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Posted on Dec 10, 2010

Gillispie Teacher Studies Reggio Emilia Approach First-Hand

December 9, 2010

This past October I had the unique privilege of traveling to Reggio Emilia, Italy, to study what’s known nationally as the Reggio-inspired early childhood philosophy. I studied with women and men from twenty-nine different countries—all eager to gain more insight into the way Reggio Emilia Municipal Infant/Toddler Centers and Preschools educate their children. This remarkable research opportunity was made possible through the Gillispie Endowment for Excellence in Teaching. During my time in Reggio, I had the opportunity to visit infant/toddler centers and preschool centers, as well as to hear from teachers, pedagogistas (curriculum directors), atelieristas (loosely translated as art teachers), cooks, and sight directors. They all spoke about their history and how their education system supports and encourages projects and ideas initiated by the children. The preschool classrooms that I visited were buzzing with children exploring natural materials, investigating space, color, and light, while teachers worked with small groups on projects that had been previously initiated. It was also clear that children of all ages maintained and supported their community of friends, teachers, cooks, and cleaners by serving meals, assisting peers with difficulties, and truly caring for their materials and space. I came back from the trip with loads of inspiration. One element in particular was the emphasis on community. In Reggio Emilia, children are citizens of their community from the moment they are born. You can see this close relationship through photographic images of the children studying their town, their clay creations of important buildings, and even their architectural drawings of the places they inhabit. The question I bring back is: What does the culture of La Jolla mean to our young children and what does the culture of our children mean to La Jolla? Another valuable concept that is considered essential to education in Reggio Emilia is the study of nature.  We here at Gillispie have begun to embrace children’s connection to nature and I personally want to take it to the next level with the youngest members of the Gillispie community. In this day and age, it is easy to get swept up in technological devices and manufactured toys and forget how satisfying digging in the dirt, climbing a tree, and looking at bugs can be. Here in La Jolla we have beautiful landscapes that we can examine. Sea kelp, seashells, rocks, palm fronds, succulents, and other everyday nature are at our fingertips to explore. Where do these materials come from, what is their purpose, and what can we create with them are only a few essential questions we can and should ask our children. If you are intrigued and want more information on the inherent value of exposing and, at times, immersing our children in the exploration of nature, I recommend the national bestseller Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. In the book, Howard Gardner talks about the addition of the “Eighth Intelligence,” known as naturalist intelligence, to his influential theory of multiple intelligences. My trip to Italy will be a treasure that I will always thank Gillipsie for allowing for me to experience. It as made me a better teacher and I look forward to continuing to grow with the children here at Gillispie! Julie Brackbill Lead Teacher, Preschool Room 1 (Toddler)
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