Leave room for learning

Published by Lori Pickert on October 11, 2008 at 01:04 PM

[W]e have to discuss more fully the role that children assume in the construction of self and knowledge, and the help they get in these matters from adults. It is obvious that between learning and teaching, we honor the first. It is not that we ostracize teaching, but that we declare, “Stand aside for awhile and leave room for learning, observe carefully what children do, and then, if you have understood well, perhaps teaching will be different from before.” — Loris Malaguzzi, The Hundred Languages of Children

A hundred languages

Published by Lori Pickert on October 10, 2008 at 05:13 PM

No way. The hundred is there.*

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
ways of listening
of marveling of loving
a hundred joys
for singing and understanding
a hundred worlds
to discover
a hundred worlds
to invent
a hundred worlds
to dream.
The child has
a hundred languages
(and a hundred hundred hundred more)
but they steal ninety-nine.
The school and the culture
separate the head from the body.
They tell the child:
to think without hands
to do without head
to listen and not to speak
to understand without joy
to love and to marvel
only at Easter and Christmas.
They tell the child:
to discover the world already there
and of the hundred
they steal ninety-nine.
They tell the child:
that work and play
reality and fantasy
science and imagination
sky and earth
reason and dream
are things
that do not belong together.

And thus they tell the child
that the hundred is not there.
The child says:
No way. The hundred is there.

— Loris Malaguzzi

*Translated from the Italian by Lella Gandini

the hundred languages exhibit

Reinvent the wheel

Published by Lori Pickert on October 3, 2008 at 03:27 PM

When we grown-ups set out to do something, we always want to stand on the shoulders of those who went before. We don’t want to waste time reinventing the wheel.

With project work, however, we do want to reinvent the wheel.

We want to start at square one and not a bit past it.

It’s easy to inadvertently squelch a child’s budding interest by simply answering a question.

A question is a beginning. If a child says, “How?” or “Why?” and we give them the answer, that is the end.

No, you can’t give every question a coronation. Children ask a lot of questions.

But a question, given the chance, will turn into two more questions. And so on, and so on, fed by interest, until a whole world opens.

Imagine the whole of knowledge in the form of a globe. You touch anywhere on the globe, and it connects to everything else, eventually.

Six magic words: “I don’t know. Let’s find out.” Whether you know the answer or not. Those magic words are the equivalent of swinging open a door for your child and letting him, or her, step through. Then you follow.

No, you can’t open that door to every single question an intelligent, inquistive child will ask. But you can open one.

Once children are helped to perceive themselves as authors or inventors, once they are helped to discover the pleasure of inquiry, their motivation and interest explode. — Loris Malaguzzi

Reggio and kinesthetic learners

Published by Lori Pickert on May 6, 2008 at 01:30 PM

I got a great question in the comments to my interview at The Artful Parent, and I wanted to share it and my answer here.

Hi Lori,

What a wonderful interview! Thank you for the information. I have been doing some research on Reggio, homeschooling and other philosophies. I currently am a special education teacher in the public school system. For the most part I love my job; however, there are MANY things I don’t agree with. I have a almost 3 year old and 8 month old. I am reseraching my alternatives for them when it comes to education and I have a question for you. Everything I am reading seems to be art based, what if a child isn’t much into art? My daughter for example will paint, color, playdough, etc.f or about 10 minutes tops, but when it comes to running outside, dribbling a ball, or playing on a playground I can’t get her in! I guess I am wondering how she would fit into such models? Thank Eileen

Hi, Eileen - and thank you! While many people focus on the visual arts aspect of the Reggio approach, the Hundred Languages actually embrace kinesthetic learners - children do learn in different ways and can engage with a subject and express their knowledge by building, dancing, performing skits, dramatic play, and in many other active ways.

And while the visual arts (e.g., drawing, painting, collage) are important, an active child might be more engaged with building models, sculpting clay, creating large-scale dramatic play structures (e.g., child-size vehicles, buildings, rooms), etc.

The idea isn't to try to funnel a child toward visual arts, but rather give them a whole smorgasbord of choices - books about buildings and bridges and other structures *with* a fantastic array of blocks and other building materials, a great dress-up trunk *with* a stage to dance and perform on, an art studio with a quiet nook to draw in *and* an array of exciting things to build and scupt with. And when a child shows a particular interest, paying attention and providing them with what they need to take the work further.

