Reggio Emilia Inspiration


For several weeks I hardly read any books at all. My daughter and I have been working on our house, clearing up the piles, and in that process, had tidied the piles of books and magazines surrounding and upon my bedside table, which encouraged me to take a look at what I had finished, what I wasn’t likely to get around to anytime soon, and what I still felt was on the “you never know, but tonight could be the night list.” That pile made two or three piles, fiction, nonfiction, magazines which I couldn’t put away completely.

Then for some reason in the last couple of weeks I went back to the book shelf and pulled off my old favorites. I think it was the trip to my mom’s over Presidents’ Day Weekend, but I’m not sure. In Dialogue with Reggio Emilia came along, as did a photo and essay book spiral bound about David and Frances Hawkins and The Pond Study, and something else I can’t remember now. I did look through the Pond Study book that weekend, and considered Reggio Emilia, but mostly I got hooked into reading stuff on the North Dakota Study Group web site, including Brenda Engels posting of the introduction to Holding Values: What We Mean by Progressive Education, and an oral history of Alice Seletsky, an early open classroom educator who worked with Lilian Weber at City College, where my own mentor teacher, Yvonne Smith also was trained, if I am correct in my graduate school memories. I don’t remember Alice Seletsky for certain, but she may have been at Central Park East Elementary when I was there in 1989 in Yvonne’s classroom. She was there at some time, and my bet is she knew Yvonne.

From the reading of the introduction to Holding Values, what I remember most is Brenda Engel’s story of her illness and convalescence as a child and her early years in a school which she loved very much, a progressive school very much like those she would spend her life in and supporting as an educator and a writer. It strikes me now that I had a similar experience at the Coalition of Essential Schools’ Fall Forum, where the strongest takeaway for me was a story Deborah Meier, who is a close friend  and colleague of Brenda’s, shared a story about her grandsons and some farm toys they had played with as children in her country home, and how they had returned over the last year as young adults asking for those toys, which she had given to Mission Hill, somewhat to her regret, as she could imagine her boys returning to their days of fantasy play with them had they been there in her house.

Tuesday I spoke with my daughter about being eleven, about that transition from play to adulthood, reflected on my own eleven-ness, and was caught in memory by the realization of all the loss at that time, and new beginnings, the shifting from the world of toys and the imagination, the move from my neighborhood of my two best friends, and along with them, my world of fantasy play, shared over my entire childhood until then, about my exploration of new friendships, one with a girl with whom I loved to talk instead of work in our very own open classroom environment, and who had a horse, who we both loved, and then of my own move from my comfortable neighborhood of familiar children and families to a new house on it’s own large lot, without a neighborhood, to a new school in town, with friends with whom I walked the streets and played tennis and went to games and dances, with whom I most likely never played pretend, other than to fantasize about the boys on the basketball court or in math class and what we might do to gather their attention.

This week for some reason I can’t now know, I returned to Helen Luke. She’s a Jungian writer who I found on my first trip to Gilchrist, place of some fate for me, in my understanding of myself. It is perhaps no surprise that I found her there, in a cabin which was named after her, Rosewood, but which reminded me most at the time of my grandmother, who was fairly recently gone, and who had lived the last forty years of her life in a small home much like the cabin in which I slept, alone for the first time in my life in a way that made me weep, which kept me up all night wondering on how to hold the past and make the next steps into the future, which pulled me into sleep all day some days into dreams from which I awoke only to go out and walk and to take photographs, eager to both hold the dreams and to capture the new world before me, full of flowers, of trees with gnarled bark and scars, with tall grass, sunshine, dew, with moolight, fog, and stars, and with the evidence of animals, or their presence, keeping me company, along with the shadows of myself I found intriguing enough to photograph, wondering on the shape of my new self.

