After this last round of research, in which I have basically brought into focus what is actually supposed to happen in a Reggio Emilia-inspired school, I have discovered a better appreciation for what it is that I, as a teacher, am supposed to be doing.
Case in point: I was taking a break from actual research to catch up on my RSS feeder reading (I don’t know the proper terminology to use here!) and I realized the absolutely stark contrast between projects done in traditional early childhood education, and those with emergent curriculum. See if you can spot the difference with me:
Wow, what a difference. It has been said that I come up with some of the cutest projects for my kids, but throughout this research I have been left wondering what they actually learned through those projects. And this may seem like sacrilege to some teachers out there, but I did very little of the typical Thanksgiving activities with my kids this year. Why? What would they learn? Three year olds can’t understand the concept of a Pilgrim or a Native American. They may understand to some degree what it means to be thankful, but is it really worth the heartache of making them sit still while you are trying to explain it to them? And how in the world do you explain the concept of “being thankful” to a three-year-old, anyway? Their time and mine would be better spent working on something concrete that they can grasp, or working on something that they can create for themselves. Or working together on projects that the kids come up with. After all, what could be a better way to learn how to be thankful than to examine the emotions felt when another child or a teacher helps you with something you are having difficulty with?
This research has caused me to examine the abstract and complex, and contrast it with the concrete. From my limited knowledge of epistemology I understand that abstract principles are built upon concrete principles. If we don’t go through the process of helping children define the concrete, how in the world are they ever going to be able to build upon them? This is one of the things that I love about emergent curriculum. It involves children researching things that they are interested in, experimenting with those things, developing their knowledge about those things, and changing their perceptions based on the results of their research and experimentation. They build on their own knowledge, and through that process they develop the skills necessary to question and learn about anything that they want to throughout their life.