If you are interested in the Reggio approach specifically, if you delve a little deeper you will find wonderful garden- and park-centered projects to read about.

Since you already know your child has a strong desire to be outside, you can meet her halfway and provide her with tools for learning outdoors - magnifying glass, binoculars, bug box, field guides, sandbox, outdoor building materials (rocks, shells, pinecones, etc.), a work area outdoors (perhaps a small table), scarves for running and dancing, a garden... We set up easels outdoors with pencils, oil pastels, and paint so that children can paint and play and draw and play - and there are so many exciting things to learn about outside!

You can read the whole interview and all of the comments here.

In the studio: Rationing art supplies, part 2

Published by Lori Pickert on November 15, 2007 at 12:47 PM


I want my children to have high-quality art materials. It shows my respect for their work and, in turn, they treat it more seriously.

That said, if they create 15 paintings in a row, that is a lot of watercolor paper. Can I afford this?

(Multiple by 20 for the classroom version!)

508822-1153635-thumbnail.jpgIn order for children to work with the best materials, they must learn to work with them as a real artist does. They must learn that before we do an important work, we sketch. We think about what we want to make. We plan. Then we get out the nice materials, when we are ready to do the important work.

It's okay to make mistakes and need more paper, more paint. But when we are exploring and sketching and thinking (with our brains and with our paintbrush), we want to use "regular" paper.

It's also okay to explore with nice materials -- seeing what ink can do on thick paper, how watercolor paints work differently on lovely textured paper. But we name what we are doing, and we make sure that we respect the good materials and don't waste them.

Even small children can fit several sketches onto a piece of paper, then let their teacher (or parent) know that they are ready to paint. This process respects the material, the work, and the artist.


There is a idea that some adults have about children — and it is quite persistent — that children lack control. Youth = immaturity = lack of control. In reality, children can learn to negotiate complex situations and relationships at a very young age. Rather than controlling everything, and parsimoniously eking out the good paper and the best paints, we can help children recognize the value of these things. The children can then move freely in the studio (and in the world), making good choices based on real knowledge, rather than being always at some tall person's mercy, always wishing for more buttons.

In the studio: Rationing art supplies, part 1

Published by Lori Pickert on November 14, 2007 at 06:57 PM


We had a lot of visitors to the TPS* and during our post-observation talks, the same questions were raised again and again. A frequent observation by visiting educators was something to the tune of "Our students couldn't handle this."

As in, they couldn't handle the wide-open spaces, they couldn't handle the number of choices, they couldn't handle the sheer amount of art materials they were allowed to choose from.

wo-shelves.jpgAnyone who has watched a preschooler glue four thousand sequins methodically to a single piece of paper understands where they're coming from.

There is a look in the eyes of a three-year-old … eyes darting back and forth … as they see a large clear container filled with buttons. The look says: "How can I get these buttons?" The look says: "How can I get ALL of these buttons?" The look says: "How can I make sure NO ONE ELSE gets MY buttons?!"

Yet our students worked cheerfully with the big container of buttons right there in front of them and didn't freak out or anything. How did we do it?

There is a certain amount of training necessary. I remember hearing some diet advice a long time ago -- that you should keep a big supply of your favorite guilty food (e.g., miniature Snickers) in the house, so you could calm down and your brain would allow you to diet without sending you freak-out "MUST BUY SNICKERS" messages.


Similarly, you must help the children realize that there are plenty of buttons for everyone. The buttons will keep on coming. There is not a single, limited supply of buttons.

When introducing a studio environment, whether at school or at home, it helps to start with a lot of less-expensive, easy-to-procure items (pencils, paper, markers, popsicle sticks, glue). I like reams of copy paper for drawing; there are 500 sheets in a ream so it's relatively inexpensive, but nice quality. A ream of legal-size copy paper shakes things up a bit.

collaging.jpgStart tearing out sheets from magazines before you recycle them, and fill a box with these, for collaging.

Get a bin and throw your clean recyclables into it, along with a few rolls of masking tape for sculptures.

Fill a basket with things from the yard — leaves, pinecones, twigs, acorns, pebbles, shells, etc. Nature's art materials.

Now you've got a nice starter studio.

We added other materials slowly … buttons, beads, lacing, cotton balls, pipe cleaners, plastic-coated wire, etc. If our students came in on the first day of school and found a completely stocked art studio, I'm sure they would have wigged out as well. Instead, they slowly grew to know it as a place where neat new things were always appearing, where there was enough for everyone.

