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An Italian Journey into Early Childhood!

Posted by Gina M. Crough, M.Ed on October 20, 2017

On Thursday, October 19, a team of 60 early childhood directors from Pittsburgh, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Israel will travel together to Reggio Emilia, Italy, for a ten day intensive seminar in the exploration of the Reggio Emilia Approach through a Jewish lens.

The JCC Early Childhood Development Centers are proud to be a part of the local commitment to the study of best practices in Early Childhood education. The nine local Jewish preschool directors meet monthly to strengthen this commitment. As one of ten JCC Early Childhood Development Centers across North America selected to be a Sheva Lab Community with the Jewish Community Center Association, our Early Childhood Development Centers are committed to including universal values in our approach to teaching young children.

The seminar in Italy connects beautifully to the work both our Squirrel Hill and South Hills locations are doing with the Reggio approach and Sheva lenses.

Gina Crough, Assistant Director of the Squirrel Hill Early Childhood Development Center, is part of the seminar group and she will be contributing her thoughts and impressions to this blog.

1. October 17, 2017

I am honored and grateful to be participating in the 2017 Reggio Seminar:  Exploring the Reggio Emilia Approach through a Jewish Perspective in Reggio Emilia, Italy.  This was made possible thanks to the generous support of The Dr. Solomon and Sarah Goldberg Memorial Endowment Fund of the Jewish Community Foundation of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and the JCC of Greater Pittsburgh.

My travel begins Thursday, October 19, and I will return to Pittsburgh on Sunday, October 29.  I will be traveling to Italy with educators and directors from other Jewish preschools in the Pittsburgh area along with consultants from CMU’s Cyert Center, Barbara Moser and Judy Abrams.  We will be in dialogue with the educators from Reggio Emilia, with Jewish educators from other communities (D.C., Chicago, Maryland), and with educators from Israel.

The Reggio Emilia Approach (REA) to Early Childhood Education inspires and informs many of our practices, environments, curriculum and beliefs about children here at the JCC’s ECDC.  This blog gives a brief description of the fundamental principles of the approach: http://www.aneverydaystory.com/beginners-guide-to-reggio-emilia/main-principles/  Our journey with REA is closely connected to our path as a Sheva Lab Community; as we focus on the universal values and look at them through a Jewish lens, we are reminded constantly of the relationship between Reggio principles and Sheva core elements.

Here are some additional resources if you’d like to learn more about the Approach:

http://www.reggiochildren.it/?lang=en
https://www.reggioalliance.org/
https://www.reggioalliance.org/reggio-emilia/international-network/
http://www.reggiochildren.it/

On this once in a lifetime opportunity, I promise to devour as much information as possible and to return to the JCC with new and innovative ideas to advance our understanding and implementation of the Reggio Emilia Approach as it connects to Sheva’s core elements.

Many educators here at the ECDC have given me their “wonderings” about the Reggio Emilia Schools and I would like to extend that same opportunity to families.  Please let me know your questions and I will do my best to find answers. Email me at [email protected]

Sincerely, Gina

2. October 20, 2017: Venice

Dear Friends and Families at the JCC,

It’s been a whirlwind so far, but with the 24 hours of travel behind me, I only have this journey to focus on ahead of me. We are all really tired but are starting to feeling rejuvenated by the incredible sights from our water taxi ride. It is impressive the way our driver could navigate through the tiny canals! I felt right at home on our flight to Germany with children aboard making lots of joyful noise (okay, that did make it a little hard to sleep too!). I am ready to absorb all that I can and I’ll send another message at the end of our weekend in Venice.

Shabbat Shalom from my Italian journey,
Gina

3. Monday, October 23, 2017

After exploring the nooks, crannies, canals and lagoons of Venice over the weekend, we were sad to say goodbye on Sunday to such an incredible city but were excited to embark on our journey to Reggio Emilia. On Sunday we took a water taxi to the bus that would take us to Reggio. It was a grey and rainy two hour bus ride that drove past the city where I used to live when I did my student teaching in Italy- Padua! That was a powerful reminder of how far I’ve come since I began a career in education.

We arrived in the seemingly deserted city of Reggio Emilia around 12:30 pm and checked into our hotel. On Sundays most shops and restaurants are closed here. In the late afternoon our entire group, including the professionals from DC, Maryland, Chicago, Boston and Israel convened in front of the main theater for a walking tour of the city. During the tour we learned about one of the first projects that inspired the launch of Reggio Children back in the 1970s. A group of educators planned to take children to a piazza where they would create art inspired by the markets. Little did they know that the children would be much more interested in the giant lion sculptures around the square. The educators realized that they needed to shift their project and let the children explore the lions instead of the market. In a photo, you’ll see our group in in front of the lion, taken to help remind us of the importance of listening to children and adapting our plans in order to meet their interests.

