Near the end of May 2018, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to join a group of ASCY organizers and fellow educators in the early years on a field trip to Middleport, Ontario to visit Children’s Lands. It is recognized by UNESCO as a place of best practice and proudly one of only 10 countries in the world that offer services in this manner.

Children are considered – very consistent with the spirit of pedagogy in Reggio Emilia  – as citizens NOW in the present as opposed to the ‘future’. The wants and desires of children count NOW. In this way the voices of children are honoured.

There are 3 main components to Children’s Lands:

  1. coherence
  2. honour the voice of children
  3. use clear decision making criteria

Decision making Criteria:

  1. does this choice benefit the child?
  2. does this choice benefit others?
  3. does this choice benefit the Earth?


This must be motivated by the power of love and it involves an alignment. How you feel, what you do and what you think must all be in alignment.

Paradoxically, we should build a school that teaches children to disobey, and therefore helps each child to form his own personality to be [him]self and to have the strength and intelligence to express [him]self for what s/he is.

Renzo Bonazzi Reggio Emilia Mayor 1963-76


 Programming Approach  Design Based (Progettuale)
 -act of writing in advance  -act of throwing forward
 -traditional rigid  approach  -Reggio Approach: not improvised but a strategy about the entire daily life of students at school
 -tends to be banal; disrespectful  -tends to respect experience, authentic
-relies on worksheets; flashcards, instructional manuals


 -solves problems proposed by students  by realizing a creative process with the students;

-process, time, identity and respect are the differences

  • The curriculum guidelines should not be seen as a cage but rather an open text that we must assume, contextualize, elaborate in specifics, methods, etc.
  • Solving a problem is realizing a creative process
  • there is an obviousness; a poverty,  a conformity that is banal in the educational proposals of traditional programming. (How was it described by a former Westdaler? School can be the tyranny of the holiday calendar… valentines day, easter, mothers day, fathers day… blah blah blah)


  • shared construction of meaning
  • shared responsibilities (lead to debate, discussion)
  • evaluation and self evaluation


  • a statement of intent (created 2x/year) perhaps from Sept – Dec and then Jan – June and it is a living document Could we call it a Mission Statement?
  • monthly periodic progettazione of each class: added to this teachers are writing, inserting pictures, recording quotes, etc.on 11×17 ledger paper:

Programming belongs only to the teacher; Progettazione shares hypothesis with the children and researches with them the roads to be undertaken and problems to be faced


In our square a we is born.

-Cecilia, age 3

Simply click on Professor Rinaldi’s picture for full interview clip


There are a few key ideas that emerge in this interview that takes place in Melbourne, Australia in April 2013 – ironically just the time I had decided to come to Kindergarten…

  • Competent Children

we use cute endearments about babies and make them seem weak but they are in fact competent; neuro science proves that they are best at learning; without learning they cannot live

communication: 100 languages are used (body, words, even breast feeding is communication)

competence in trusting; like newcomers they must learn everything for survival

need to preserve our sense of wonder and our capacity to be amazed

constructing a question is very important; Challenging dimensions of human thinking; rather than answering  assist in developing a theory (most powerful human capacity)

like LOVE, learning cannot be an imperative; it comes naturally when ready

  • Children vs Childhood

children as researchers: they are creative , it is not taught, it is a dimension of our humanity, an essential part of thinking,

Children vs childhood

a group in society vs recent concept

a group of citizens vs a phase of life and responsibility of the family

exists and recognized by the UN as a citizen vs not existing in and of itself

reciprocity is not a threat to teachers or parents; rules are applications of rights constructed together; not recipes but must be understood deeply

  • Role of Schools

Should be a place to prepare for life? Cancel the pre, pre, pre in prepare, pre Kindergarten, pre school and know that life is school and school is life; We need good schools because they are fundamental place for

  1. education of the citizen
  2. transmit of culture
  3. construction of values
  4. construction of childhood
  5. a place to renew culture
  6. a place to develop solidarity, reciprocity, interdependency

to be used as a strategy where we can construct answers together well being interdependent

  • Role of the Educator

teachers are researchers learning about how students learn; schools are the real academy; the environment becomes part of the learning process, it is not neutral

not an easy approach but after 50 years RE continues to confirm it is the best approach

teachers must

*find JOY at school and not separate life from school

*LISTEN to the languages  and all of the theories that emerge

*make the learning that is happening VISIBLE

listening is not simply hearing but it is more profound an it welcomes ideas to be open to otherness and it is what connects learning and teaching

to be welcomed as a human not only in school but in society the OTHER , to educate is a permanent process


I have finally been able to access the site that ASCY invited me to and my first “course” is called “No More Worksheets” – I am tempted to print out the power-point presentation and send it to my colleagues.

