In March, our leadership team and a few faculty members attended the North American Reggio Emilia Alliance (NAREA) winter conference: “Constructing a Culture of Shared Values for Children and Childhood: Honoring Diversity, Differences, and Democracy.” The Alliance, a member of the Reggio Children International Network, is a diverse community of advocates and educators actively promoting and defending the rights of children, families, and teachers of all cultures through a collaboration of colleagues inspired by the Reggio Emilia experience.
The Wonder of Learning Exhibit was great highlight of the conference, and it’s open to the public! Details for visiting the exhibit are on the Washington Collective website. We highly recommend it!
Below are some reflections about our experience and time with being at the conference.
Anna Koelle, Associate Director
It was exciting to listen and hear from the educators about some of their current thinking and projects. They talked about ‘participation’ as a concept—as a way of being and a way of being a part of something. Participation is activating a dialogue between the child, parents, educators, and the community. I loved learning how they approach this and make meaning of it in their schools. Asking the very simple and reflective question, “Participating in what?” has helped them to make real for everyone what it means to participate in an educational project. They also shared what it means for all participants (children, teachers, and families) to learn in a group and with the group. I appreciated listening to the process of how a project starts and takes shape, and where they go with it. I’m excited that this conference has given us new understandings and ways of being with children, families, and community.
Tara Bloomer, Associate Director
One of the many takeaways from the conference that’s in the forefront of my mind is the idea of the “voice of children.” How do we give voice to children? How do we give them opportunities to leave traces of themselves and how do we create context so they can do so? How do we, as educators, create journeys with children? One of the reoccurring threads throughout our three days together was how children construct knowledge and the importance of learning in groups and with groups. Being able to see the process of an initial interest and how it continued to evolve into a huge investigation appeared seamless for the children and teachers in Reggio Emilia. The children were constantly engaged in research, forming theories, challenging theories, etc. It makes me think of this wonderful quote from Ivana Soncini, who spoke at the conference: “When children have pleasure and satisfaction in the work they are doing, they are much more invested in the learning.” I am excited to see how this type of small group work can continue to develop in our own school and across all age groups!
Shayna Medved, Associate Director
One concept that really stuck with me from our learning experiences at the NAREA Winter Conference was the shift in perspective from thinking about people as “human beings” to thinking of all people as “human becomings.” Paola Caligari, the Director of the Preschools and Infant-Toddler Centers Istituzione of the Municipality of Reggio Emilia, explained that all people, both children and adults, are constantly evolving and constructing new knowledge about the world through our experiences. To accept this, we must first recognize that “knowledge” is something different than “facts.” “Knowledge” is a subjective construction, one that includes our individual contexts and the interpretations that each person uniquely brings to an experience.
Can you imagine what our world would be like if we honored the idea that knowledge is subjective for both children and adults? How much more open-minded would we be toward one another? How much easier would it be for us to take one another’s perspectives? How might we approach children’s learning differently?
Avital Erez, 2s Program Teacher
This conference connected the dots for me in many ways. I was moved and inspired by the power of a community that is standing behind the school and its professionals as one. When you have that, sky is the limit. You are able to share a common language, common goals, and common understanding. This benefits the children, empowers them, and enables them to become life-long curious learners. In the classroom, this translates into multi-phase and multi-disciplinary chapters of children learning about the world around them. It also helps create meaningful, hands-on, child-inspired (and, therefore, very diverse) scholarly experiences—the kind that build memories and knowledge.
Margaret Farlin-Forbes, 4s Program Teacher
I was fortunate to attend my first NAREA conference last month. Leading up to it I had an idea of how the experience would play out and what I would learn. Not surprisingly, the conference was everything I imagined and more! It was incredible to be in a room with hundreds of educators who believe in the rights of children and our philosophy. The lectures pushed my thinking and gave me a new lens to view my practice and my classroom. Throughout the conference I felt my mind buzzing with all of the new information and ideas I had for my current classroom and the years to come.
During my walk through the 100 Languages Exhibit, I noticed that there were many provocations using technology that beautifully supported and pushed the children’s learning and their explorations. Next year, I would love to implement more technology into the classroom and enrich the children’s experiences.
The NAREA conference was truly amazing. When the weekend concluded, I felt inspired and optimistic. Attending the NAREA was, without a doubt, career affirming.