Reggio Reflections from The Hundred Languages of Children

26 Jun

The child has

a hundred hands

a hundred thoughts

a hundred ways of thinking

of playing, of speaking.

A hundred always a hundred

ways of listening

of marveling, of loving

a hundred joys

for singing and understanding

a hundred worlds

to discover

a hundred worlds

to invent

a hundred worlds

to dream.

–Loris Malaguzzi, from No way. The Hundred is There.

     My brother-in-law,Ryan, tosses scoops of sand into a mound at the wooded patch we call a beach on the shore of a small lake in Northern Wisconsin. It’s an overcast day at the cabin. Occasional raindrops dot my page, and when they hit the water they make patterns that remind me of solar systems with concentric orbits expanding from the center. It may not seem like an ideal beach day at the cabin, but the water feels warmer than the air, which makes it perfect for digging, packing, building in the sand with our four kids: my two boys, three and five-years old, and their two cousins, girls, also three and five.

There are some clumps of grass in the mound of sand, and my oldest is patting it with a short canoe paddle. “What are you making?” I ask.

“A castle.”

“Tell me about your castle.”

“It’s an underground castle ’cause, see, it has grass on it.”

“Wow! I want to hear more about the underground castle.”

“They’re really, like, strong because they are underground. Underground castles are really important because they can’t get broken easy. Water and force fields protect them.”

“Who lives in underground castles?”

“Water people,” he says pointing to the puddles seeping up to fill the bottom of the trench Ryan is digging.

Turning to my son’s oldest cousin I ask her what she thinks about the castle. She tells me that she was thinking it could be a castle for Barbie and Ken and Jasmine and Ariel (you know that Ken, he’s such a lady’s man). As they played, they worked out the dynamics of melding Anya’s ideas with Braden’s. It became a castle that worked for both of them.

I’ll wrap this up with the words of Jerome Bruner taken from the preface of The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Experience in Transformation.

     Here we were not dealing with individual imaginations working separately. We were collectively involved in what is probably the most human thing about human beings, what psychologists and primate experts now like to call intersubjectivity, which means arriving at a mutual understanding of what others have in mind. It is probably the extreme flowering of our evolution as humanoids, without which our human culture could not have developed, and without which all our intentional attempt at teaching something would fail.

     To cultivate it requires an atmosphere of reciprocal respect and support, the type of respect that distinguishes schools that achieve success–like the municipal preschools of Reggio Emilia.


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