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It’s Not Small Talk: The Wonder of Weather In Early Childhood Learning

Noticing, wondering, sensing, and experiencing are all characteristics of the curious and the creative. They are also at the very core of Reggio-inspired early childhood learning, a  project-based educational approach in which learning stems from student interest. Among the countless topics that can ignite children’s inquisitive nature, the weather, with its seasonal, daily, even hourly changes has near limitless potential. Connecting art and science, while holding the potential to lay the foundation for a life-long commitment to care for our planet, investigations stemming from weather, make for profoundly meaningful learning. 

At Discovery Village, which opened this past July, we did not initially imagine how central the weather would be to life in our village. Committed to learning stemming from children’s interests, we watched, attentive to children’s conversations and self-initiated activities. With large windows in each classroom facing the outdoors, and outdoor play and nature walks twice daily, we quickly noticed our students’ conversation, wonder, and explorations into nature, the weather, and over time  the changing seasons.  

Summer


Family trips to pools and beaches, boating and fishing, rainstorms and puddles, plentiful water play, and love for the song “Baby Shark” opened up endless conversation and curiosity this past summer about water.  We watched out our windows at the summer rain showers, jumped in puddles when the rain abated, and splashed around through water play outdoors and sensory bins inside. 

Investigations stemming from children’s interests included ways people explore the sea, using boats, submarines, and scuba diving gear. We engaged in learning both about creatures that live under the sea, and about ways land animals cool down in the heat. Sensory experiences with water, sand, and even one in which we made our own mud abounded, as did loads of splashing around and water play. We took nature walks collecting items related to summer and watched the sun and the clouds, as well as the shifting colors of the sky. Science experiments using water, as well as art activities with water rounded out our experiences. 

Fall

As the weather cooled and our relaxed short sleeves and sandals gave way to cozy sweaters, beauty and gratitude emerged as Fall themes. Science activities relating to the changing colors of the world around us, and art projects incorporating fall items we collected on nature walks occupied our imaginations. This led to increasing interest in art and the creation of our own museum and range of gallery exhibits. We learned about the harvest and where our vegetables come from, took many nature walks, and celebrated with harvest festivals and a special Friendsgiving feast. 

Winter

It is just the beginning of our winter explorations. We’ve already created a range of winter art, and are starting so many experiments with snow and ice.

Even more significantly, we’ve embraced our curiosity about the world in which we live. As we play, wonder, experiment, and create, we’ll also be thinking about ways of showing care for the world around us.

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REV It UP! Relationships, Experiences, Values

The first five years of life; a time of wonder, imagination, creativity and discovery, are marked by incredibly rapid development of both mind and body. Through play, interaction with others, and exploration of the world around them, children reveal their emerging personalities and identities. While a child’s home is the most central of environments in which to learn and explore, children benefit enormously from widening the circle of individuals with whom they interact. Through relationships with adults and peers; learning by doing as part of playful experiences that emerge from children’s interests; and a focus on values, children set lifelong foundations from which to learn, develop, and thrive. 

In some places throughout history and around the world, children have been organically embraced in communities of caring relationships, engaging experiences, and meaningful values. However, more often than not, parents in contemporary times are tasked with the challenge of actively putting together their own community, their own village, so vital to nurturing children’s healthy development. Many turn to childcare and learning centers, not only out of a need for their children to be cared for while they are at work, but out of a commitment to providing an exemplary environment for their children. Embracing the Reggio Emilia approach to learning, Discovery Village is actively designed to be the village children and families deserve, grounded in these three central pillars: relationships, experiences, and values.

Relationships

We consider relationships to be the fundatmental, organizing strategy of our educational system.

Loris Malaguzzi

Founder of the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education

Grounded in the educational vision of Loris Malaguzzi, founder of the Reggio Emilia approach, relationships between children and teachers as well as peers are not an “added bonus”, a nice benefit for families who choose a childcare center rather than in-home care. They are at the very center of our understanding of powerful learning for children. Through developing friendships, and forging strong bonds with their teachers, children learn about themselves, others, and their world. They develop social-emotional vital for success and well-being, while experiencing the joy of being understood, appreciated, and respected for who they are and for who they are in the process of becoming.

Experiences

Creativity seems to emerge from multiple experiences, coupled with a well-supported development of personal resources, including a sense of freedom to venture beyond the known.

