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May | 2014 | Atomic Bee Ranch

Monthly Archives: May 2014

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Notes From Working in the Reggio Way: Observation

Wurm combines her thoughts on observation and documentation into one chapter, but I’m going to break up my notes and thoughts on the chapter. What has come through loudest in anything I’ve read about observation is that you have to make it a habit. Your documentation supplies- paper and pencil, camera, voice recorder, etc.- have to be at hand, but carrying those around doesn’t guarantee you’ll make the effort to use them unless you’ve established a habit.

One really common problem or pitfall of observation that Wurm points out is that beginners tend to add narrative and analysis to their recordings. Observation is strictly recording of that observation, quick jots and photographs of what the children are doing and what they are saying.

When you observe, you record all kinds of things in all kinds of ways, that way when you see an “aha moment” or see a child learn something you may discover, in your recording, the steps and learning that lead up to that. Also, over time begin to develop a sixth sense, of sorts, for what kinds of things/when to record and be able to prevent the creation of so much data. You’ll refine your recording so that you get less irrelevant or superfluous data. Once you’ve refined your observation technique and made it a habit, documentation panels and the like can be much fewer and farther between and provide a place for you to turn when you see the “aha moments” or when you need to revise and develop provocations and “curriculum”.

In some of my other reading, on the Miss Reggio blog, I read her post on the types of documentation she creates. One of the first documentation formats she lists is a daily journal. I suppose because a daily journal might or does contain some analysis and is recorded after the fact it would be considered documentation and not observation, but I can’t help but think keeping a daily journal where you record things you remember from throughout the day could be a good way of easing into the habit of observing. I know there are times throughout the day I will think to myself, I should remember this or This is important.

I actually think observation is connected to and linked with being present. You can’t be thinking of anything else, only focused on exactly what is happening in the moment. This is something I struggle with and I suspect this is why I have yet to form the habit of observing in a Reggio way. My goal, however, is to make it a habit by the end of the year.

The Language of Art by Ann Pelo

When children use art supplies they tend to engage in two types of art: process and representational. Process art comes first and really satisfies their urge to explore with all their senses. They touch, taste, smell, and use their hands, feet and body when creating process art. But there is no end product in process art, at least not an intended product. They are experimenting. The value and learning inherent in it comes from the process of working with and manipulating the medium, be it paint, markers, paper, wire, or clay.

Representational art is, as it sounds, when children use an art medium to create a representation. It may be a drawing of your family with markers or prototype for an invention they have dreamed up made of shoe boxes. Whatever it is, children use the art medium as a tool to make their thinking visible.

Giving children the opportunity to explore various art mediums in their process art helps them build a repertoire of tools they can draw on when they wish to create a representation or express their thinking. This is an especially useful skill for young children who may not yet be able to read and write or whose ability to write cannot keep up with their ability to express complex thinking. It’s important to note that representational art does not supplant process art, but works in tandem with it. Children can continue to add new mediums to their toolboxes and learn new techniques as they grow.

There is also a transitional phase. Even though children continue to engage in process art they make a cognitive leap into representational art at some point in their toddlerhood. This transition is called fortuitous realism. They have scribbled or drawn and shape and, lo, it looks a lot like a tree or person. They will call attention to it and name what they have drawn.

Language of Art

I have to admit, I’m terrible at coming up with art projects and letting Cam make a mess, so our art has been less than ideal in some ways. However, I’ve been watching Cam approach this transition and it’s been really fascinating. I’ve also been working very hard to give her plenty of time and space to play with art media (despite my mess aversion).

One of the best resources I have found is The Language of Art by Ann Pelo. It is so incredibly helpful in giving ideas for art set ups and explorations. She tells you everything you need, what the purpose is, how to set the studio up, even ideas for documenting the project, and how to clean up. We’ve only just begun working through it, but already we have had some incredible art experiences.

Reflecting: 2014/7

This. Just this. (This blogger articulated exactly how I feel about the homeschool and socialization argument.)

Reading: I’ve been reading through the posts on the Miss Reggio blog. It’s really wonderful, although it’s unfortunate that there aren’t very many and she hasn’t posted in quite some time. It is well worth the time to read through the archive, though, for ideas, inspiration, and good reflection.


Creating: Lots of process art for Cam lately. Gooey finger paint, bright slippery tempera, and floaty watercolors. I also needed to start thinking about what to make Cam for her birthday and landed on a quiet book. I’ve designed it, now it’s time to gather materials, plan out the process and jump in.

Welcoming: We have added a new member to our backyard flock. Phyllis the duckling joined us last weekend. She’s awfully cute and we’re glad to have her.

Rethinking: We’ve never had a bedtime routine and it hasn’t ever been a problem, but I thought we might be more consistent about getting Cam to bed at the same time at night if we created a short and easy routine. In addition to washing up and putting on jim-jams we also light a candle, say a verse, and read a story.

Notes from Working in the Reggio Way: Progettazione

Since readingthrough Working in the Reggio Way I’ve been revisiting chapters of the book, reading them more thoroughly, and doing the journal work she recommended doing along with the book; essentially using it like a workbook. This has been really informative both for how I see working with Cam and for examining my own thoughts about education.

