The work of the Atelier is based on the Reggio Emilia approach. One of the founders of this methodology was the psychologist and teacher Loris Malaguzzi. After World War II, he took the ideas of the people living in the Italian city of Reggio Emilia and shaped them into a new educational philosophy that later spread around the world.
The Reggio Emilia approach is based on the belief that every child is endowed with abilities and creative potential — adults just need to abandon strict rules and regulations and create conditions for self-expression and cognition. This is exactly what we do in the Atelier, where children and adults study together, communicate and create wonderful worlds.
If a person is not accustomed to educational freedom, it is difficult for them to make their own choices, especially in an unfamiliar space. To develop their imagination and initiative, the Reggio Emilia approach proposes the use of “challenges” — an environment encouraging the child to engage in the creative process.
Many challenges are used in our Workshop: a variety of tools and materials are kept in plain sight, there are examples of what can be created, and our staff come up with something new every day. The approach is: Let the child take their time, give them time to become acquainted with the space. When they have an idea, give them the freedom to create how and what they wish. This helps not only to foster their imagination, but also to take responsibility for their choice, to become more autonomous and aware.
A great way of encouraging creativity is the example of an adult with the child who also explores the opportunities available, is a researcher just like the child, and experiments with new materials and working methods.
All the working areas of the Atelier’s workshop are in one location that you can through freely. Nearby you can have some fun in the amazing Forest. The neighbourhood creates an environment where you can study “complex, diverse, stable and changing relationships between people, the world of experience, ideas and many ways of expressing these ideas”, which helps a child understand the relationships between objects, phenomena and concepts existing in the world.
The role of the adult
In the Reggio Emilia pedagogical approach, an accompanying adult is seen as an equal partner to a child on the path to knowledge. As Malaguzzi put it, they are “not a watchman or a magician, but a reliable friend who knows how to disappear and appear at the right time”. The adult’s task is not just to believe in the child, but to convey their faith in them. Here are some aids to this process:
- be an active listener, observing the child’s interests and their chosen methods of learning, and record their results and achievements;
- become a resource, a “generator of opportunities”, so that they can turn to you if they need to. Help them in their “zone of proximal development” (to use the terminology of Lev Vygotsky).
What is the zone of proximal development?
The prominent Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky suggested that “every child has their own zone of proximal development (ZPD). This is something that a child already knows how to do together with an adult but is not yet able to do independently. These are the skills the child is ready to master in the near future. We waste our energy teaching a child something outside of their ZPD, since they do not have sufficient resources to assimilate the knowledge. And if we propose that the child learn what they are already perfectly able to do, we slow down their development”.
- Look at the world with open eyes, be the child’s accomplice while they explore the world, tune in to be amazed and delighted.
- It is very important to communicate on an equal footing: it's better not to provide ready-made answers and solutions, but to appreciate children’s ideas and “mistakes”. The question is always more important than the answer, and the process is more important than the result.
In the GES-2 Atelier we are certain that creativity is primarily a way of knowing yourself and the world around you. To help with the former, the Reggio Emilia approach envisages documentation — a way to register a child’s path as they explore the world. There are many types of documentation, including:
- recordings of conversations with the child, their ideas and assumptions;
- video, photo, audio recordings of the creative and cognitive process;
- albums of the child’s works;
- description of their explorative and creative projects.
Documentation is important for both the children and the adults accompanying them in the learning process.
For the adult, documentation is:
- a way of monitoring the dynamics of the child’s development, noting their change of interests and small achievements;
- a source of new ideas: they can look through the records and come across unexplored issues and unrealized projects;
- an opportunity to better understand the child and their way of thinking.
For the child, documentation is:
- an opportunity to feel the value of their efforts, proof that their ideas and results are important not only to them;
- a way of making sense of the learning process and seeing one’s own path, which helps build successful learning strategies in the future;
- the opportunity to learn how to structure information and get a sense of the passage of time.
Documentation is not simply an archive of children’s creativity, to which the family will return many years later in search of sentimental memories. It is a roadmap, a tool that will help a child and an adult move along a creative and educational path.
Marina Travyanova, Anastasia Krashennikova, Katya Porutchik