Monthly Archives: April 2014

A Red Thread


One of my take-aways from Reggio Emilia is that we look for a “red thread” of interest that we then follow with the children. We are currently following a “red thread’ of interest in eggs and of all the creatures that hatch from eggs. We began with birds, for they are our most obvious oviparous creatures, since we look at the eggs that the chickens offer us that are so easily accessed in the grocery stores. All of the children have observed bird nests in their yards, and some have watched the hatching of baby birds in nests in their yards.



Part of Reggio is providing the children with the opportunity to explore a range of activities that will stretch their imaginations as well as their understanding. From creating “eggs” of papier mache to building a nest on our science table, we are thinking about all that is involved in hatching eggs. We have an incubator that is home for 12 fertilized eggs, and we are checking the temperature as well as the humidity of the incubator to make sure that eggs have the optimum environment to produce baby chicks. We are also learning about other creatures that come from eggs, such as reptiles, butterflies, insects, and amphibians. The children will construct from clay creatures that could hatch from the eggs they have made.



When we think about the thread that we could follow with a look at eggs, our thread could snake around to focus on reptiles, or the thread could lead us to an in-depth look at the camouflage of eggs, or could evolve into a study of nests. This is one of the beauties of the Reggio Emilia approach, in the fluidity of the evolution of the studies undertaken. The interests of the children help create the shape of the study, which is constructivist education at the core. With one study, such as our beginning with eggs, we have the opportunity to involve writing, art, reading, and science as we are writing poetry about eggs, reading about eggs, watching the incubation of eggs, and creating eggs and nests. This wholistic approach is one that children embrace, for it is the way in which they approach life. For young children, life is not compartmentalized into separate disciplines, but flows as an organic whole, and they are able to see the whole picture.

Back at Trinity


Back in the saddle here in Charlotte, and Reggio continues to buzz around my head.  It was wonderful to be back with my children, especially after thinking so strongly during the past week in Italy.  The children are completely involved with watching the metamorphosis of the butterflies in our butterfly cage that we started before I left.  On Wednesday, the first of the butterflies emerged, and the energy and excitement in our classroom was overwhelming.  We watched the butterflies, along with some earthworms that we had observed in science on Monday.  One of my first questions was, “How many legs are on the butterfly?”  The answers were all over the map, but most of the children thought there were four legs, and I have to admit that it was hard to observe the other legs.  After Reggio, I found it much easier to hold my tongue, and to give the children the opportunity to find out for themselves the answer  to the question.  We talked about insects, thinking about what we knew about the number of legs for each insect, and some of the children wondered if butterflies would qualify as insects.  We looked at both the butterfly and the earthworm under the Elmo to see if we were better able to identify characteristics.  We soon released the butterflies, but weren’t still sure about the number of legs.  This week we will continue to probe this question, but I really want the children to find the answer on their own, with little input from me except for providing books as research material.

When we think about constructivist learning, we are looking for ways to give the children the opportunity to find their own answers to their questions, and this looks as if it may be that kind of situation.  During the next two weeks we will be thinking about eggs and all of those creatures that hatch from eggs.  In Reggio, inquiries last for an extended period of time, and as our school year is quickly drawing to a close, we don’t have that luxury.  We’ll do our best to make an examination of eggs and all those creatures that hatchfrom eggs as in-depth as we are able.  We have to remember that during this same time we’ll be working on poetry for our Poetry Reading on May 1 as well as books for our Grandfriends on May 9.  Lots is going on, and from what I have learned from the time in Italy, we need to provide children with the opportunity to dive deeply into a subject rather that to skim the surface for the most immediate information.  


And so it goes…


And so our last day at the conference ended with the same intensity that had built all week.  The morning was spent split into three groups, and my choice was to find the bridge that links all this wonderful work with the elementary schools, which are considered first through fifth grades.  There is so much that we do at Trinity that fit in so beautifully with this philosophy of learning, from our story paths to our workshop approaches to reading and writing.  Collaboration is a word that was fully in evidence, as we all know that children learn from each other as well as from their teachers.  Children have to learn the codes of society, the letters and words that give them that entrance into the world of literacy.  We saw evidence of children in 4/5 grades using google docs to do a collaborative piece of research, each adding their observation in a different color (sound familiar?) as they used technology as a means of coming together on a learning project.  Children document much of their own learning through recorders, iPads, pencil/paper, camera…

In the afternoon there was a session on a soundscape project that was done by a kindergarten class as they recorded the sounds that they were able to hear in a square of the city.   To extend this sound work they drew a map of the square, made representations of the sounds they heard (such as pigeons flying, people walking) and with the help of their teacher this project the children wrote the “music” of the square.