An important quote from Kathy Hirsh Pacek, who wrote, ‘Einstein Never Used Flashcards’:


“Children who are prematurely pushed into regimented academic instruction display less creativity and enthusiasm for learning in later years”


Common Misconceptions:

  1. If children are choosing the worksheets, there is no problem Children don’t always know what is best. It is the educator team’s job to  direct, provoke and inspire with intention. Children should not have to face this choice.
  2. It is all about balance, you can use worksheets if they are balanced with hands on activities. If studies have directed us toward their inappropriateness, why are we striking a balance?
  3. Worksheets are good for fine motor skills. There are so many other things to use such as scissors, tweezers, playdough, etc.
  4. Worksheets introduce children to following directions. Most of these children don’t read anyway.
  5. Children won’t do well academically without worksheets. Studies show that this isn’t true!
  6. My kids beg for them! That doesn’t mean that they are the way we teach and they are sending parents the wrong message.
  7. I need to use worksheets because I am preparing them for Kindergarten. Yet, in Ontario, we have adopted a play-based program for Kindergarten. Worksheets do not belong in the early years.

Finally, it is important to protect the child’s right to play.

Ann Pelo’s work at Hilltop in Seattle must have been filled with so many amazing moments. A beautiful example of emergent curriculum is captured in the DVD To See Takes Time: Growing Curriculum from Children’s Theories (2003). In 27 minutes she takes us through an experience where school aged children are exploring why leaves change colour. Step by step, the educator’s decisions are broken down and explained to the viewer with wonderful scenes of student interaction as well.

Initial Considerations

  • consider your values
  • examine your environment
  • expand your skills

Foundations for Emergent Curriculum

  • grow relationships
  • create invitations in the environment
  • tell stories of unfolding activities
  • practice with new materials

A Possibility Emerges

  • form a work team
  • start with hands on experiences
  • save work to revisit later

Ann Pelo makes a powerful observation when she talks about early in her teaching practice she was very hands off and let children simply explore materials but  that with experience she came to believe it is unfair to do this, the children need direction so that they can truly express themselves.

She remarks, “We spent a long time making friends with the leaves.”

Documentation Suggests Next Steps

  • find big ideas
  • plan only a few steps ahead
  • keep listening, documenting, analyzing

She continues with an analogy about how there is a reciprocal nature to the work with children ~ a ” game of catch, tossing ideas back and forth”. She emphasizes the importance of being transparent with the children and wanting them to experience an authentic dialogue.

Questions Challenge Thinking

  • Find a soft spot in the ideas
  • encourage children to challenge each other’s ideas

The role of the teacher is to find a balance where you can affirm and still challenge ideas. Full acceptance is not useful she concludes. The challenge it seems is evidence of authentic engagement. Help the students notice inconsistencies.

… and then the language of art becomes apparent (probably Pelo’s most famous work)

Art as a Thinking Tool

  • revisit earlier work
  • re-represent ideas in a different media (children used paint, markers, rubbings, clay and wire)
  • make connections from one media to another
  • move from individual to group work

The children move from two-dimensional representations to 3-D which Ann Pelo points out is helpful because it stretches them into new areas and teaches them that ideas can be expressed in a variety of ways and this is building a foundation for literacy work.

Explorations with Families

  • provide experiences with the families that parallel children’s work (parents drew their own understanding)
  • study documentation together
  • listen for new insights

Storytelling and Celebrations

  • continually tell stories of the work
  • let children share their stories with others
  • celebrate the work (they baked cookies and decorated them to look like the leaves they had studied)

We as viewers are encouraged to take time. As Georgia O’Keefe says, “to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.” We are encouraged to take time to build relationships to really know and understand our students and to give them time to investigate, to build relationships with materials. And of course with each other and with the educators.


I had to add this note when I returned the cd:

Thank you Karyn!

I really appreciated the loan of this cd. It was a perfect bookend to the session on emergent curriculum that I’ve just finished. In our sessions we talked about certain questions to be considered when we approached our programs and we were so hungry for examples that illustrated and then answered these questions. The two dimensional panels we spent time interrogating were wonderful but not as satisfying as watching Ann Pelo in action.

For example,

  • The use of graphic materials we might offer to support the multiple modes of representing thinking
  • fostering an environment that supports the learning interactions
  • what do the conversations that generate children’s theories and inquiries sound like (when we don’t rush to search engines and books to extinguish the wondering)
  • How to begin to think of the pedagogical documentation as relationship.
  • How the family and community can be drawn into the learning


And on a rather different note altogether, it is so inspiring to see how consistent Ann’s message is nearly 15 years later – and how beautifully she has aged!

Thanks again for letting me take my time with these resources.












 Each illustration of the rights of children and youth is a link to a video one might use in an early childhood setting to explain rights to children.








Bishop Strachan School


Today we begin the journey… with Mary Jane Miller  & Ellen Brown

Many housekeeping details have come up and then a history of Reggio as I have never heard it been told…. The push mostly by women to build an educational environment that would foster the critical thinking that could rebuff fascism in the future; in a place dominated by communist politics; aligned with the women’s movement; situated in an agricultural hub;

Then some of the principles of Reggio that make if different from emergent curriculum:

  • transparency
  • collaboration
  • differences valued
  • conceptions of beauty
  • reciprocity
  • role of relationships

Collecting information that is different from our North American traditions~ are there grandparents to support, for example?

School as a living organism >> it grows, it moves, any change affects all of its parts. Yet the Ontario curriculum disassociates aesthetics, emotions, etc. Pedagogical documentation  for meaning making not for the “North American Question” : assessment and evaluation.

