Creating Community: How are we connected and what can we do together?

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As a Reggio-Inspired Early Childhood program, ISP learners have the advantage of teachers who have learned from world-renowned  Reggio Emila educators and their 70 year journey.  All of our ECF teachers have attended the annual international conference and related school visits in Italy.

The following learning story was written by Deb Wilenski, our ISP Reggio specialist, consultant, and ISP ECF 5 teacher. She explains the power and complexity of understanding and building community with our youngest learners. 

 “It’s necessary that we believe that the child is very intelligent, that the child is strong and beautiful and has very ambitious desires and requests. This is the image of the child that we need to hold.” – Loris Malaguzzi
‘It’s important for the children to see something they have made together that they could not have made by themselves’ – Lucia Colla ‘The thinking of educational design in practice’ (Reggio Emilia, 2017)

At the beginning of the school year we have a fascinating job to do.  With the children in front of us, in a landscape of materials, spaces,  values and practical actions, we build a community that has never  existed before. 
For some of our students August 2021 marked the beginning of their  school experience. Others have been coming to ISP for a year or  more. Some children have moved to Prague, started a new school,  and begun to learn English all in one go! Our image of the child as  strong, rich in ideas and potential, seeking connections in the world  around them, helps us recognise the valuable experience every  student brings with them, even at the age of 5.

Our first priority is to connect the students in as many ways as we  can, building a feeling of belonging, safety, recognition and communication. We also want to discover what each child is  interested in, what they love to do, how they express their identity and individual perspective and how we can use all of this to work,  play and learn together. 

Communities are the sum of their many connections: social,  ecological, material, fantastical. So exploring our classroom  community means finding out more about these. With this in mind, we are asking the children a series of connected questions:  

  • How can we be friends with each other?
  • How can we be friends with the tiny animals in our classrooms (the shrimps, snails and fish)?  
  • How can we be friends with other animals and plants?  
  • How are books, objects and materials our friends? 

Reggio educators talk about ‘the life of materials’ in their education  contexts, meaning that the things we work with – clay, paper, metal,  textiles, ceramics, books and other natural or made objects all have  a way of ‘being’ and invite us to connect with them. In this  community project we are deliberately including these live materials  in our questions about friendship and the children have had  fascinating things to say. 

Giving children the time and space to think about and express their opinions helps them connect and lays the foundation for reasoned thinking. For example, when contemplating on how books can or can’t be our friends, the children had many connected and evolving opinions:

  • “They can’t be our friends because they  are not real.”
  • “Because they don’t have eyes to look at. They don’t have a face.” 
  • “You can be friends with books by being  nice to the book and taking care of it. 
  • “We can be friends. We can keep them  safe. 
  • “We can be friends with books when we read them many times.
  • “When I was a baby my mum showed me that  book ‘Swings’ and when we read it so  much it began to be my friend.”

While we continue to investigate these relationships we have also posed a specific design question:   

Q: One difference between home and school is that at school there  are many more children and there are teachers. What could we  build or make with so many people ready to work together?

The children immediately thought of working on a huge scale,  making something magical or extraordinary and something that could be useful to their community: 

  • We could make a giant robot out of paper
  • A giant unicorn 
  • A robot out of real metal 
  • We could make a book about how we made the really big things We could make a really, really big book of all the things we like Maybe a diamond robot 
  • A monster truck out of gold 
  • A protecting robot that helps people 
  • A honey-apple robot that says to people ‘do you want honey and apple?

Their responses are now guiding our large-scale project work and  leading it into areas of ideation, research, development, and construction. By collaborating this way children:

  • exchange, imitate and adapt each other’s techniques. 
  • construct on an ambitious scale and with greater complexity 
  • experience the feeling of community through tangible  evidence of  ‘something made together that they could not  make on their own’ 
  • reflect together to realise what they have learnt and who has  helped them in the process