Thinking about all of this work of the past week, it was mentioned that the role of the teacher is to find “the red thread” that the children will follow as it meanders through their school day.  When we find the thread, no matter what it may be, we look for as many ways to stretch the understanding of the path we are following, whether it is frogs, sounds, or eggs.  We try to break down the first glance into a more careful, more thorough observation, and in doing so involve the children in writing, drawing, reading, researching, watching, creating, observing, predicting, growing.  It is a very organic process, this business of learning, and our evolution as teachers never ends.

Now I am in Milan for one big day of exploration before flying back to Charlotte tomorrow.  I am so grateful to Trinity for giving me this opportunity to spend a week completely immersed in thinking about learning in a fresh way.  “”Light the Fire” is so aptly named, for my ideas are exploding as I think about ways that I can bring some of this remarkable energy back to my own little ones in the short amount of time that we have before we say goodbye in June.


Ideas Abound


We have just finished our fourth day of the Reggio Emilia Conference, and each day becomes a little more intense.  The work of this conference is spiraling just like the work that we do each day as we teach our workshops.  Now, you have to know that the weather here right now is prime, with the perfect temperatures, clear blue skies, and the flowering of spring happening right before our eyes.  Also know that we have spent most of this glorious spring day in a windowless auditorium, but have done so willingly because the work we are witnessing is so compelling.


The morning was spent in exploring three different projects, all which had something to do with drawing.   The first was a study of frogs, the second was an observation of people going and coming, and the third was designing the work that would cover a scaffold in the center city that they called “Girl with Perfume”.  Each of these projects lasted for the entire school year, believe it or not.  I’ll describe the first, and try to explain how this work could possibly last over the course of a year.  The children decided they wanted to make a book about frogs, for they had seen another book that children had made.  There is a pond on in their school garden, but they started the project before ever seeing a frog.  They began by drawing frogs in the way they thought they looked, and as you can imagine, the variety was wild.  They then began looking a pictures of frogs, checking out frogs from every angle, describing what they saw.  Their drawings kept changing and evolving, some stretched out, some that originally looked like odd humans.  By the end of the year they had painted and drawn the skins of frogs, comparing them to the skins of other things, including our own skin.  They made frogs out of clay, and ended in the spring by finding a real frog, and observing him as they continued to make changes in their work.  The teacher then created a book with two pages of frog drawings from each child (think of Leonardo d’Vinci’s anatomy studies—that’s what they reminded me of).  The sparks of imagination are flying!

This afternoon we went to the school that houses preschool (ages 3-5) and the primary school (grades 1-5) that is located in an old parmesan cheese factory that has been renovated.  The spaces are amazing, as one class flows into another that moves into a courtyard that transitions into an art area.  There are multiple levels, beautiful light, and remarkable ingenuity.  How about a bike tire that is used as a loom for weaving?  I was able to see ways in which they used the Reggio approach in their work with older children.  The “big kids” were working on geometric angle with graph paper, brads, and string that they used to create and record angles.  My only regret is that I wasn’t able to take the pictures for  I wanted to show, not tell, so much of what went on today.  Now it’s off to dinner with new friends, and a chance to talk about what each of us will take back home.


Visiting a Reggio Emilia Kindergarten

There was more to see today than I can adequately process, for finally we were in a school where the children were present.  There was much to process about the experience but some of my clearest images were of the happiness of the children and the peacefulness of the atmosphere.  There were a number of rooms that the children were able to move between, so we never saw a full class all together.  Some were building with styrofoam blocks adorned with animals and lace fabric, everything in white, while a springtime picture was shown on the overhead projector behind their work.  This building went on for most of the morning, and some children would leave and others would take their place, adding their own magic to the mix.  Other children were using clay to make a model of a lettuce leaf that was in front of them.  In another area children were looking at some pictures they had taken of someone doing a somersault (a sort of “how to”) and were attempting to draw each frame of the picture.  In yet another area the teacher was working with a group of children who were using pen and ink to draw some lichens.  Still others were at the glue, tape, and marker table where they were devising their own creations.  Everyone was busy, everyone was engaged—it looked like choice time spread out into a number of areas.