Today the reading was Emergent Curriculum by Carol Anne Wien. We discussed it very briefly. The parts that resonated for me are quoted here:

The intent of emergent curriculum is to slow down and deepen positive relationships among children, teachers, families and their environment.


Emergent curriculum then is also the teacher’s inquiry into what children know and understand and how that understanding can be stretched and deepened. This inquiry goes beyond the early childhood classroom to encounter the landscape and community that surrounds children in their child care centre. How can the teachers help the children participate in the life of their community as interested citizens, and how can that community be invited t take its youngest citizens into the midst so they and their educators are not isolated from its life?

Wien then goes through the possible stages in teacher development in Emergent Curriculum:

  • the challenged teachers
  • the novice
  • the practicing teacher
  • the master teacher

Wien also talks about building ‘layers’ into an effective program. These layers include

  • serious conversation to find out what children think
  • documentation,
  • many modes of expression,
  • generous expanses of time (and doing things many times)
  • rich resources,
  • parent involvement,
  • carefully prepared activities,
  • collaborative sharing,
  • teacher study

I found myself sub-consciously using this as a checklist against my own program structure. In some respects I win, sometimes I lose! Wien also uses an expression that I found myself using verbatim – to a new colleague coming to the Early Learning Program: …it is not for the faint of heart.

We viewed and discussed La Storia d’ombra from Reggio as well.


Today we were assigned a translation of a Loris Malaguzzi article, ‘Your Image of the Child: Where Teaching Begins”


Best line so far?…. Clearly this one:

“This theory within you pushes you to behave in certain ways”

He writes, “we are always contaminated with the experiences that we bring with us.”…. School can never be always predictable. We ned to be open to what takes place and able to change our plans and go with what might grow at the very moment both inside the child and inside ourselves…. Life has to be somewhat agitated and upset, a bit restless, somewhat unknown… we need to be comfortable with the restless nature of life.”

He describes the role of the adult as the creator of relationships, and not as a transmitter.

I was especially struck with the section entitled, “Forging Alliances with Families” where Malaguzzi writes:

We need to make a big impression on parents, amaze them, convince them that what we are doing is something extremely important for their children and for them, that we are producing and working with children to understand their intelligence and their intelligences.

We also were assigned a drawing activity that forced us to make visible what we could hear. We were to share our meaning making; to think about lines representing time, and the reasons for what we drew.

We watched a slide show from Portland Oregon and the Opal School where the research question was about how to grow empathy. They examined good guys vs bad guys.

We were then assigned random quotes from Rinaldi’s In Dialogue with Reggio Emilia and we had to consider the quotes and how it translates in the project we were examining.

Day THREE (3)

The reading today was an article about the evolution of pedagogical documentation by Carol Anne Wien.  See link below:


We discussed how the educator is ‘lending consciousness” when demonstrating how to use new equipment or materials. See Project Zero p. 58 A Day at School or p. 49 math example, The Right Price.

We presented our ideas about the quotes.

We used the language of wire to translate our meaning making in sound. We tried to do an off the cuff documentation of each other.

We were visited by Lana O’Reilly from Pape Avenue Public School TDSB who shared some documentation about alphabet work. We rushed to follow her on Twitter and on Instagram @shimmerteach . She was that impressive….

Day FOUR (4)

Finally the tour of Heather’s classroom at Bishop Strachan.

My observations in short:

  • Centre Decoration explains each centre in large graphic panels to all visitors but is not documentation.
  • art material mixed and beautifully organized by colour.
  • popcorn words are out
  • many student made mobiles
  • use of ten frame for attendance (pictures at first, then names only)
  • math based on Cathy Fosnot (I immediately ordered this from OCT library!)
  • tracking of use of centres every week – a log is used by the teachers
  • Lucy Cawkins Writer’s Workshop used for literacy

We chatted and debriefed about this opportunity to observe the classroom and went on to examine more pedagogical documentation from Reggio Emilia to try and discern the “theory” of the educator who created it. Our group had an interesting conversation about translation. For example, the word ‘lovely’ was used. BT argued it meant beauty. I argued the children were implying ‘full of love’. The whole conversation left me thinking more deeply about translation in general, and the assumptions made by any translator.

Deb Curtis and Margie Carter are unstoppable! They are indefatigable! Here is yet another book full of inspiration for the early childhood educator – Teacher or DECE partner, alike. This book takes the form of a self directed course you can take yourself to increase your powers of observation. There are a few striking quotes that must be noted here…

After a basic introduction there are 14 chapters, most of which are “study sessions” on issues such as observing….

  • children’s perspective
  • children’s lively minds
  • how children use their senses
  • how children explore, invent, and construct
  • how children connect with the natural world
  • how children seek power, drama and adventure
  • children’s eagerness for drawing, symbolic representation and literacy
  • how children form relationships and negotiate conflict
  • children with their families

and when the STUDY SESSIONS are over:

  • getting organized to observe
  • using and sharing your observations
  • using observations for planning and assessement


While I did not spend much time with the text this time around, what I did see was impressive.