This past Monday, our entire teaching staff travelled to the Wonder of Learning exhibit, housed in the Williamsburg Northside School in Brooklyn. The exhibit has travelled internationally for decades, and was brought to Brooklyn this year under the auspices of the newly formed group New York City Encounters with Reggio Emilia. This group has also been responsible for multiple days of professional learning that our teachers have attended this year, including a conference in November at 92Y, a workshop in February at Steven Wise, a two-day conference downtown just two weeks ago, and an upcoming workshop in Brooklyn next month. At each of these events, different groups of our teachers have dived deeply into Reggio-inspired education, both sharing models of how we approach this at our school and learning from other educators. In attendance and speaking at the exhibit’s opening event in January were Mayor Bill DeBlasio, Brooklyn borough President Eric Adams, and Sophia Pappas, CEO of early childhood at NYC’s DOE.
Our staff spent the day at the exhibit, learning more about how educators in Reggio schools listen to children and work with them to create provocative and collaborative environments. You will continue to see these practices reflected in your child’s classroom, as your teachers provide moments, materials, and ideas that challenge your children to ask questions and go about constructing knowledge through investigating their own hypotheses. I invite you to ask your teachers about the visit and learn with them about how Reggio-inspired practices are implemented in our school.
This past Wednesday, a group of parents, including PA leaders and board members, travelled to the exhibit along with other Manhattan Jewish school leaders on a guided tour by the Jewish Education Project. While there, we examined the Reggio approach to education through a Jewish lens and discussed the commonalities between them. Our tour centered on a quote from the Talmud, an ancient book of codification of Jewish law, which states, “Turn it, turn it, for everything is in it. Reflect on it and grow old with it.” While the “it” refers to the Torah, the spirit of this verse has imbued Judaism with a penchant for reflection and inquiry. This process of investigation into the world around is the hallmark of a Reggio-inspired education as well. Through our Jewish values and traditions, we are encouraged to learn by asking questions (think about the upcoming Seders!) and continually re-examining the world. Through the inspiration of the Reggio approach, we are encouraged to do the same in classrooms with our young children.
Reflection, through both Jewish and Reggio lenses, becomes a way of knowing. Inquiry, in both traditions, is a path to knowledge. Knowledge is knowing, not known. It is becoming, not being. Knowledge represents the intersection of ideas in an exploratory process. The product is not a finite statement but rather an ongoing narrative. What we know is reflective of what we have asked, not what we have been told. The construction of knowledge is a recursive and generative dialogue between child, adult, and environment. Our educational philosophy is built on this common understanding stemming from the twin inspirations of Judaism and Reggio. The daily work we do in building curriculum and moments of learning rests on this foundation.
One of our parents who toured the exhibit this week was amazed how Reggio educators truly put trust and faith in children’s ability, power, and potential. We spoke about how this leads to children rising and striving above what we might typically expect of them. One parent remarked, “To see and understand what my daughter is experiencing every day is beautiful and I really appreciate being able to share in that journey.”
The Wonder of Learning exhibit provided our staff an opportunity to look at researching, teaching and learning. As educators within New York City, we often zoom our lenses closely into the types of materials we provide for our students, how to properly prepare young children for academic expectations in ongoing schools and supporting play so that children are thinking, problem solving and forming their own questions. Taking a step back for professional development in order to see different ways in which Reggio Emilia and progressive learning can shape Early Childhood curriculum allows us to remember that every aspect of our environment provides an opportunity for growth. For example, discussing how many different sounds we hear while sitting in our classroom can be equally as valuable as providing musical instruments on the rug. Acknowledging that a swirl on a piece of paper represents the word "snail" creates just as significant of success within literacy acquisition as writing the text out correctly. Discussing the meaning of what a "place" is can provide just as much intellectual exploration as visiting a new destination as a class. Being a part of a community center allows us to learn from one another naturally on a daily basis. The Wonder of Learning encourages us to think simply about where our inspiration can begin within the space we create and share.