After spending 2 hours in the classrooms, we spent 2 hours on those little kindergarten chairs as we talked about what we saw, and asked questions of the teachers, just as the CMS teachers love to do after spending time watching us in Reader’s and Writer’s Workshops.  Someone finally had to come into the school to tell us that the bus had been waiting for 10 minutes!

One of the primary tenants of Reggio is that the classroom is the third teacher, and it was completely in evidence.  Beauty was everywhere, in every corner.  Flowers, branches, plants, shells, rocks, small mirrors…everywhere you looked was inspiration.  I wish I had been able to take pictures here, but you aren’t allowed to take photos anywhere that children are located.  I did manage to take one, however, of the “squat toilet” for the adults in the building.  IMG_0460

After coming back to the Center, we walked to the Recycling center which is has a partnership with the city as well as the Children’s Center.  Over 200 businesses donated their castaways which are organized in a warehouse.  The teachers and any of the town’s citizens are welcome to come at any time to gather any cast off treasures to use in their art projects, in building, or in any other way imaginable.  The array of materials was mind-boggling, ranging from cast off plastic glasses to empty 8 mm film rolls to big rolls of fabric and plastic.  All of these materials were in evidence today in the school—nothing went untouched.  Children used the styrofoam and cups in their buildings, the fabric was used as curtains to divide the spaces, and the vinyl was used as a canvas for painting.  I’m seeing the world through new eyes, my friends!

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An International Conference

This has truly been the most diverse, the most international group I have ever been a part of. The Teacher’s College at Columbia is huge, and is diverse, but this takes diversity to an entirely different level. It is almost like being in the tower of Babel, with a multitude of different languages being spoken at once. Tonight I had dinner with two teachers from Switzerland, neither of whom spoke English, but we somehow made it work between their attempts at English and my paltry attempts at French. Many of us teach young children, but the expectations differ from country to country. We visited a school for young children (much younger than our Kindergarten children) and were impressed by the work they were doing, using many natural materials in their construction. We also were able to see the ways in which they used technology in the classrooms, giving webcams to the children so that they were able to gain a new perspective of their own work, They then were able to look at their constructions from a different angle, and were able to collaborate with their friends as to ways in which their work could be tweaked.

The most amazing thing so far has been the passion that all of these educators feel about the learning of young children, and in their willingness to travel so far, battle language differences, and sit around the table discussing education in ways that are transformative. Everyone is eager to share their country, their classrooms, and the ways in which we can make learning more connective for the children we love so dearly.
It has been a very long day, but tomorrow will be filled with more excitement as we visit kindergarten classrooms. More tomorrow!

And the conference begins…

The day here was perfectly spring, with birds singing in the morning, the day bright and clear, and the promise of good things to come.  The Loris Malagucci Center is an easy walk so within 10 minutes I was there, signing in and getting my bearings.  Being a kindergarten teacher, sitting for long periods is not my bailiwick, but we got lots of information in a short period of time.  Much of the conference is in Italian, but with an excellent translator.  In the afternoon, we got down to the nitty gritty, and they let us loose to explore the exhibits in the Center.    I wish that Jen Rankey and Mary Ann O’Sullivan were here, for this would make them swoon.  Much of the work is done with natural materials (of which I’ll send pictures along each day), and they explore the qualities of light extensively and the scientific properties of light as well.    I thought of second grade and their coral reef exhibit, for one of their ideas is to use digital images that are mixed with creations of the children.  The images (of the sea, or of fish swimming) would be projected, and then the children would interact with those projected pictures.


Made by 5 and 6 year olds!

One of my big take-aways from today is how well organized everything is—-it may be junk materials, but they are neatly sorted and ordered so that they are accessible to the children.  It will be interesting to see how it plays out when the children are in the spaces, and to see how they are able to maintain this lovely order.  They have access to an inordinate amount of “stuff”.  They have organized a recycling center in the town that has linked with 200 businesses to collect their cast-offs which are then located in a closed chemical plant.  Anyone can come to get things they would like to use, but it serves as an excellent source of materials for the schools.

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I’m off to dinner with folks from Finland, Greece, and Germany, and it will be interesting to hear their take-aways.

Caio, my friends!

