Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Innovation/Adventure as Research

Yes, prior to my visit to Reggio Emilia, it was in my realm of thinking to use the word 'research' to suggest that when a child had a theory s/he should go with a teacher and peers to find books to confirm or dispute the theory.

I am now able to view 'research' in a transformative and seemingly earth shattering way! 

'Research' is clearly a means to innovation! Did I not already have that understanding? Did I not always know that the word 'research' meant to discover, imagine, find out or learn? Did I ever really think that 'research' was asking for rules? Nope!

Clearly 'research' is a searching for something that is new and innovative!

I think that my idea of research also had a clear ending, for example, when the problem was solved the research was over.

Wow! How fun could each day be if 'research' were constant; if 'research' were defined as a search for meaning through marvelling, and looking through a lense of curiosity and amazement. The joy of learning could be manifested as an adventure and 'research'!
For example, I know that at some point in my teaching experience a child has said something like: "the plant will grow until it touches the sun!" With the above idea of research as innovation and adventure, my new and transformed way of responding could look like this: 
I might ask the questions, perhaps to myself as a teacher first:
How high is the sun? Does a plant need the sun in order to grow? What other type of light might a plant need to grow? What is the sun made of? What conditions does a plant need to endure? How hot could a plant become before burning? How close could a plant get to a heat source without burning up? Can anything touch the sun? What kind of impact does the sun have on things that are too close to it, for example planets?

If these were the type of questions that intrigued my learning group and participants in the group continued with more questions with a similar passionate fervour, a deep learning and knowing project about the sun and the solar system might result rather than a study of plants and what they need to grow. Who knows? 

As a teacher, I could then focus on ways to bring information to the child and group in order to learn and know about the possibilities within the child's theory, "the plant will grow until it touches the sun." Together we would then select and narrow the field for our study.

My subjective questioning and ensuing dialogue with colleagues, would lead me to creating provocations for deepening thinking. I might offer a variety of light sources alongside a variety of plants or seeds and soils. I might present a graphic representation of the planets with the sun as part of the image. A variety of open ended materials from the re-use centre and a variety of pens, pencils and paper of different sizes and textures could be offered to encourage children to make their learning visible. Non-fiction and fictional stories about the sun, plants and planets could be available. A fully equipped green house for children to carry out experiments to test arising theories could also become an area for deepening learning. Opportunity and time in an outdoor classroom to nurture authentic experiences and stimulate engagement and connections would be honoured.

As the teacher I would then listen, document and share back my observations to the children as well as my colleagues in order focus in on the common inquiries evolving. I would need to attend to the comments and new theories with a creative and imaginative perspective, open to listening for meaning making thoughts and metaphors as they may evolve as the process unfolds.

Yes each day could/should and will truly be an adventure! Why not?

Monday, 13 July 2015


After each of our Reggio Emilia and Ligonchio Atelier experiences in Italy, we were asked to make a personal reflection and suggest one word to express the learning within the experience. 

The feeling of the word 'present' began as I gazed across the Apennine mountain region of Ligonchio, over the hills and valleys.
The double-entendre of the word 'present' lead me to consider, first, the experience I am having is a 'gift'. As I have unwrapped each magical layer of wrapping paper, I have received a message which furthers my learning and knowing. Joy, Inspiration, Community, Appreciation, Possibility, Openness are some of the packaged discoveries I have received so far. I am saving the next layers to be opened after I observe others, Keri and our international friends, openning their gifts. Just as on Christmas morning, I am able to wait, watch and find joy and sheer pleasure as I watch, listen and make connections with my own personal thoughts. At the same time we develop a shared thinking, offering stories to each other as we give and receive.

The second meaning of the word 'present' rings loud and clear to me. After spending a long while photographing butterflies and bees as I sat among the thistles, I had a keen awareness of how crucial it is to take time to be in the moment and be open and available to anything. Watching and waiting 'in the moment' helped me to discover what to do next. I visited and revisited those butterflies as I tried to consider how to make my 'learning visible'. I had been using photography and video but the gift of time and deep concentration moved me to find paper and pen. Not being certain how to draw what I was seeing, I moved closer. Before long the thistle was casting it's shadow on my paper. 
I noticed each leaf's sharp edge. I was struck at that moment with the harmony in nature that I was witnessing. Although the thistles appeared harsh and I had a pre-conceived notion that they do not belong in areas where children play, due to their painful edging; I was lead to see their beauty and necessity in the ecosystem. The bees and butterflies moved in rhythm alongside each other, sometimes sharing the same purple flower, sometimes moving to their own. I witnessed constant movement of the soft and gentle butterflies, as they danced among their life giving plant partners, the thistles. 
It was clear at that moment. I placed the paper under a thistle and as the wind gently rustled the thistle, I was able to trace it's pointed leaves and long graceful stems. After repositioning and taking a different view point, I was able to capture the shadow of a butterfly in motion as it moved around my sketched thistle plant. I watched, waited, considered and questioned alongside a co-observer with an equally evolving passion or need to stay close to what we were witnessing.
My word is 'present'. It will be imperative for me to remember this moment as I sit immersed within this Italian community for a time and as I transition home!

Friday, 10 July 2015

....not one without the other

This story began as learning and knowing from The Atelier of Withered Things, inspired by Karin Fusner, a Swedish artist. I was grateful to have had the opportunity to be a participant in The Atelier of Living Organisms at The Loris Malaguzzi Centre in Reggio Emilia, Italy.

We, a group of 25 international educators, were taken on a journey of transformation, lead by an Atelierista. I made my first connections with Karin Fusner's strong sense of empathy for environment and nature. I learned that in order to prepare this Atelier, many teachers, pedagogistas and atelieristas dedicated to children studied Karin's work in order to translate it into an Atelier.

