Interview at global mama

Published by Lori Pickert on April 3, 2009 at 08:54 PM

Laura interviewed me about Reggio-inspired education over at her blog, Global Mama, as part of her series exploring different methods of early childhood education. Thank you, Laura!


Published by Lori Pickert on November 20, 2008 at 05:54 PM

The Respected Educator who looked at our classroom teeming with three- to five-years-olds on fire with enthusiasm for learning and said, “Not this way.”

The teachers who visited our school and stood in the center of a classroom filled with children working, talking, building, reading, playing, and said, “This won’t work.”

The visitor who shook her head over a group of children actively engaging in reading, writing, constructing, play-acting, negotiating, communicating about space and said, “This topic is too complex for preschool children.”

How often do we throw away what works just because it doesn’t fit with our narrow prejudices about the way things are supposed to be?

Surprised and enthusiastic

Published by Lori Pickert on November 5, 2008 at 01:44 PM

When the adult can no longer be surprised and enthusiastic about what children do, then the role of the teacher is over for that person.

The problem, then, is to become aware of what is happening right under our eyes. — Loris Malaguzzi

A sample provocation

Published by Lori Pickert on November 2, 2008 at 04:15 PM


Inspired by Reggio-style provocations, Jan did a beautiful open-ended art class with her students in which they explored the materials without direction, moved from idea to idea to idea (painting paper, to painting leaves, to printing…), shared and extended each other’s ideas, and even excited their classroom teacher with their interest and engagement!

Check out Jan’s wonderful Reggio Emilia Lesson.

The work/fun conundrum

Published by Lori Pickert on October 30, 2008 at 03:14 PM

You’ve been observing your child and documenting his play, his interests, his conversations. You think you’ve hit on a strong interest that might be the starting point to some rich investigation and project work.

Let’s say, polar bears.

Direct advance: “Bart, I notice that you are interested in polar bears. Would you like to study polar bears? Would you like to research polar bears? Do you want to get some books about polar bears when we go to the library tomorrow?”

Bart’s wary retreat: “No thanks.”

That didn’t sound like fun; it sounded like work. There are certainly children who exist who, at the age of five, already have a deep fondness for folders and perk up at the word “research”. But most children hear research and think cheese-covered broccoli. They are, from years of experience, suspicious — and rightfully so.

Here is where the work/fun conundrum comes in.

We think fun and work have to be two different things. If they weren’t two different things, why would we need two different words to describe them?

Imagine a Venn diagram where one circle denotes Fun and the other Work. The cross-over section in the middle is the magical area where Work is Fun. When you are deeply engaged, experiencing the Flow, working at your challenge level, and firing on all cylinders, you are in this magical zone.

But a lot of us think Work isn’t Work if it’s also Fun. We frown and point to the Work-only area of the diagram and say, yeah, but that’s real Work. We all need to experience Real Work. Grow up, kids, and eat your vegetables.

There are people who take the Jessica Seinfeld approach and try to hide the vegetables inside the mac & cheese. This aggravates me — both in the vegetable sense and the Work sense — because the message is, yeah, vegetables are terrible, and so is Work. So fool the kid into thinking they’re having fun, but they’re really ingesting pureed Work. Broccoli. Whatever.

When the truth is — vegetables are delicious! Not all vegetables, maybe — at least, you are probably not going to be a fan of every single vegetable. And not prepared in every fashion; boiled spinach is not my cup of tea. But as Hal would say, that’s human error. It’s not the vegetable’s fault.

Working on a long-term project, doing deep and varied investigation of a topic that genuinely interests you, is Fun. But it’s also Work. And therein lies the rub, or the conundrum — we can either change the term or change the mind. You can either deny that Fun Work is Work, or you can realize that Work can be Fun.

I intended to write something today about using provocations to jump-start project work, but as usual, my introduction took over and became as long as a post, so I’m going to let it stand and I’ll write tomorrow about provoking investigation.

In the meantime, ponder this: Is there a more worthy goal of education than introducing children to the pure enjoyment of doing meaningful work?

Curriculum of curiosity

Published by Lori Pickert on October 29, 2008 at 02:04 PM

Often, in educational research and theory, you find the same ideas expressed with different words, by different people, at different times.

You read about an “exciting new innovation” that, if you have been around for awhile, you realize you’ve heard before. Books are written that apply new jargon to old ideas. You explore an educator’s interesting ideas further and find out someone else was doing the same work twenty years before, in a different country.

After awhile, you begin to realize that ideas that resonate around something truthful will rise and rise again, until they are recognized by many people in many places.

After reading about education for more than a decade, I find that I am drawn again and again to the same core ideas, no matter who is talking about them — authentic art, children orchestrating their own learning, thoughtful and purposeful adults working with children, long-term projects.

Reggio educators talk about “provocations” — deliberate and thoughtful actions taken by adults to provoke or extend children’s thinking.

Unschoolers talk about “strewing” the environment.

Early childhood educators talk about “invitations.”

This shared concept recognizes that children (like all people) would rather make their own discoveries than be told what to do.

One very successful experiment we made with a group of three- and four-year-olds: We set a lovely bouquet of spring daffodils in the art studio in a beautiful vase, on a small pine table. Next to the table was an easel, a very familiar site in the studio, which had several easels. Instead of being set up with the normal selection of paints, however, there were many glass jars filled with an abundance of different shades of yellow and green. Not just one yellow, but six different subtle shades of yellow. Not just one green, but an amazing selection of greens, from light citrusy green-yellow to dark glossy green.

