The Willow School is a Reggio Emilia inspired school and, as such, does not utilize a pre-scripted curriculum. The curriculum is vibrant and the construction of it on-going and unending. The curriculum is alive within the school and reflects the diversity of each individual of the broader school community. We hold each individual encountering the school accountable for introducing their knowledge into the school context.
Within this ideal image of the curriculum as a lively and ever evolving body of work there are guidelines, principles and tools used to keep the learning from becoming stagnant.
Image of the Child
The most important concept within the Reggio Emilia philosophy is a strong image of the child. The child is competent, powerful, full of ideas and curiosity and completely capable of constructing his or her own knowledge. When we approach a child with this belief we open ourselves to see and acknowledge the power within the person. When we acknowledge this power we can have an interesting, thought provoking and reciprocal exchange of knowledge.
In most cases the best way to learn something is by actively engaging in the process of doing. This is especially true for children. Every learning experience will be engaging, hands-on and interactive. Projects will emerge from the interests of the classroom community – children, educators and parents. As these interests emerge provocations will be introduced that include open-ended materials and opportunities for exploration. A project may last one or two days or an entire school year. Educators will create webs of ideas and introduce questions and materials that will lead projects to deeper encounters and thought provoking “problems.”
Role of the Educator
The role of the educator in this setting is that of guide, researcher and learner. We believe that every individual in the school community is actively engaged in learning. This is a somewhat different image of the teacher than in most traditional settings. Of course, the teacher has more life experience, more education, and more instant access to knowledge. However, the children bring ideas to the table that are new and fresh and speak from an intuitive view of the world around them. In this way, the adults learn from the children just as the children learn from the adults. It is the educator’s responsibility to open the doors to knowledge, to observe and pay attention to details, to listen and considers ideas – even the ones that are not “true” or “correct.”
Process of Learning
We believe that in any engagement of learning, the process is just as important, if not more so, than the product. In the process of any task is a multitude of information that is passed through the senses of the child. In the process of a months-long project are many concepts spanning across all learning domains, many hypothesis to consider, experiments to conduct, and social negotiations in which to engage. In the process of painting a self-portrait there are many attempts, many subtle details to examine, many nuances to establish, many techniques to try before the portrait is completed. We believe that these processes are essential and we give value to the time necessary to engage in exploration and experimentation.
Observation and Documentation
Observation and documentation of children’s processes and work are invaluable tools and provide insight into the thinking and actions of the children. Educators observe and record what the children are engaged in. These observations may take many forms – photos, video, written notes, recorded conversations. The observations are then analyzed in collaboration with others to construct ideas regarding what the children are learning and the ways in which the work may progress. Educators, parents and children can use documentation as a tool for historical recording of a project and also as an on-going living document that can be referenced in order to further the work of a project.