I attended the Reggio Emilia study tour in Italy for a second time, so that I may have the privilege of going deeper with specific principles of their early childhood philosophy. An area of strong interest for me, are questions around how students with exceptionalities are being supported and represented within the learning environment, emergent curriculum, and pedagogical documentation. On the first day of lectures, I worried that the information might be repetitive from what I had heard four years prior, however, was pleasantly surprised that new content was being shared. Within in our first hour, the topic that I had hoped to learn more about was shared with extensive detail. A pedagogista named, Maddalena Tedeschi and physiologist named, Ivana Soncini presented about the image of the child and valuing the differences of all children including those with “special rights” (children with exceptionalities or special needs). I was immediately engaged by their discussion, and recall feeling quite satisfied that I had returned to Reggio Emilia.
Tedeschi spoke about, “children as the bearers of rights” that are the responsibility of the community (Tedeschi and Soncini, 2015). One of these rights is for all children to have equal access to an education. Soncini argued further that this commitment of not letting our children down was both a political and ethical commitment (Tedeschi and Soncini, 2015). She spoke of the institutions from the 1970’s and 1980’s when historically children who were different were locked up or put away. In Reggio Emilia they have embraced an inclusive model for the past forty years with a progressive pedagogy that continues to believe that encountering children with special rights is a gain to all children and educators (Tedeschi and Soncini, 2015). Furthermore, their view of the school is one of a laboratory or workshop for all children and adults that is held together by education, research, and learning (Tedeschi and Soncini, 2015).
There were many points that resonated with me from this lecture, most especially the idea that every child brings with them differences, as do the adults that work with them (Tedeschi and Soncini, 2015). Who are we to say what is normal? Is there even such a thing? I appreciated being reminded about our image of the child, how we see children as capable and knowledgeable and strongly agreed with the point that a “clinical diagnosis cages us in and stops us from seeing the possibilities” (Tedeschi and Soncini, 2015). In fact, it limits our focus to what they cannot do and as a result, we begin to make judgements (Tedeschi and Soncini, 2015). Instead, we can look closer at “the child within the child of special rights” (Tedeschi and Soncini, 2015). And as summarize nicely by Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of the Reggio Emilia approach, the “role of pedagogy is to dare to go beyond and see beyond the walls” (Tedeschi and Soncini, 2015).
If it hadn’t been for children with special rights, the Reggio Emilia educators admit that they may not have been led to the hundred languages with different materials and ways of expressing themselves (Tedeschi and Soncini, 2015). We can celebrate the differences with documentation, and make visible what students are able to do rather than what they cannot achieve. I therefore, am inspired to spend even more time documenting students with special rights to show the world their special gifts and empower them all as experts in their own right.
Soncini, I., and Tedeschi, M. 2015. Lecture on the values of the educational project of Reggio Emilia, the image of the child, and the value of differences. May study tour, Reggio Emilia.
Every CHILD is a different kind of flower,
and all together,
make this world
a beautiful garden.