The juxtaposition of these things was a provocation. No one pointed them out to the children, saying “Look at this! Look at the colors!” No one asked, “Would you like to paint the daffodils?” They were simply in the studio, waiting to be discovered. The children found them, were delighted, and created beautiful paintings. They had new ideas about mixing colors; in fact, their ideas were taken to a whole new level from red + blue = purple. They understood the possibilities, and they immediately incorporated them into their thinking and began hatching new ideas of their own.

They didn’t all paint the flowers. Some of them talked about the colors. Some of them touched the flowers. But they all were excited by the offering. They painted all different kinds of pictures, and no adult came over and said, “No, no, no — don’t you want to paint the pretty flowers?” That wasn’t the point. The point was to offer something beautiful and inticing and then let the children do whatever they liked with it.

We talked about how we wanted students to interact with our classroom. We didn’t want them to come in and know every day that the block area contained this and the art studio had that. We wanted them to come in every day and not know what they might find. This, we felt, would encourage them to see their classroom as a dynamic, ever-evolving environment where anything could happen. In turn, we felt being on their toes all the time would help encourage habits of curiosity and interest.

Rather than put every material out on the first day of school, we added things throughout the year. Rather than announcing any new addition as a special treat and drawing attention to it (which creates the additional problem of 15 children wanting to use it at once), we simply added things and let them be discovered. Then the children told each other and showed each other.

When you prepare an environment in this way, you’re sending a strong message that you care about what happens in the room. You care about giving the children beautiful things to work with, and you care about the work they do with them.

At home, I still value this curriculum of curiosity. I think about how much my actions — careless or thoughtful, accidental or purposeful — affect my children’s attitudes and habits. I think about what a different reaction you elicit when you say “Look at this thing for you to do; here, this is how you do it” rather than simply creating an environment of possibility.

The difference between having an art studio and having art materials in a drawer is that the first acts as a constant provocation — the easel always beckons, the art materials call to you from their sunny shelf. Using that as inspiration, I try to make sure the rest of our home is filled with things that beckon — books, sketchbooks, journals, music, cozy nooks, science tools, field guides, binoculars. And always, always, most important — room to work. A clean table, an empty place on the floor. Not only exciting new things to find and use, but a place to use them.

Back to the daffodils ... I wonder what would have happened if we had put out the same flowers, the same paints, and then told the children that everyone would take turns painting the flowers. No wonder, no excitement of discovery, no figuring out what was there. No deciding what to do with your find, no thrill of showing another child. Instead, a defined task and 14 other people doing it, too. What habits and attitudes does that teach?

Image-makers and knowledge-builders

Published by Lori Pickert on October 28, 2008 at 09:20 PM

“The key to developing confidence in working with children begins with watching. Take time to watch. Observe children’s absorbed attention, their total concentration, their sheer delight as they play with colours and shapes. Watch their gestures and facial expressions. Listen to their words. Appreciate what they do.

Most importantly, give children time — time to look and ponder, time to explore materials, time to repeat things over and over again. And offer materials and tools of the best quality you can afford, materials that let children shape their own ideas and enable them to realise their potential as image-makers and knowedge-builders.”

— Ursula Kolbe, Rapunzel's Supermarket: All about Young Children and Their Art

Different is good

Published by Lori Pickert on October 23, 2008 at 01:10 PM

The hundred languages are the many different ways children can learn and communicate:

• talking/telling stories

• dramatic play, theatre

• sketching, drawing

• painting

• sculpting

• constructing models

• writing/dictating books

• and so on.

Not only do children use the hundred languages for learning, but they also use them to express what they know to others.

Why is it important to give our children many different languages (forms of expression)?

Each new language deepens their knowledge.  Each new language engages their brain with the material in a new way.

Multiple ways of showing what they have learned respects each child’s individual strengths. In a group of children working together, each child gets to showcase his or her strengths, while learning from others in areas where they are not so strong.

(Being able to ask for and accept help, being able to learn from others — these are skills everyone should master, and they are as important as being able to help others and teach them what we know.)

A child who is allowed to take in information and express herself in a large variety of ways is connecting with her work — and life itself — in a much more interesting, diverse way.

Those hundred languages that we have learned to recognize as a richness, but that our “civilization” takes away from children and adults alike, thus impoverishing all of us.

— Sandra Piccinni, Commissioner of Education and Culture, Reggio Emilia

Strong, capable, resourceful

Published by Lori Pickert on October 20, 2008 at 01:52 PM

How does our image of the child affect how we work with children?

Do we believe children are strong, resourceful, and capable of constructing their own learning?

What do strong, resourceful children need from a teacher?

How do we help children understand that they own the learning process? that these skills and tools are for them, for pursuing their passions?

Is it important, or necessary, for children to practice using learning skills and tools for their own purposes?

Does the way our children learn convince them that they are strong, resourceful, and capable of constructing their own learning?

Image of the child

Published by Lori Pickert on October 19, 2008 at 12:33 PM


Our image of the child is rich in potential, strong, powerful, competent, and most of all connected to adults and other children. — Loris Malaguzzi

[At the center] is the image of a child who is competent in building knowledge and a constant seeker of meanings. — The Hundred Languages Exhibit

To speak to the world about children’s infinite wealth of potential, their ability to wonder and investigate, their ability to co-construct their knowledge through active and original relational processes; this has always been [our] primary objective... — The Hundred Languages Exhibit

When the adult can no longer be surprised and enthusiastic about what children do, then the role of the teacher is over for that person.

The problem, then, is to become aware of what is happening right under our eyes. — Loris Malaguzzi