Early childhood and librariesHere’s a really worthwhile New York Times article about the Reggio Emilia movement that I recommend to anyone working with young children. It’s called “The Garlanded Classroom,” by Graham Bowley. Reggio Emilia is an Italian town near Bologna with public schools that encourage young children to create a lot of their own curriculum, much of it centered on art projects that are creative and “different.” The children work together on some sizeable tasks. Here’s a quote from the story:

Reggio classrooms are packed with a profusion of innovative materials for children to work with, such as pebbles, dried orange peel, driftwood, tangles of wire and tin cans. “The environment as the third teacher,” is a favorite Reggio phrase.

Several New York City schools, as well as schools in other states, have latched on to the Reggio Emilia movement to encourage their students to play an active role in their education. Others – of course you know who they are, all the folks caught in the vise of No Child Left Behind – are saying that kids who learn with the Reggio Emilia worldview aren’t going to obtain the academic skills they’ll need to pass standardized tests.

There are some good ideas in the Reggio Emilia style of education that librarians can use, particularly (of course) in craft programs. One extremely cool idea I saw recently, offered in a program in the library from the Children’s Museum of Art here in Manhattan, is to take a five-foot-long sheet of contact paper, attach it to the floor the wrong way (sticky side up) with duct tape, and give young children (toddlers, in this case) a pile of all kinds of scraps – pieces of construction paper, bits of glitter, yarn, and whatever else is around – and let them create a cooperative mural, which is then hung on the library wall. Watching the creation – and of course, given that this is a group of toddlers, the word “cooperative” doesn’t exactly apply – is a lot more fun than watching the kids with an individual coloring sheet each and crayons.

Two books for adults about Reggio Emilia that are often in demand here at the Early Childhood Center at the New York Public Library are:

The Hundred Languages of Children: the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education, edited by Carolyn Edwards, Lella Gandini, and George Forman, and Cadwell, Louise Boyd. Bringing Reggio Emilia Home: an innovative approach to early childhood education.