Dean Rebecca Kantor and the School of Education & Human Development recently hosted a two-week visit by world-renowned education scholar Carlina Rinaldi, president of Reggio Children and a professor at the University of Reggio Emilia and the University of Modena, Italy.
Rinaldi gave talks to a range of audiences—from CU Denver students, faculty and staff to Colorado teachers and school administrators to policymakers and members of the public. Rinaldi’s presentations focused on the child as citizen as well as the social, cultural and historical significance of educational projects in Reggio Emilia, Italy.
The Early Years
Attention to the importance and potential of the early years of a child’s life has never been greater, according to Rinalidi. We know how important a child’s first years are because of recent brain research and economic studies. Both show the return on investment for children whose development is promoted in their early years versus the cost of repairing the consequences of poor development in later years. In Rinaldi’s CU Denver forums, participants worked to clarify their own agendas regarding commitment to and investment in children.
The Reggio Emilia project began just after World War II in a city that was a site of resistance to Nazism and was, subsequently, destroyed in the war. The first school was built out of the rubble of the war—its discarded tanks and bombed-out buildings. From the start, citizens committed themselves to the quality of education for all children in their city. Today, 95 percent of Reggio Emilia’s young children attend inclusive care and education programs, while thousands of educators, legislators and leaders visit from afar every year to learn from Reggio Emilia’s accomplishments.
During her talks, Rinaldi was not interested in sharing a “prescription” for the world to follow. Rather, her intention was to create dialogue: to question together what lessons may be learned, what possibilities we see in Colorado, and what ideas we might share with her colleagues in Italy.
In Reggio Emilia, Italy, there is a fundamental belief in the rights of children as citizens, including children with disabilities, who are fully included in every classroom. Rinaldi spoke about how these fundamental rights shift her society’s views on education. “Childhood is a treasure,” said Rinaldi. “Children are competent from the moment they are born to express how they learn best, seek connections, enjoy culture and connect with one another,” she said. They have fundamental rights to be curious, to find wonder in the world, to make discoveries, to explore nature, to learn in group settings and to feel connected, she added. Children are amazing researchers; and, the best teachers of teachers are children.
The Researchers of Knowledge
Rinaldi went on to say that the world’s best teachers are researchers of knowledge. They listen carefully to children and co-learn with them in an interdisciplinary fashion. They treat children as the treasures they are. They teach with research, intention, empathy, experimentation, relation and narration…always with the end goal of giving children a high quality of life. The real inspiration of the programs in Reggio Emilia is the commitment of its citizens to high-quality education, whether through tax dollars, volunteer participation in the daily life and governance of the schools, or citizens serving as ambassadors to the city’s many visitors each year.
She showed pictures that demonstrated the “spirit” of Reggio Emilia. There is great emphasis placed on learning in a group or as a group. This type of learning teaches intersubjectivity and interdependency. And, Rinaldi expressed the importance of inaudible languages, or what the people of Reggio Emilia call the “100 different languages,”… such as dance, smell and taste. They view taste as one of the most important connectors in the world. Master chefs are employed by the city’s schools to work with children on taste and nutrition. Beauty and culture are also viewed as essential connectors. Children in Reggio Emilia are encouraged to develop works of art in public places. “It’s important to allow children to be recognized for their creativity,” said Rinaldi.
She ended her Oct. 27 talk with a plea: “Teachers: be challenged by your children. The future is in your hands.”