I am filling notebooks at a rapid rate, inspired by my visit today to the Malaguzzi Center (http://www.reggiochildren.it/centro-internazionale-loris-malaguzzi/?lang=en). I look forward to sharing more tomorrow.

Gina

4. Tuesday, October 24, 2017

I am finding it hard to find words to describe the incredible day we had today (Monday) but I will try anyway!  When the 12 of us from Pittsburgh arrived together for the first time at the Loris Malaguzzi International Center it was an emotional experience.  In fact, I found myself wiping tears from my eyes a few times throughout the day today.

We spent about 5 hours in a lecture given by three women who had varying backgrounds and perspectives to offer our group regarding the values and organizations of the Reggio Emilia educational project.  I could spend eternity listening to these amazing people speak so eloquently, thoughtfully, intelligently and intentionally about children and their rights.  (I took 26 pages of handwritten notes!)  One of the many things that struck me during their presentation was the inherent connection between the values emphasized in the Reggio Emilia Approach and the dominating values of the Jewish faith.  Claudia Giudici, psychologist and President of Reggio Children, spoke poignantly when she said, “Children’s rights die and are born every day in our Western society.  We cannot accept a culture of indifference toward children.”

Following the lecture, we explored an Infant/Toddler center. This experience has changed my perspective on the environment and opened up my mind in ways that I could never have predicted. I predicted that this experience would educate me, but it is doing more than that.  It is changing me!

Ciao!

Gina

P.S. Photos of children and their work are typically not permitted in the Centers we are visiting. This is why I’m feverishly taking notes, and why the photographs are generally of our group.

5. Thursday, October 26, 2017

It’s been a couple very long but educational days here in Reggio Emilia!

We have come to know the city center of Reggio Emilia well since we arrived on Sunday night.  Our hotel is situated in the center just off of one of the main “piazzas” or squares in the town (pictured) and we walk just about everywhere. The cities in Italy are organized so beautifully. By incorporating piazzas throughout the city centers, its inhabitants – even if they are only travelers passing through – delight in these special places to meet, gather, relax, play games, shop and hold events.

The architecture of the schools in Reggio Emilia intentionally contains this same physical and philosophical idea of the piazza.  Each school has a main/central piazza and in some schools classrooms also have a piazza.  I was excited to learn that the infant/toddler centers as well as the preschools are investigating piazzas this year.  While they are only in the beginning phases of exploring the meaning and significance of piazzas as it pertains to the daily lives of children, the connection to our own school-wide intention in Early Childhood in Squirrel Hill was very clear to me when learning about this progettazione (project).

In Squirrel Hill, we are entering into our second year of investigating our intention of Kehilah Kedoshah (sacred community).  This feeling of wonder and curiosity that I experience every day in ECDC through the eyes of children is similar to the feelings I am having here in the city center piazzas and the school piazzas.  The connections between Jewish culture and best practices in early childhood education and the work in the schools of Reggio Emilia are endless!  Every day has been full of these “Ah-ha!” moments and I cannot wait for what the rest of the week has in store.

I can’t come to Italy and not mention the gelato…. YUM!  I’m pretty sure we found the best gelato in this country at a beautiful shop simply called Emilia.  Attached is a photo of my favorite flavor so far-ricotta and caramelized figs!

Ciao,

Gina

6. Friday, October 27, 2017

I am sitting on the bus that’s taking us away from the city of Reggio Emilia and toward Florence with many different emotions. I am feeling enlightened, rejuvenated and passionate towards my work in Early Childhood.  I am excited to get home so that I can share my experience with others and collaborate with my colleagues.  I am also incredibly sad that my time in Reggio Emilia is coming to an end and anxious about what it means to re-enter the daily life and routines of the ECDC after an experience that has transformed my perspective of our work and the meaning of “best practices.”

There is no doubt in my mind that our school will benefit from the experience that I have had for many years to come. However, my challenge is now to figure how to “tell” colleagues, families and friends about my trip.  There is no simple answer to “How was your trip to Italy?” or “What did you learn in Reggio Emilia?” To say that is has been fun, exciting, full of passion, knowledge, innovation and emotion truly would be a disservice to the experience I took part it. I have a promise to make to all of you: I will proceed with thoughtfulness and intention.

As sad as we all are to have left Reggio Emilia, we look forward to our time in Florence!  It is such a gift to be able to spend additional time in this beautiful country enjoying the culture and continuing to build relationships with the amazing professionals around me. I look forward to seeing many of you when I return to school next week. Until then…

Buona sera,

Gina

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