My personal reflection from the 1.5 hour experience involves magical discovery and predictions for the future. For me, the Ateliarista became the Fortune Teller I  have been longing to know. It was as if through the immersion of the Atelier experience I, alongside my peers, was able to have an emersion in the Atelier and come out with an unexpected and surprising image of possibility.

Through the experience I was struck by the phrase, "everything that is real is beautiful." As our Ateliarista pointed out, "to perceive beauty where beauty does not seem to reside takes an attentive approach." We were invited to activate all of our senses as we, for 10 minutes, immersed ourselves within the materials provocatively presented.

I walked, touched, listened and paid attention to the dance of images that played within my head between what I was observing and my most recent journey of teaching and learning outside daily with very young children and a team of inspirational teachers. Within the room of provocation were pumpkins full of mold; cabbage that was dried and withered and a variety of other living organisms that were of varying degrees of life and living. (I was immediately reminded of Canadian artist Lyndal Osborne's work, Bowerbird~Life as Art.)

After sharing our observations with the group, we were sent back to the materials and invited to make a graphic or rudimentary product of something that caught our attention and give it a name. 
I decided to represent a dried flower, which actually looked like layers of sediment found in a fossil. I thought it was a mushroom at first and then realized it was a flower when a seed fell out of it as I turned it over. At once it made me think of the many layers necessary to make a living organism, for example the seed. Then I began to think of the many layers, interests, and passions necessary in a mother in order to raise a child (probably because I was thinking deeply about being away from my own children while studying in Italy). Each layer (of a human being - mother or father) may be good, bad or ugly, but all necessary in helping a child to grow full of resilience and possibility, and in authentic ways. 

I  called my product......not one without the other.
The Ateliarista then responded subjectively to my creation and explanation, saying, "You have made an Open Ecosystem." He proceeded to tell me "children are good at creating theories about nature". He spoke of his own children who had formed a theory after wondering how the beautiful flowers were growing in an old ditch beside the road. The children said, "the breeze brought in the flowers." His family looked more closely and decided, "a ditch is like a world in itself."

My feeling of possibility was inspired by the Ateliarista's story of his family's theory. I understood that I had taken an old dried up flower (like a ditch) considered it and honoured it by giving it my own 'breeze' or life giving thoughts and imagination and in turn was able to make my learning visible with a graphic and rudimentary product. 

I was able to make my learning visible....
I was able to create a theory of how layers of a flower are similar to the layers of a human being. I think my learning and knowing could be extended.....I think I want to learn more and understand more  about the words...Open Ecosystem. I think I am beginning to understand what it means to 'go deep' in learning after offering a provocation of learning to children.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Gathering Clues

Education must, be not only a transmission of culture but also a provider of alternative views of the world and a strengthener of the will to explore them.  Jerome Bruner

This experience of being alongside others, 100, to be exact, who are like minded leaves me daily feeling empowered and inspired! 

I find myself eager and curious and hopeful of being included in as many conversations and in as many situations as possible. Wherever we go in Reggio we find ourselves happening upon our international colleagues. As soon as we exchange greetings the conversations around learning and knowing continue; almost as if we were wandering around at a cocktail party. It takes many conversations with many contributors for me to begin to gather my thoughts and attempt to highlight important themes and words that are resonating with me at the end of each learning day.

One colleague, using a key Reggio phrase, collecting "clues" through observation, today helped me put my many conversations into perspective. This encouraged me to relax into the notion that I am here "gathering clues" to guide me to be in touch with my own thinking. As I pick up each clue I must believe and understand that it moves me closer to realizing ways and means to pick up the clues from children as well. 

This time to observe different points of view will help my journey towards making relational observations of children and in turn planning for relational opportunities with children, upon my return home. This surely must be the reason we are here as a group of 100 educators from 24 different countries.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Have Courage...


Have Courage…

and kindness with a little bit of magic in order to see the world not as it is but as it could be. Cinderella (Quoted from the movie watched on the plane ride from Edmonton to Amsterdam on July 3, 2015)

As I embark on my Reggio Emilia experience, alongside my colleague, Keri, I am feeling inspired by the words of Cinderella and her prince as they move forward in a life threatened by hardship and adversity. They are comforted by the words Courage, Kindness and Magic! It is these words along with Gratitude that are inspiring me as I begin this journey!

As Cinderella moves forward, I too am moving forward, not only in a literal sense (crossing the Atlantic Ocean as I type), but also in a metaphorical sense. I am moving forward and growing, “from the bottom up and the inside out” as Douglas Wood says in his book, The Things Trees Know.

It is with gratitude to my mentor and colleague, Karen, that I am able to make this huge leap of faith, with courage. Thank you Karen for quoting Douglas Wood often, with your prompting to, “Get Big”. Not only am I visiting the International Summer School: “The Reggio Emilia Approach - Quality Education to feed the planet”, but I am also preparing to begin my work as a Consultant for the Early Years. All the while, I will be taking my first Graduate level course at the University of Alberta, in the Fall.

I am open to possibility and eager to meet the people of Reggio!

Let the adventure begin!

A dream is a wish your heart makes!

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Follow the Sun

Follow the Sun
Lyrics by Xavier Rudd

Please follow the link for a little inspiration :)

This year has been all about following the sun; setting my intentions and dreaming with care!  I have hung my hat on the messaging of the song.... "tomorrow's a new day for everyone.....brand new moon, brand new sun."

I have also been inspired to follow the song's mantra, "just take a walk to the nearest water's edge and remember your place" as a means of focusing in order to cherish each moment and cherish each breath!

My blogging of this year's journey is intended to be a reflection but also a grounding for forward thinking and learning and knowing as I move forward in my life as a mother, spouse, daughter, sister, friend and as an educator of young children.