The faculty and staff of the Child Development and Learning Laboratory and the Human Development and Family Studies area are exploring a curricular approach modeled after the schools of Reggio Emilia, Italy. There are several ideas integral to this approach that we believe contribute to building some of the highest quality environments in which young children can learn. In this approach, the child is viewed as strong, rich and capable. Children, teachers and parents work together to construct knowledge rather than the teacher trying to impart their own knowledge. The child collaborates actively with peers, adults, and materials in the environments that they explore the world around them. Also key to this approach is the use of a beautifully designed and organized environment to support exploration. Teachers and parents are viewed as partners, nurturers and researchers, and they work together to present the thinking of the children and adults through documentation of children's work.
Within this approach, teachers encourage children by questioning, supporting their interests, engaging in conversations, investigating side by side with children, providing creative opportunities for children to document their understanding and showing appreciation for children's work. These interactions allow teachers to introduce new and varied vocabulary, occur during all parts of the daily routine, and are emphasized during group meetings and within the project work that engages small groups of children during their free play. As teachers use their knowledge of children and their social relationships, interests, ideas and skills, they are able to tailor the types of learning opportunities provided to individuals and to small groups who share similar interests. As projects emerge within the classroom, teachers help children question and investigate, and they provide materials and opportunities for children to expand upon their experiences until they are satisfied with what has been learned and accomplished. Throughout this process, teachers make connections to developmental skills and record these connections on lesson plans, in newsletters, within displayed documentation, and on narrative observational records. This process varies by project and could last days, weeks and even months. Teachers also incorporate "wait time" when appropriate and help children revisit their experiences through conversations, reflections, and visits to the documentation that is on display.
Families are a crucial component of a Reggio inspired approach to early childhood education and the CDLL is dependent upon their contributions. It is the desire of the CDLL that each classroom and the activities occurring within it are reflective of the families of the program. We believe that this keeps learning connected to the greater community and that it is beneficial to each individual child as they participate in an environment that values the traditions and contributions of each family. At the time of initial enrollment in the program, families will be asked to complete a Family Survey. This tool is used to gather information about each family's traditions, culture, language and special interests and skills. The information is then used throughout the year as a tool to invite parents to share information and experiences with the children and teachers in the program so that it can become an integral part of the curriculum and of children's learning experiences. On a weekly basis, as teachers begin to plan for the upcoming week, they again question the ways in which families can be involved in the near future (a question typed right onto the CDLL lesson plan). Teachers also use newsletter updates, classroom documentation, informal conversations and both teacher and parent initiated contact in order to intentionally build the strong relationships with families that are necessary to the children's success and to the success of the program.