Encounters With Reggio Emilia

In the spring of 2017, I had the opportunity to return to Reggio Emilia, Italy, for a study tour of the municipal schools for young children with a cohort of fellow graduate students from Portland State University and two early childhood professors from the Graduate School of Education. Throughout our discussions, readings, and classroom observations, I was grappling with themes of fascism, conformity, and the danger of a single story, as well as multiplicity, creativity, divergent thinking, and the power of the counter narrative.  During this time, three experiences emerged as metaphors to support me in my thinking about these themes.

Bordercrossings

The Bordercrossings atelier at the Loris Malaguzzi Centre was a profound interactive and collaborative experience, where I experienced the power of combining natural and digital elements for exploration. I wondered, what stories do natural materials have to tell us? How can we use natural materials to share our own stories? How can the use of digital media extend and push our thinking about what we consider to be the natural world?

For me, the Bordercrossings atelier and the larger cultural project exploring the intersection of digital landscapes and nature offers a pedagogical space of  experimentation and encounter, where one can engage in a “dialogue between differences” (Rinaldi, 2009, p.5).  I believe it was developed, in part, as an intentional place of transgression, where our ideas about nature and culture can be challenged and reconceptualized.

Encounters with materials

At Remida, Reggio Emilia’s creative reuse center, I spent some time with the materials wondering what stories they hold. Perhaps they started out as raw materials…or were they developed for a particular use? Were they used as intended, or in other ways? Or maybe they were not used at all? I had been to the Remida center 8 years prior, but this time I experienced the vibrancy of the materials in a new way. I wondered, do materials have hopes of becoming something else? Do they hold the energy from their past life of joy, hope, disappointment? Can we transform reuse materials by giving them another life, and if so, does the experience change us in return?

Re-encountering Bruno Munari

I visited the little bookshop at the Loris Malaguzzi International Centre several times to choose books for myself and for my preschool classroom. It is a place of many treasures. Each time I returned I found myself drawn to one particular author whose name seemed familiar: Bruno Munari. His work is full of wonder and whimsy, and I was captivated by the illustrations. I collected everything I could find…an amazing trilogy––Little Yellow, Little White, and Little Green Riding Hood––another children’s book called The Circus in the Mist, and a funny little surrealist picture book called Seeking Comfort in an Uncomfortable Chair.
As I was leaving, I was surprised to see my favorite childhood book, Zoo, on a shelf behind the checkout counter. I pointed to it with delight.  “This book is not for sale,” the young woman working at the store said apologetically. “It was ordered for the children of Reggio Emilia.” I explained to her that I did not need to purchase it, as I have a copy from my own childhood. My grandmother kept it at her house for me when I was young and it is my favorite children’s book. It is unlike any other children’s book I have seen. I was simply astounded to encounter it in Reggio Emilia. “Ah,” She exclaimed, “that explains your fondness for Bruno Munari!” I looked closer, and yes, Zoo was also written by Bruno Munari. The illustrations are in the same style, and it is written with incredible wit and humor as well as a profound understanding of children’s intelligence. I find Munari’s surrealist writings to be a joyful proclamation of non-conformity and transgression, and the place of these books in the schools as significant of their core values. This “full circle” experience of finding Munari’s work in the Malaguzzi center reminded me of the many ways I feel deeply connected to the values and practices of Reggio Emilia.