not everyone getting the same thing.
  • In learning more and changing our practice, there are times when we will feel uncomfortable. That is ok, as this is when we really reflect, learn and make change.
  • We need to look at ways to teach through culture, not about culture.
  • We need to look at ways to support campaigns such as It Stops With Me and Recognise.
  • Do not expect all Indigenous people to think the same and want the same things. Develop relationships with your families and your communities to learn and understand more about their expectations.
  • We have a personal responsibility to learn more about the history of Australia and its people.

The Symposium encouraged all participants to commit to reconciliation and to identify realistic follow-up actions. It is hoped that these first actions will lead to ongoing reflection and questioning of our practices and to improved connections and relationships within our communities.

For more information, copies of the conference papers can be accessed here.

As part our commitment to reconciliation, the educators at Harrison have formed a RAP (Reconciliation Action Plan) Committee and will be working together to build strong and lasting relationships with the community. I have begun to build relationships with two services that are located in Alice Springs and the educators. We’re now emailing each other and we will hopefully begin Skype sessions with the preschool rooms.

 

Wendy Mackay, Centre Director of Harrison Early Childhood Centre

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Sustainability is an issue of global importance and at Treehouse we are working hard to help children realise the significance of caring for and protecting our environment. Educating ourselves, as teachers, has been a fundamental step in this process and I strongly believe that every educator has taken on this challenge. Together with the children we are learning so much about this important issue.

Northside_Session2_July 27, 2015_71Sustainability is an issue of global importance and at Treehouse we are working hard to help children realise the significance of caring for and protecting our environment. Educating ourselves, as teachers, has been a fundamental step in this process and I strongly believe that every educator has taken on this challenge. Together with the children we are learning so much about this important issue.

The National Quality Framework asks that each service take ‘an active role in caring for its environment and contributes to a sustainable future’ (NQS Standard 3.3). The organic garden at Treehouse is just one aspect of our plan to embed sustainable practices within the service and it is an important one.

In the Spring I remember how exciting it was to plant the sunflower and bean seeds in the garden beds with the Preschoolers and Toddlers. Every child was given several seeds and we discussed how far apart and how deep to plant them and what we would need to help them to grow. Watching little fingers push seeds beneath the soil and gently cover them over with dirt made me feel as though I have the best job in the world. Within a week we could see tiny shoots coming through the soil. A couple of months later there was no denying our tiny seeds were growing. Mary suggested we find some stakes in the garden shed to support the beans as they grew. All of the children were happy to help with this project as well as the general watering, weeding and fertilizing of our gardens.

As the months passed by we watched as our small garden beds began to resemble mini-forests. Our herbs had run wild, the blueberry bush had disappeared under the tight arms of the bean stalks, green tomatoes lined the Treehouse fence (longing for some warm summer nights to turn them red), zucchinis lay hidden beneath prickly leaves and giant sunflowers smiled down over our grand accomplishments, greeting families to the centre after the Christmas break.

Since the New Year we have enjoyed harvesting our fresh produce and using it in the kitchen for afternoon tea (although often the beans didn’t make it inside as suddenly everyone’s favourite morning snack was a bean or two, fresh from the stalk.) Over this growing period I have loved talking to the children about how and why our plants are growing, often reminding them that they were once tiny seeds, which we planted one Tuesday morning back in the Spring. Through these experiences children are learning to care for and appreciate the natural environment and observe the interconnectedness of living things (EYLF Outcome 2: Children are connected with and contribute to their world). I am sure I am not the only educator who has been surprised at the care the children are taking in the garden. They have learnt not to pick things before they are ready (most of the time!) and are determining the difference between weeds and vegetables by asking a teacher first. Even the flowers, tucked in amongst the vegetation, have survived the many months we have been learning in the garden. Children run their hands over and smell the flowers but it has been a long time since I have seen them be picked, which really is testament to the children and the respect they are showing for our garden.

But such is life that nothing lasts forever. When I walked into Treehouse a few weeks back I decided that the bent-over, wilting sunflowers, which had long since lost their yellow petals, had to go. It seemed like a gigantic job, but luckily I had lots of gardeners to help me.

We set to work cutting back the mint, pulling down the yellow bean stalks (enjoying the last few beans, of course) and cutting off the heads of the sunflowers (to leave for the birds to enjoy). The sunflowers, however, were not so easy to remove. Standing in the garden bed I pulled with all my might but they just would not budge.

I tried a few more times to no avail before calling in my reinforcements: 10 or so Preschoolers and a few toddlers. We all grabbed a hold of the bent-over sunflower and on the count of three pulled with all our strength. Even I was surprised when the gigantic sunflower finally began to move, reluctant to leave its comfy home but unable to resist the forces of the determined children! With a final pull the enormous roots of the sunflower emerged from the soil and (after picking ourselves up off the ground) we cheered and admired our hard work before moving on to the other sunflowers. Looking at the incredible root structure of this flower was another moment to remind the children of what had become of our tiny sunflower seeds, which we had spent many months caring for and helping to grow.

We are so excited for the new garden beds to arrive and the opportunities for learning that we will have in the new garden. Over the past few months recycling and compost bins have been implemented in each of the rooms which enables learning about sustainability to be embedded in our daily meal-time routines. These bins have been recently improved to reinforce the importance of what materials are going into them. Our ‘worm’ compost only takes fresh fruit and vegetables (with the exception of citrus fruits, which most children will tell you the worms don’t like!). This compost will be used for our organic garden as well as for our worm farm which the children have been learning to care for. We also have introduced a chicken bin which can take sandwich crusts and other food scraps such as rice and pasta (although we monitor how much is actually given to the chickens).

If you have any ideas for sustainable practices and activities we can introduce to the children we would love to hear your input! The Curious Garden by Peter Brown is a great children’s story about gardening which you might like to watch online https://vimeo.com/53757320.

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It was disappointing for us here at Northside when we read the media reports last week that claimed that half of educators working in ACT early childhood education and care (ECEC) services did not have a qualification. We wanted to tell a different story, from our own team of professional and committed educators, across all 4 of our Early Childhood Centres.

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It was disappointing for us here at Northside when we read the media reports last week that claimed that half of educators working in ACT early childhood education and care (ECEC) services did not have a qualification.

This paints the ACT’s work in ECEC in a bad light – but we know that the sector is working hard to meet the important quality requirements of the National Quality Framework. As we stated in a media release, the data quoted actually comes from 2013 and isn’t reflective of the ACT today.

We wanted to tell a different story, from our own team of professional and committed educators, across all 4 of our Early Childhood Centres.

 

In the Northside Children’s Services team:

  • Every single educator holds or is working towards a qualification
  • Of the 68 educators currently working directly with young children in our Centres, 7 are currently studying to obtain their Certificate III in Children’s Services – which means 61 (or 90%) of our educators are already formally qualified.

Here’s something we’re also really proud of:

  • 12 of our Children’s Services Team hold or are studying towards obtaining a Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Teaching or Education. That’s 17% of our team.

 

We’re really excited about this, as prior to 2012 in the ACT there was no requirement at all for tertiary-qualified teachers to work in ECEC services. It’s a big commitment to be studying a tertiary degree while working, so we wanted to make sure that their dedication to their important work with children and their families was acknowledged.

Research is clear that children achieve the best outcomes when they work alongside highly-qualified and trained educators and teachers. At Northside, and across the ACT sector, we’ve never had more qualified people working with children.

 

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