Our school uses animals as a hands-on way of observing life and understanding how to care for these animals. We rotate classes and allow each class to participate in feeding the fish, lizards, birds, and turtles each week. On this day the children were helping Coach Chip feed the salt water tank. Their faces were glazed over with excitement, wonder, and curiosity at how the fish ate the tiny specs of food. While this was happening, we observed the children observing the fish and encouraged them to talk about what they were seeing.
At one point, Coach Chip dipped his finger in the fish food and then placed his finger in the tank. All the fish swam to it and started nibbling the food off his finger. The children squealed with excitement, asked if it hurt, what it felt like, and tried to mimic the fish’s faces.
Towards the end of the feeding process, Coach Chip opened a door below the aquarium and brought out a tiny lobster! We were all amazed at the lobster and one of the children, Samarah, touched the lobster to see what it felt like. After Samarah touched the lobster, the rest of the children realized they wanted to feel the crustacean as well. After each child had their turn to touch the lobster, we looked closely at the creature and noticed that the lobster was hairy, had two black eyeballs, and was a red-orange color.
Later in the afternoon when the children were playing on the playground, we noticed the children trying to “walk like a lobster!”
This short activity highlights three key factors to the Reggio Emilia approach:
1) The children must have some control over the direction of their learning.
2) Children must be able to learn experience of touching, moving, listening, seeing and hearing
3) The environment is the third teacher.
We didn’t plan an entire activity around Coach Chip feeding the fish, the children simply saw what was happening and we encouraged them to express their interest and understanding of the fish in various ways. A big difference in the Reggio Emilia approach versus other philosophies is instead of memorizing something, we encourage children to learn by using all of their senses to explore the concept or subject. Research shows us that children are able to better understand and remember a concept by touching, moving, listening, seeing and hearing about it rather than just memorizing.