Planning: Anything But Linear

I’m a planner. Are you?

I enjoy it to an extent. I’m one of those people who enjoy making checklists so I can check things off.  The crossing out, the motion of down and up of the check icon brings great satisfaction to my brain.

Since having children I’ve learned to lower my expectations of what should/could be accomplished in a day. Presently, I don’t like the term “lowering my expectations” because it sounds so negative.  So the term, “figuring out what’s practical” jives better with me. I also learned to “expect every task to get interrupted.” Therefore, rather than checking off “empty the dishwasher,” rather “empty the bottom rack” would suffice in my mental checklist.

I’m also one of those people who flourishes in a neat and tidy environment. A mess resembles chaos for me and something inside me can only tolerate it for so long. Confession: I’m actually tolerating it right now by stopping everything to write this blog with food and toys on the floor right in front of me!

Why am I sharing all of this? I think these parts within me is why I enjoyed the lesson planning portion of being a teacher.  You fellow teachers out there are nodding your heads now saying, “Ahhh yes.” If you have a background in education, you learn in school how to write a lesson plan, how to write a Unit of study and so on.  A check lister’s dream in one sense! To plan ahead, check things off, move forward… A beginning, middle and end…All sounds quite linear…

“Education in Reggio Emilia is anything but linear; it is, instead, an open-ended spiral…” (Edwards, Gandini, Forman: p.10, 1998).

An open-ended spiral. Picture it. What does that look like? I picture a stretched out slinky. The Planner Checklister brain is like, “What? Wait. A spiral!?  Where does it end? What do you mean!? Ahhhhh”  Well, yes, that was my initial reaction too. But stay with me and check this out:

These are photographs of a Project Tracker, created by Julianne Wurm , author of Working in the Reggio Way: A Beginner’s Guide for American Teachers.  I took Julianne’s Reggio Documentation class online this past March.  I used Julianne’s format first, then created my own version.

Julianne’s initial format
Personalized format

I really tried to turn these photos around, but I can’t figure it out.  I apologize in advance for the head tilting you need to do to read my notes.

The first step for me was to picture the spiral. To draw the spiral in my thinking. Then I began to think in spirals. Then an amazing thing happened.  I saw my daughter’s learning and interests in a spiral movement.


If I could type in circles and spirals right now I would.  I’ll do my best:

First spiral: Baby sister Everleigh is growing, relates to questions and inquiries about Mama and Papa being younger, Being babies once…

Spiraling Into: What did we do when we were little? Games that were similar and different, what house were you born in, Moving… Off Shoot Spiral: Structure of homes, Old and New, What’s above, What’s below, What’s inside the walls, Picturing our home like a dollhouse…

Spiraling into: Concepts of other family members being younger once, Family Tree, Life, Death…

Off of this spiral is another spiral: Spring, Hibernation, New Life, Birds, Nests and their eggs, Laying eggs versus giving birth…

The spirals circle back when I re-introduce a concept.  For example, I may want Penelope to continue reflecting or revisit something she said the day before.  The spiral circles back when you revisit a concept but want the  child to express it in another language like clay or paint, for example.  In this process, more emerges, thus more spirals are made. 

As you can see, it is possible to plan an education in an open-ended spiral way of thinking. All of my notes come from my four year old daughter Penelope. Her words and her thoughts are the basis for the direction of learning.

Is your head spinning yet!? That was actually fun for me.  I loved seeing how a child’s mind, as young as four can make all of these connections. I loved to witness how ideas stemmed off of other ideas growing into endless possibilities of wonder, awe and pure joy.

In my next post I’d like to show you some bird watching provocations I created and how it became a natural part of our family mealtime together (one of the spiral inspirations). Until then, I hope you can check “joy” off on your list for today.

Please share your thoughts and comments and even confusions or questions below! Thanks so much for reading!

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