Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Reggio Emilia: Part 1 - "Being a citizen means you are never alone"

Being a citizen means you are never alone.

I traveled to Reggio Emilia in April for a week long study tour followed by an amazing month traveling around Italy, Switzerland and Germany with my partner Josh. It's taken me a while to write this as it was such a deeply intense learning and also an emotional experience for me, its hard to put such a profound experience in to words! My whole career (9 years) I have been inspired by the work of the teachers in Reggio Emilia and to finally go there and see it for myself was surreal and very humbling. I thought to myself, "I'm in Reggio Emilia, the actual city!"...its easy to forget it is in fact a place not an educational approach. On the day I arrived after a day and a half of travelling (two long haul flights!!) I sat in a piazza with my brother (a fellow teacher). We were both silent and it wasn't due to the jetlag...we were in awe of the beauty that surrounded us. The city is so old, so beautiful; the locals have an elegance about them, women riding bicycles in heels and pristine dresses; even hearing the murmur of people speaking Italian to one another was so amazing to us! We really couldn't believe we were was so surreal. We had a few days to explore and get over the this time I even managed to visit Venice, Bologna and Verona - AMAZING! Eventually with great anticipation, the course did actually start!

If I tried to write about my whole 10 days in Reggio Emilia, it would be a VERY long post so I have decided to do it in parts. I went with a curiosity and many questions about rights and citizenship and what this actually looks like for the children in Reggio Emilia. I especially wanted to see for myself what citizenship looked like for Reggio Emilia's very youngest citizens - the infants and toddlers.

On the first day we heard from the mayor of Reggio Emilia, Luca Vecchi. He said,

“You can not have ideas about the rights of citizens unless you have an understanding of the rights of “the least of citizens”

This statement really resonated with me and I was reminded of it a lot through out the week that experiencing the idea of active citizenship depends on our perception of the youngest children. 

I had a few opportunities to discuss citizenship, not only with the teachers in the schools I visited but also with parents at a seminar I attended called "Ethics of Citizenship and Participation" which was led by Daniela Lanzi (an amazing woman and pedagogista! I clung on to every word she spoke!). During this seminar I asked my question "What does citizenship look like for the infant and toddler?". I was so happy to see the father who was there nod in approval at my question, its refreshing to come across a parent so passionate and involved in their child's education. He answered my question in the most beautiful and poetic way (paraphrased)...

"Ctizenship for an infant and toddler is something I too have wondered about and what it means. It depends on your perception of children. For me, I believe it is the opportunity to live and be a part of everyone. Infants can participate and be active citizens, for example when everyone gathers for events like Reggionarra, they can participate with their families and be seen in the public spaces. At the beginning children begin to understand that they are a part of a group, a school, a family and of course a community. I want my child to see that being a citizen means you are never alone, that together is better in learning and in life."

The wise words of one child's father have helped to shape me as a teacher and for that I am deeply and truely thankful to him...I have been challenged to tear down the walls (figuratively) and get out into the community and also bring the community in. These children are here and I want our community to know! One of the teachers at La Viletta School explained to me that "citizenship is an ongoing process; little and big" and I have reminded myself of this back in Auckland. We have started off 'little' focusing on the centre community venturing out in to our carpark, a place we call "the front yard". It is a place the children know and feel comfortable and have an ownership of. Parents and children are always coming and going and locals often walk with their dogs through the carpark. Our children are visible here, their contribution is seen and they are able to interact with people from their community. I hope I will be able to write a post soon with more detail about our project but for now I will leave you with this photograph of the Pipi children in their "front yard" looking out into their community...