City Island Story

There’s a close-knit group of boys in the school and they regularly work and play together. They have such a close bond and really work well together, so we always try to use that to push them to do more. For example: they enjoy spelling, counting, and writing more if they are together rather than doing something on their own. In our eyes, if this how the children prefer to learn (and if they are learning more) then we will always encourage the group participation!

Two boys in the group began constructing Lego boats and were pushing them around the room, dodging furniture and other obstacles on the floor. In order to encourage them to express their knowledge of boats, floating, buoyancy, and construction in another way (or another language, as we say in the Reggio Emilia approach), we gave the boys a piece of paper and some paint and asked them to tell us more about boats. This prompted a long story (it could have easily been published as a children’s book, ha!) They would develop their story, paint, talk some more about the story, paint some more, explain what happens next in the story, and so on.

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The story developed into being a narrative about pirates looking for lost treasure. The boys told tales of coconut trees, hidden treasures, and 14 towers. The small squares of paper in their composition represent the towers, and they both counted the square tiles until they reached the number 14. The boys even made comments in between counting, saying “oh 14 comes after 13.”

They named the story “city island” and we practiced sounding out and spelling their title. We gave them paper to write the name and together, they slowly sounded out “cede iland” (this is perfect for their age group because phonetically, it’s correct).

We kept the progress of the project up the next day as well and encouraged them to work on it more. The boys are now creating people for it.

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In this photos you can see how the children were painting, drawing, building items, constructing layouts, sounding out, writing, and most importantly, explaining their story every step of the way.

This activity shows how children naturally want to learn and it highlights benefits of child-led curriculum. Many adults think that children have to be taught in order to learn, but we believe that children naturally desire to learn and want to expand their knowledge of the world and the materials in it. The timeline of this project started when two classmates were simply playing with Legos, progressed into a descriptive story, and continued to progress into a collaborative art piece. This activity is at the core of the Reggio Emilia approach because:

  • The children had some control over the direction of their learning
  • The children were able to learn through experiences of touching, listening, seeing, hearing, moving and creating
  • The children had endless opportunities and ways to express themselves
  • The children had a relationship with other children and with material items in the world
  • The environment was the third teacher

During this process, the children worked on various skills and abilities. The children worked on reading, writing, retelling, adjectives, and building a vocabulary; and lastly, the boys explored color and developed their fine motor skills and social skills.

Moreover, the children used all of their senses to create their own understanding of what to do with these materials and how to learn from them. Instead of just painting a boat, the children created an entire story and then represented that story through a multimedia art piece. During this process, the boys were able to develop their spatial awareness by combining shapes and creative curved, straight, thick, and thin lines.

According to Melody Spier, children who paint and visually create learn to think with an open mind and to look at situations creatively. They learn to express themselves more deeply through their art and their words. Moreover, painting increases children’s self esteem by creating a sense of pride, provides a stress-reliving outlet (through physical movement and a personal relaxation source), allows them to collaborate with other children, and assists in developmental benefits. Most importantly, this activity advanced the children’s fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination and visual perception. We observed the children develop gross motor skills, sensory integration, and grip strength as well.

Lastly, this activity was important because it allowed the teachers to encourage the observation, creativity and exploration of the children. In some schools, Legos are only meant to build things with and are normally the final product of creativity. We like for Legos to be the starting point for creativity! We want to remind parents to always urge your child’s exploration of the world and materials in it. Just because an object is traditionally used for one thing doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be used for something else. Promoting a sense of wonder and curiosity in our children will benefit them for years to come.

This project demonstrates how the principles and values of the Reggio philosophy hold a powerful image of a child. We believe the child is a capable, competent human being filled with potential and ambition. The children naturally engage in reading writing and math without direction from teachers and have an active role in instruction. As long as we follow their lead, engage in deeper understanding, and have an active role, rich learning experiences occur.

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