Collaborative Forest Canvas: Exploring Reggio Emilia with Sprout School

The Forest Room is a Reggio Emilia inspired classroom for 16 four and five-year old students. We are located at the Children’s Museum.

Each September, we begin the process of welcoming new students and forming a class. As teachers, we hold space for each individual to have a voice in the co-construction of theories and ideas. We believe that our learning community works best if all students feel connected and empowered.

We ask students to describe the way in which they would like their classrooms to exist. How will you change yourself or the community to fit this intention? This year the students discussed “spreading love” and “spreading hate”.  How can you spread love and connect to your classmates? These words and phrases, “spread love”, “spread hate” and “connect” were a part of a shared language.

Our Project Circles often return to thoughts and feelings regarding community. Students describe interactions that were difficult or voice a concern regarding a part of the day that was problematic. Teachers stay present during confrontations and frustrations that occur in our classrooms. We allow for emotions to be released in a safe and healthy way and then scaffold children as they reflect together on the circumstances and feelings that resulted.

When working in the Reggio approach, we often see “big ideas” in the classroom expressed as metaphor in the student’s work. The hard work we devoted to building community manifested on the canvas of a collaborative piece.

After months of sewing, we noticed that our studio had an abundance of material scraps. We invited the students to glue the fabric on an old canvas.

For several weeks, the canvas sat in the classroom. The teachers brought the canvas to the children and asked if they felt satisfied with their work. The children responded that they felt the canvas required more work and expressed an interest in painting it.

The canvas was again brought to circle and more ideas percolated. Four distinct ideas emerged. Alma wanted the canvas to remain the same, “I think it’s done. I like how the color is.” Jay recalled a canvas created a year prior using gold paint. Several students wanted to paint the canvas with Rainbow colors and finally there was a contingent who wanted to cover it with glitter.  After much conversation, the teachers summarized what they heard. “We think we hear you say that you are interested in having all four ideas on the same canvas and Jay has suggested we paint a spiral in the center to connect the ideas.”

The children painted and were enamored with each portion of the canvas.

 “So, the corners should be painted to match the opposite sides color and that way it looks like one big idea mixed up – just like the spiral – and people will think it’s so cool.” – Jay

We returned to the idea of the spiral to convey the idea of “connectedness”. As teachers, we acknowledged that this might be problematic because the spiral would cover parts of the student’s work.

“The spiral swirls everyone’s ideas. On the gold side the spiral’s glitter, on the glitter side it’s gold and when it gets to each side it turns to the other color like then rainbow and blue.”  – Jay

“I like the spiral plan, but it can’t be too big – what if it doesn’t look good.” – Leo

 “I don’t like that it gets too big because it would cover all the pretty stuff we made.” – Isabel

In our classrooms, we are committed to holding space for all voices to be heard. We may notice one person hasn’t shared or expressed their opinion, so we stop and wait. We want all students to have an opportunity to participate. We listen intently and encourage peers to offer feedback. The children are very invested in their plans, but the process can be daunting. It is at these moments that we rely on the strong connections we have with our students and ask them to trust the process as we respect their wishes and words. Intersubjectivity arises from this courage and investment in community.

“I just wanted to say I think it’s looking good – like you can tell we really mixed our ideas together.” – Spencer

Written by: Mary Driebe and Bri McCarthy