Sunday in Reggio Emilia


Camellias in the garden
Camellias in the garden
Spring is here in Reggio Emilia, but I’ve seen no hint of the pollen that plagues us in Charlotte!


The garden of Cafe d'Art
The garden of Cafe d’Art where I enjoyed a lovely couple of hours reading The Little Friend by Donna Tartt.  Delicious lunch in a lovely setting!



Another picture of the garden..
Another picture of the garden..


My favorite---this renowned store (Antica Salumeria Gergio has hams stacked up like firewood---stacks and stacks of ham.  You know that country ham is our countries answer to procuitto.
My favorite—this renowned store (Antica Salumeria Gergio has hams stacked up like firewood—stacks and stacks of ham. You know that country ham is our country’s answer to proccuitto.


lovely doorstep
lovely doorstep


This is a five hundred year old column that was marked with a meter to avoid cheating by dishonest merchants!  Measuring IS important..
This is a five hundred year old column that was marked with a meter to avoid cheating by dishonest merchants.   Measuring IS important, kindergarten friends!


A political gathering in a park
A political gathering in a park where I watched while enjoying a cappuccino and my book


One of the parks that lure the weary and those who just want to have fun
One of the parks that lure the weary and those who just want to have fun—
I wandered into this garden of Cafe d’Art, and waited for an hour for it to open for lunch as I enjoyed my book. What a lovely place to wait!  Sorry this isn’t in order, but I’m still working on logistics!  Time to go out and find some dinner. Ciao!

The rest of my day was spent wandering, skyping my boys (loved loved loved seeing AND hearing them), and in a tour with the International Group.    When someone hears a familiar accent, whether German, American, or French, they glom onto that person.  The tour left much to be desired, but much of that is because  I had walked around enough to be familiar with the city and sights.  There are an amazing range of countries and nationalities here.  The three folks I have met are American, but live in Germany, Finland, and Iraq.  Tomorrow the conference begins in earnest, so there will be more to report tomorrow night.


Buon Giorno!

After a 24 hour travel time from Charlotte to the hotel in Reggio Emilia, I’m finally here and am settling in.  I had to have a bit of “drop down” (nap time in Lex Alexander’s term) and a shower, and then hit the streets.  I first looked up spots that were recommended, either by Lex and Ann or someone else).  Map in hand, I started exploring.  Soon I just gave up the map and let my instincts guide me, and what a revelation that was!

The streets of Reggio Emilia are not laid out in a linear fashion like NYC, so if you just allow yourself the gift of the moment your reward is…unexpected.  When I gave up on the map, I just let myself meander, turning when the views down that path looked promising.  One of the spots I was looking for (vaguely) was a place called Piazza San Prospero, but as I wandered from street to street, treasures were revealed.  I would turn the corner, and there would be a beautiful piazza, dotted with trees and filled with people.  Tables and chairs, benches, and other inviting spots welcomed a weary traveller, or a resident who just wanted a bit of community time.  The streets and piazzas were  lively with folks out for a lovely Saturday evening, and there was a sense of place that is hard to recreate.  Bicycles, children, families, and folks my age were all mixed together, enjoying the glories of spring.

When I was a little girl, my grandmother’s favorite “out of the house” activity was to park on Main Street in little Lincolnton and to sit in the car, watching the people who passed by. This was such entertainment for my Jenny–a cheap thrill.  Tonight I thought of her as I bought a glass of wine and sat at a table outside and spent a grand hour observing the folks who passed by, thinking of their lives and what they had planned for today.  I looked at the children who went by with their parents and wondered, “Will that little girl with the pink glasses be in a class I observe this week”?

The sticking point for me today is that the cities are built for community, from big cities like Rome and Milan, to smaller places like Reggio Emilia and Stiggliano.  Our family came to Italy when our boys were younger, and this was our big “take away”.  The cities and towns have places to gather that aren’t necessarily parks, but are almost pocket parks, all equipped with benches and tables, for that is what invites people to sit down together.  All of these pocket parks are ringed with businesses that sell food, gelato, wine, pizza…encouraging folks to sit down together and enjoy the day.  Providing folks with a place and time to meet and connect with each other is so important.  I am reminded of “All Trinity Reads”,  Art Before Dark, and kindergarten’s portfolio picnic last year and wonder what else we can do to bring folks together.

More tomorrow with pictures!  Ciao!