Have you noticed that there are a ton of Pinterest and Facebook posts about 'doing Reggio' these days? In one way it's great that so many people are looking for inspiration, but I worry that the exquisite praxis we can see in the infant toddler centers and preschools in Reggio Emilia are being misinterpreted. Sometimes in talks educators from Reggio remind us to "look beyond the furniture", and I think that's good advice. At its root, the Reggio Emilia approach is a big old Ikea basket full of educational theory put into practice- put into beautiful, well considered and co-constructed practice, with lots of listening and the ethics that come from a deep respect for humankind backing it up. To me, the reason it's so worth looking to Reggio is that all of the beautiful work is carefully thought out and negotiated and presented so that it never, ever betrays the children.
Don't the practices and environments in all the beautiful photos of activities, tabletops and shelves lose their meaning if not accompanied by the careful thoughtfulness described in The Hundred Languages of Children? It seems to me that it's really all about ideas and relationships, rather than wood and wicker, fabric strips and bubble wrap. And no matter how many times I've arranged the materials in jars of rainbow colors, I know that they'll either stay up on the shelf in pristine sortedness, or get dumped out and mixed up, because that's what people do when they are looking for four matching bottle cap wheels for a cardboard batmobile.
How do you look for meaning in a learning experience?
I try to look for a big idea that can connect across time and subject area. Dewey's ideas about educative experiences (which connect) and mis-educative experiences (which are without context) can really help me. A mis-educative experience is one that doesn't connect the learner to the wider world. This lesson or experience might have some benefit for children (like practice with fine motor skills), might be "agreeable or exciting in itself" but doesn't lead to "richer experience in the future" (Dewey's words). By tying school experiences to relationships and big, universal ideas, the teachers in Reggio Emilia avoid banal, stifling mis-education. And so can all of us.
*(Praxis (process), the process by which a theory, lesson, or skill is enacted, practiced, embodied, or realized.)