Childhood: Possibilities, Potentials, and Contexts Voices from Pistoia, Reggio Emilia, and New England
By Jennifer Winters, Assistant Director
Hampshire College, Smith College, The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art and The University of Massachusetts (Amherst) were the sites of a three-day conference titled Childhood: Possibilities, Potentials, and Contexts. Five of our staff members — Nancy Howe, Peckie Peters, Ilyssa Silverman, Paula Smith and Jennifer Winters — attended the event.
The conference challenged the participants to explore the approach to early childhood education developed in Italy in the cities of Pistoia and Reggio Emilia. This approach has sparked cross-cultural conversations about how communities might best attend to their children. The presentations by speakers from New England, Pistoia and Reggio Emilia addressed some key aspects of these innovative educational programs including:
• Documentation as a tool for assessment and advocacy
• Environments created for well-being and learning
• Experiences constructed by teachers and children together
• Home, school and community relation-ships
• Symbolic and expressive languages of children
• Teacher as researcher
These presentations were further heightened with visits to Smith College (Fort Hill Campus), The Early Childhood Laboratory School of the University of Massachusetts and The Hampshire College Children’s Center. We believe that Bing has much in common with the other laboratory schools such as carefully planned indoor and outdoor environments, well-trained staff and thoughtful and purposeful documentation.
The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art was also a highlight of our visit. Located in Amherst, Mass., this is the first full-scale museum in the country devoted to national and international picture book art, conceived and built with the aim of celebrating the art to which we are first exposed as children. At the museum, we explored the galleries and attended workshops on books for young children.
The following quote speaks to the heart of the conference: “We educators, as we work with children, feel the need to grow in our competencies; we want to transform experiences into thoughts, thoughts into reflections, and reflections into new thoughts and new actions. We also feel a need to make predictions, to try things out, and then interpret them. The act of interpretation is most important. We have to learn to interpret ongoing processes rather than wait to evaluate results.” (Loris Malaguzzi, The Hundred Languages of Children: Advanced Reflections, 1998, p.73, adapted by Lella Gandini)