In terms of more practical, hands-on application, the chapters on planning and observation have been incredibly useful. I feel like I now have a clearer idea of how to approach these things in a Reggio way. In my last blog post about this, I noted that I have read Authentic Childhood, another fabulous Reggio book, but it was so theoretical. That was what I needed when I was first approaching the idea of the Reggio Emilia approach, but now I’m at the point where I need more concrete ideas and examples of how it’s done. Working in the Reggio Way has a been exactly this kind of book.

My understanding had been that the Reggio Emilia approach has no set curriculum and that all activity is thought up by the children. It sounded like anything goes and anything and everything happens. I found this idea incredibly intimidating and didn’t really know how to ease in. How do you know exactly what provocations to set up, especially if you know your child isn’t familiar with everything in the world? Is there some kind of starting point? Do you just jump in? Does that mean there is no planning until you’ve observed and made mind maps? Do you observe your child or class for a week then begin “using” the method?

It turns out that my understanding was true, but it’s not exactly how it sounds. Firstly, there are several different kinds of projects that occur in a Reggio classroom. They are, of course, all tied together and may fit more than one category, but as Julianne Wurm points out, when trying to wrap your head around it, it makes sense to look at it in a more linear way. Throughout the chapter she uses the Italian word for planning, progettazione, because there is no good English translation that doesn’t carry other meanings. This idea carries over to her definition of several of the projects, they have words for them, but the English words carry some baggage.

The teachers do have a set of projects with set provocations and they do do some curriculum planning (progettazione). They may use these every year with little or no tweaking. However, they are very broad ideas that can encompass a lot of learning and exploring. I would call them umbrella topics. Wurm called them a project theme and says “this is the foundation, projects that all the children will do in the course of three years [the length of the program]”. Where the learning goes depends entirely on the group of children and their ideas and interests. The provocations that go with these projects tend to also be broad or open ended and, again, how the children approach them, interact with them and what they get out of them is entirely up to the group of kids and changes from year to year.

To make this a little more concrete, Wurm explains that one of the schools she apprenticed in had the Color Among the Hands project. She describes it as ” a color theory project in which children use many different languages to explore and create their own understanding of color theory”. While there was plenty of room for the children to discover and follow their interests within this project they would also have some set provocations such as painting on easels that would give the students jumping off points. 

There are also environmental projects, projects and learning that are inspired by the different areas of the classroom (such as the block area, the house play area, etc.). There are daily life projects which come from daily exposure to the world and ideas children

Reggio Emilia.jpg

wonder about. Wurm notes that these are spontaneous. There are also self-managed projects which are projects undertaken by individual children or small groups. These can be big or small and can be child- or teacher-initiated. Wurm stresses that the lines between these various projects are very fluid and it’s important not to become too rigid when thinking about them.

The projects remain flexible and child-directed because of one type of documentation called the Intended Projects. This is a planning document that is added to and edited throughout the year as new projects and ideas arise. It is also begun at the beginning of the year to get things started. I plan on discussing this in more depth next week in a post about documentation as discussed in Working in the Reggio Way.

One of the ideas I really love about the Reggio approach is that it isn’t standards based or driven. There is no end point to the learning and you believe that the children will learn what they need to learn without setting some goal. It also values the process of learning and exploring over a product that can be used to give a grade or check a box.

A Book Quandary

Recently I’ve been thinking about putting out more of our home library for Cam. I always have a out a stack of her favorite titles and seasonal titles in her room for her to choose storytime from, but I want more out in her imaginative play areas and with her blocks to act as inspiration. (This blog post from Racheous and a few Reggio books I’ve been reading really sparked my desire.)

Half of our library

Half of our library

I don’t know for sure about most people’s home libraries, but from pictures on blogs and friend’s homes I’ve been in, it seems many people have a bookshelf that they stash their child’s books in and allow their kids to have open access to. We are not most people, though. I’m a librarian who has been collecting children’s books for years now. We easily have a library of thousands. Thousands. I would have to put all of Cam’s toys away to have her books down at a level that she could reach. So it’s not so simple as moving our books off a high shelf.

Which of course means it’s all on me to put out books and rotate new ones in and old ones out. Rotating books isn’t a big deal, but I do wish there was a way to have the stacks open to her. I am most concerned that she will begin to feel that they aren’t her books or that I’m withholding them for some reason. I want her to feel ownership of our home library and feel like she can use them whenever she wants. That’s the whole point of having them afterall! And if she isn’t using them it’s wasted space keeping them.

One partial solution we are seriously considering is removing the desktop we have in the closet of the office/classroom and putting in bookshelves to create a reading nook. But even then, there are so many books they’ll have to extend up high where Cam may not be able to reach them.

In some ways this feels like the ultimate champagne problem. Poor Cam has such an extensive children’s book library we can’t fit them all on one bookshelf. 🙂 But it also puts a lot of pressure on me to be sure I am rotating the books in and out and being sure she knows what we have and doesn’t begin to feel like they aren’t her books. I don’t think there’s an ideal solution here and it isn’t exactly a problem, but it was something that has been on my mind. I’m curious though, if anyone wants to share, what your solution to book access is in your home or classroom.