The Reggio Emilia Approach is based on an Inquiry approach to learning. What does that mean exactly?
The big picture is this: We want our children to know their questions are valuable. They are not only worthy of our attention and praise, but they establish a mindset of becoming lifelong learners. With a child’s question, we teach them HOW to answer it*. In the process of answering the question, we provide materials to express understandings and further questions. We show children resources in how to look up information, but at younger ages we can show children information through play, art and hands on experiences. These forms of expression through learning and discovering is what Reggio teachers call The Hundred Languages. There are hundreds of ways to express understandings and the more we can think outside of the box, the better it is for the brain to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills.
Here’s an example: This time of year, the moon can be seen in the morning. On our way to Yoga Preschool, Penelope noticed the moon in the window of the car as we drove down the express way. “The moon is following us Mama! How does it do that!?”
“That’s amazing! What a great question! We’ll have to figure it out!” (I purposefully don’t answer right away, but I might provide other questions that will lead us to an answer like, “Do you think the moon is close to us or far away?”
“Does the moon have a face!?” (This question may have come up from previous conversations).
“I’m not sure, we’ll have to look closely to find out!” (Rather than answering a simple “Yes” or “No,” encourage children to “look closely” to make more observations).
When you’re in the process of investigating an idea, there’s no immediate right or wrong answer. If the child isn’t correct about a factual concept, I encourage her/him to explore it further and typically she/he is able to figure it out. This is why our role as the educator (whether at home or at school) is to guide and facilitate learning.
With the particular question, “Does the moon have a face?” I don’t mind involving imagination and wonder, especially if the child is younger (like toddler or preschool age). The first thing I did was look at children’s literature we had in our home since reading and looking at books is a favorite pastime. Here’s what I found:
When setting up this particular provocation, I knew I wanted to use her question with a picture of the moon and some open ended materials. I had an idea of the direction she might take with it and I could guide the direction by providing questions like, “Do you see a face in this picture of the moon?” I read her question aloud to her and then waited to see how she’d respond.
Provocations however, do not need to go in the direction you think they might go. The child can change course. You want to see where the child is at, what are their current understandings and how are they expressing them?
After this provocation, I reflected on what Penelope said and two things stuck out to me: First when she said, “The moon followed me when we were driving with a tiny tiny face.” What does this statement reveal about her thinking and understanding? She has an idea of distance. I would like to revisit this statement with her and ask, “Remember when you said the moon had a tiny tiny face? Tell me more about that.” The second thing that stuck out to me was when she said, “I like when the moon follows me.” I thought that was so sweet and exploring this concept might be more intriguing to her than it’s face… Then again, maybe not… But my next steps may include this concept and see where it takes us.
We continued this investigation by reading some children’s literature we had on hand. Cosmo’s Moon by Devin Scillian is a fun story about the moon following Cosmo and never setting in the sky because he liked to be around him so much… until people started to notice…
We also read an adorable story by Kevin Henke’s called Kitten’s First Full Moon. Kitten mistakes the moon for a big bowl of milk… and it seems just enough in reach to taste it… but is it?
I like how these stories play with the ideas of space and distance with the moon. Lastly, another beautifully illustrated story we read about the moon is called, Mama Let’s Make a Moon by Clay Rice.
I hope this example of using a child’s question from every day life demonstrates how the Reggio Approach uses inquiry to guide learning, and leads you down a path of wonder and discovery.
*Please note: We recognize that not every question in life can easily be answered or even have an answer. These are what I call Life’s Big Questions which may involve elements of faith and trust in the unknown. I think it’s a healthy and wonderful sign of development if your child is asking these questions! For these I’d say before answering, “Well what do you think?” You can explore answers together on these types of questions as well.