Loris Malaguzzi

Founder of the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education

At Discovery Village our curriculum is dynamic, emerging from children’s interests. Guided by children’s creativity and curiosity, each day children participate in multiple projects incorporating the arts and sciences, literacy and math. Topics of exploration have included life in a science lab, on a farm, as an astronaut, in a museum, and within a transportation center. A vibrant village, located in the lower Hudson valley and its magnificent changing seasons, the outside world is incorporated into our learning as children spend time daily in our playground and on nature walks, from which they bring back materials from the outdoors to include in our learning. Celebrations are also incorporated into our learning with holidays as varied as Friendsgiving, Pablo Picasso’s birthday, STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) day, and pajama day. These events bring us together as a village, engaged in learning and fun.

Values

Our image is of a child who has his/her own values and is adept at building relationships of solidarity.

Carla Rinaldi

Renowned Leader the Reggio Emilia Schools; President of Reggio Children 

The parents who built the very first of the Reggio-Emilia schools, in the days following World War II, were deeply motivated by the desire to prepare their children to stand strong against oppression, injustice, and inequality. From those courageous beginnings, many Reggio-inspired schools throughout the world have embraced a deep concern for nurturing values central to their own communities and contexts. At Discovery Village, supporting children to live values of care for themselves, others, and their world is central to our experience. In age appropriate ways, children are supported to be good friends and good villagers, doing what they are able to contribute to the betterment of others.

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The Reggio Emilia Educational Approach

In the days and weeks following the end of World War II, the area of Reggio Emilia in Northern Italy was left in ruins. The combination of military action against resistance to the Nazis and allied bombings had devastated the region. Amidst the rubble, on land contributed by a local farmer, using materials from bombed-out buildings, a small group of parents set out to build a preschool for their children. Funding came from the sale of an abandoned tank, three trucks, and a few horses remaining from the war. The parents, having just emerged from the horrors of World War II, envisioned a school that would prepare their children to stand strong against oppression, injustice, and inequality. 

Having heard rumors of the preschool being built out of the rubble, a young educator named Loris Malaguzzi, himself strongly shaped by growing up under fascist rule,  set out on his bicyle to see what was happening. Inspired, he commited the rest of his life to working with families in the region to create a school, then several schools, then a municipal network of schools, and over the years an international network of schools. 

Core to the Reggio approach is the belief that children form their personalities during their early years and possess “a hundred languages”, or a multitude of ways to express their personalities, ideas, feelings, and creativity. These “languages” include painting, storytelling, movement, dramatic play, and so much more. Teachers work with children to plan both long and short term projects based on children’s interests. They document children’s activities and work, using photos, videos, audio, and written descriptions. This documentation is used to reflect on children’s learning, and to plan ongoing learning experiences. Nurturing strong relationships between children and their teachers as well as their peers is central to the approach. Respect, responsibility, and community are highly valued. 

Reggio-Inspired

Schools adopting the Reggio philosophy typically call themselves “Reggio-inspired”. While embracing core principles of the Reggio approach, each Reggio school designs its own program reflecting the interests of children, educators, and families at the school. There is no one “Reggio Way”, no certification process to become a Reggio school, nor any particular curriculum that must be followed. Such standardization would be antithetical to the Reggio approach, which embraces exploration, creativity, and discovery based on children’s interests. 

The Reggio Approach at Discovery Village

Offering our own unique flair to a Reggio-inspired approach, Discovery Village’s name speaks to our three core pillars:   Relationships, Experiences, and Values (REV – REV it up with Discovery Village!) With the warmth of a close village, we focus on developing caring, trusting relationships. Experiences are viewed as the key to learning and creating with a robust project based approach. Children and teachers transform their classrooms into places that could exist in our village, stemming from children’s interests. Learning in all subject areas is carefully integrated into the experience of designing and living in these village places.  Inspired by the vision of the founding families of the first Reggio school, who focused on preparing children to oppose oppression, injustice, and inequality, we embed an emphasis on living out core values within our village.  

Key principles of Discovery Villages Reggio-inspired approach include:

Student Interest: Our curriculum emerges directly from student interest. We integrate learning experiences into the design of our village places and into activities children engage in within these places.

Self Expression and Creativity: We embrace the Reggio notion of “100 languages” or the many ways children can express their ideas, feelings, and creativity. These include painting, storytelling, theater, sculpting, music, science, math, dancing, and so much more.

The Physical Environment as a Teacher: Our classrooms are quite literally transformed again and again into places of interest to our children.

The Flexible Use of Time: Village places shift with student interest. They can last for as short a time as a week. Alternatively, as students become more deeply engaged and invested in a place, they can remain much longer.

Documentation and Sharing: Student work is documented in a range of media. This enables teachers, and children themselves, to reflect on learning. It also enables children to share their work with others. Children will publish their learning in our Village Magazine. They will also present to family and community members at Village Festivals, celebrations featuring what children have designed and learned in our village spaces.

We look forward to documenting our journey in designing and redesigning our village.