At a recent staff meeting we read and discussed an essay by Loris Malaguzzi called “Your Image of the Child: Where Teaching Begins”. I have read this essay several times and every time have a new nugget to dissect by the end. The essay discusses the many ways that as teacher-researchers we can facilitate environments where children are as autonomous and expressive as they can be. Reading this text was a good reminder for me of why we bring emergent curriculum, observation, and documentation to the forefront of what we do.
“School is not at all like billiards”, Malaguzzi states. You cannot predict where the pieces will scatter, how much effort it will take to move things around, or where it all will wind up in the end. Children are unpredictable by nature, which is what makes this job endlessly entertaining. Because children are constantly changing and evolving, it only makes sense that teaching would happen in the same way. Of course, there is planning that must occur but amidst the planning it is important to keep the unknowns in mind. Malaguzzi states that, “We need to be open to what takes place and able to change our plans and go with what might grow at that very moment both inside the child and inside ourselves.” As someone who is new to early childhood education, this can be one of the most difficult and exciting aspects of this job. As much as I love going with what emerges within the children, it requires a great deal of risk, patience, and adaptability. It requires trying provocations and being unsure how they will resonate with the children. Unlike billiards, we cannot predict exactly where it will end up or which activities will have a lasting impact on a child. It is often the ones I am less certain about that the children like the most, and the ones I have the most expectations about that seem to flop.
Malaguzzi later states, “The child wants to be observed in action. She wants the teacher to see the process of her work rather than the product.” This really resonated with me, and reminded me why documenting the process is so important. It also reminded me to be fully present and not distracted in my observations of the children. As adults that are conditioned to think of “success” as quantifiable, it can be easy to caught up in creating “things” and products. I think for children, though they are excited about the product, they are equally (if not more) excited about the process. As parents, you are mostly able to physically see the products of what your children are involved in while at school. This is why documentation can be so powerful; it brings families into the processes that their children are involved in. It also reminds me as a teacher that I am learning alongside the children. By taking a moment to write down what they tell me, or take a video of a process they are involved in, I am a teacher that is learning.
I have been thinking about the importance of the process in terms of the cooking and gardening that I do with the children. It is true that they are excited to see their seeds turn into plants, and to eat their cooking creation, but they are just as excited to press the buttons on the blender, watch the dough rise, and tuck the seeds into the soil. There is a lot of process involved in cooking and gardening and sometimes the product doesn’t even turn out as we envisioned. Sometimes seeds don’t germinate and sometimes cookies burn. Again, this is why we must focus on emergent curriculum and process. Each burned cookie is a learning opportunity rather than a failed product. As lovers of process, young children are a great audience for this sort of lesson. It makes me wonder how we can take the wonderful nuggets of the process and amplify them more often.
Below are some photos showing our process of pesto making recently 🙂