“[If we] stand aside for a while and leave room for learning, observe carefully what children do, and then if you have understood well, perhaps teaching will be different from before”Malaguzzi, 1998
Project based learning is one of the principles and pedagogical practices of the Reggio Emilia Approach feel very different to the ‘projects’ I did as a child at school and those that I see taking place in primary classrooms. Instead of being mapped out in a standardised curriculum, projects in a Reggio Emilia classroom or Reggio-inspired environment are what we might refer to as a ‘projected curriculum’. These projects emerge from our reflections and interpretations of observed and documented learning experiences.
So what does this look like at home?
I will admit it feels different. I think this is because childrens learning experiences in the home span an entire day, from the moment they wake until the moment they rest their heads to sleep at night, and sometimes even after that. A few days ago, long past bedtime I heard a little voice call from the bedroom, when I went in Althea pointed out of the window at the sunsetting in a red sky. She described the colours, asked questions that we pondered answers to and she reminded me of the sunsets we watched on the beach in Bali nearly a year ago. As long as there is curiosity and questions there is learning.
There is so much more to observe and document in the home. Our attention is focused on a much smaller number of children, sometimes just one compared to a classroom environment and so I must be more selective when considering which ideas are worthy of further inquiry. Not everything can be a project.
So how do I decide what opportunities to pursue?
In a sense I don’t. The children decide. Our days are filled with ‘episodes of learning’, moments of intrigue, inquiry and questions. I answer questions with more questions and we co-construct understanding and knowledge in an attempt to answer them. The key I believe is not to answer the question, it’s to formulate more questions. This is something I am always working on, because as an adult I often know the answers (although on plenty of occasions I do not) and I believe sometimes an answer is necessary. Can everything be discovered? I would be inclined to say no. But deciding which questions to provide answers to is not something I find easy. Sometimes I give an answer and realise I have ended what could have been an interesting opportunity for inquiry and discovery. We are all learning.
What questions do I ask?
I try to answer questions with open-ended questions. Something that cannot be answered with a yes or no. I try and steer clear of questions with very specific right or wrong answers. This isn’t a test. So I find myself saying “I wonder…” quite a lot. So much so that I hear it from the little voices around me. I have noticed recently that Althea will rarely ask “What is that?” or “Why does it do that” but instead will, in a curious tone ask herself out loud…
“I wonder why that is doing that…”Althea, 3.5 years
Whilst there is nothing wrong with asking us what and why questions, in fact there is everything right with it, this particular form of questioning suggests to me that perhaps she feels that it is within her power to find the answers. Part of me wonders if maybe she knows on some level that the value is in the curiosity and not in the answer. The answer can of course be of great importance, but we won’t find it without curiosity.
So when does an episode of learning become a project?
Usually I notice that our interest has developed into a project when we are half way through or even close to the end. We have followed a particular line of inquiry and it has spanned days or weeks or even months. We are still asking questions and I am still providing the materials and provocations that further these inquiries. The beautiful thing is there is no distinct end to a project, it usually just branches off into another line of inquiry, sometimes just an episode of learning but sometimes a new project entirely. Only when I look back and reflect on the journey can I identify the twists and turns we have taken along the way. This is why I document, to reflect and in turn to respond. With more questions.
You can view our Light, Shadow and Reflection Project here