We never doled out buttons. "Everyone gets three buttons!" That's the type of thing that makes you feel greedy and desperate. Sometimes, you just have to let them glue and glue and glue until they get past the panic stage. But once they understand you're going to keep supplying them with the good stuff, they calm down. They're able to cast their eyes over a display of materials and choose with care the thing they really need.


Continued tomorrow...

*TPS = tiny private school

Children’s art studio

Published by Lori Pickert on October 3, 2007 at 06:52 PM


Our Reggio-inspired art studio.

Hanging from the ceiling, children's artwork in handmade plexiglass frames, forming a see-through wall of art.

The shelves are inexpensive fiberboard shelves, screwed together, and then backed with galvanized tin, the same material used in the country to roof outbuildings. Eight dollars a sheet.

Shelves displaying art materials and works in progress, handmade by us from simple boards, and mirrored with cheap dorm-room mirrors laid horizontally ($5 each).

Candy-colored lights hung from the ceiling to mitigate the sometimes harsh feel of fluorescent lighting.

In praise of high-quality art materials

Published by Lori Pickert on September 27, 2007 at 10:43 PM


For the seven years that I ran my private school, we had an art- and project-based curriculum. Soon after we opened, I discovered the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education, and learning about their methods inspired and informed the remainder of our days in the classroom.


One of the tenets of the Reggio approach is that children deserve high-quality art materials.

Why buy expensive high-quality materials for children? They just burn through whatever you give them. Can we afford to buy them expensive paper, when they can produce 25 drawings in one sitting? And that sitting only lasted 20 minutes?

Giving children high-quality materials sends a message. It’s not enough to say, “I think your work is important.” If I give my children cheap paper and paint, what can they produce? Muddy-colored paintings that dry and flake off cheap, thin paper that tears easily. My words are saying “Your work is important” but the materials are saying “Your work is not important.”


It’s true that you can’t just hand children a pile of expensive paper and a basket of high-quality markers and walk away without a backward glance. You need to convey your respect for the materials and show children how to use them properly and put them away so they’ll be good for next time.

The youngest children in our classroom — just-turned-three-year-olds — were capable of washing out their paintbrushes and palettes and putting them away. Age is no excuse for not taking care of your materials.

It’s also valuable to teach children when it’s appropriate to use “regular” paper and when an artwork deserves the better, more expensive paper. The lowest-quality paper I can accept is copy paper — not too expensive at 500 sheets for a few dollars. We use copy paper to make marker drawings, pencil drawings, mini-books, etc. We go through a lot of it. But we also have watercolor paper, large loose sheets of drawing paper, and heavy paper for painting with tempera and acrylics, charcoal, and ink. Children can learn to use regular paper for sketching, everyday drawing, and early drafts and use the best paper for their best work. Talking with them about their intentions before they work can help them decide which is appropriate. You can also encourage them to pull out the good paper after they’ve done several renditions of a drawing on regular paper.

There are many steps to introducing high-quality materials and tools to young children and teaching them how to use and care for them. For now, I’ll just say the following:

• High-quality materials convey to children that their work is important.

• High-quality materials inspire children to work more slowly and carefully.

• Children's important work deserves high-quality materials.


The wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experiences. — Loris Malaguzzi

Mirrored shelves

Published by Lori Pickert on August 25, 2007 at 08:48 PM


This week we’ll share some of our tips for making a beautiful learning space (at home or at school) without spending much money.

Our preschool classrooms, like many in America, were located in the basement of our building. Yet we still managed to have a very bright and open space, and we received a lot of compliments on its warm and welcoming feel.

One way we accomplished that goal was the right paint color — light, bright, but also warm. It was a very light yellow, and it even managed to warm up the overhead fluorescent lighting. If you can manage it, full-spectrum paint is the best (but it’s more expensive).

We bounced our available natural light around with several mirrors, making the most of our two small windows. In the picture above, you can see students choosing art materials from mirrored shelves. Mirrors not only bounce light and reflect views, but they give the illusion of extra space. Setting a mirror behind a plant gives you two plants, and so on.

These mirrored shelves were easily (and cheaply!) accomplished with inexpensive metal shelving hardware, wood planks, and five-dollar door mirrors (bought at this time of year, meant for dorm rooms) laid sideways and attached to the wall in-between the shelves.

Set out art materials in garage-sale wooden bowls and berry baskets, and you have a beautiful, affordable display.