Helen Luke told me last night about her discovery of the power of story, in the Jungian sense. This is my second or perhaps third reading of her book, and I am stunned, as I am each time I return to an especially favorite book, in all I missed the other times, in all that’s new, but also in how comforting it is to return, how much like coffee with an old friend who was once an intimate, and who is so easily again. For Helen Luke, the discovery of Jung was a turning point and driving force in her life. It happened midlife, as it did for me, not that discovering Jung was as transformative for me as it was for Helen Luke, but it was transforming. She talks in the chapter I read last night about her involvement and then her pulling away and finally her clear separation from organized religion, and if I were more patient, I’d find the quote, but she says in clearer words than I will now, that it was the way she was able to go on in the way that was true to her own self, that the compromise that would have been required had she stayed connected to the organized groups would have altered how she lived and worked so dramatically it was a sacrifice she couldn’t make. At this point, she and some close companions established a place in Three Rivers, the town where Gilchrist is located, called Apple Farm, and this is where, if I understand my history correctly, Helen Luke finished out her life, having begun it many years before in England, having studied in Munich at the time of Carl Jung, and having come to America at the request of an American friend she met in Munich, to begin practicing as an analyst with him, as one of a needed underrepresented set of female Jungian analysts. I found her after she was gone. Which is what lead me to start this piece, as I lay thinking of my day ahead, I was caught remembering all those in the world of progressive education who I have recently, since meeting Helen Luke on paper, met in person, heard speak, or whose words I have read and reread, wishing to know. It occurred to me in a way I wanted to remember, which is why I wanted to write here, that this time is crucial. In the last few years, since I made my return to the larger world of progressive education, from parent organizer and family day care provider to wonderer in the wider world, I’ve been to conferences and retreats, met or heard many people speak, and in that time, Vito Perrone has died, John Taylor Gatto has had a stroke, Mary Leue is in her nineties, I believe, and many of the others are gone or in their eighties. If I’m going to make my book and gather the voices first hand, be witness and eyes and ears to who these people are, there’s no time to waste. David and Frances Hawkins are gone. The photographer who documented the work presented in The Pond Study sat at the small table where I bought the book, from her and perhaps a son of the Hawkins’, and I should have had her sign the book, talked with her a short while, appreciated her work again this past month as I admired her photographs and their prescience, which the organizers of the Reggio Emilia Institute at Lesley University must have, too, to have invited her there to help sell the books, as part of the larger celebration of the Hawkins’ life and work and legacy, where many stories were shared and where I left once again wishing to know more, to sit longer and more intimately in conversation or just in wait for more stories, insights, shared experience to come from those who have shaped the world in which I live, who have come before me in fighting the fight I want to fight on behalf of children and adults, for the rights we each know to be essential for the living of our lives..which right now leads me to stage two, preparing for my day, where I’ll drive a now rare carpool shift to Sudbury Valley, do my old favorite work in a coffee shop routine, attend to some appointments, including having my eyes examined for the first time since 2005, where I hope to write my piece at last about the Alewife and the Mystic, and where I’ll spend time with my daughter, not my sons, as they are growing up and away, and are on a snowboarding trip this whole week. Off I go, thinking as I am able, about Helen Luke, and her favorite book of mine, Such Stuff as Dreams are Made On: The Autobiography and Journals of Helen Luke

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Thinking about gathering the old ESS materials and going through the process of collecting them, connecting with those who were involved or who know of the project has me energized again. I’m thinking of some sort of project around progressive education, and its history over time, of interviewing or gathering interviews from those who’ve been involved, of learning more of the history and context and developments, of gathering materials from various eras, and documentation, such as films, photographs, and writings, of trying to understand what made it work in Dewey’s time, and again in the 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s, how it died out, how it might be revived, how personalities and movements connected and intersected in localities and around the world, how various institutions and organizations were involved, which are still around and how they are working for the future, how politics and economics and technology and social change have impacted education, how progressives are working now, how the future might unfold, how alternatives in education have shaped things in independent and public schools, how the two have shaped one another..

I have lots and lots of leads, many books to read, documents to explore, conversations I hope to have, ideas in my head. I haven’t ever taken on a project like this before, and I wonder how or if I’ll do it..figure the wondering is as important as the content of what I hope to explore..wish me luck..for now I need to get to work at the day job..family day care, inspiration and grounding and place for further questions to evolve, which reminds me that child care and women’s shifting roles have also played a part and I don’t want to leave that out!

Today I opened the packages I had requested last week when I was on the trail of the old ESS (Elementary Science Study) materials produced by EDC (Educational Development Corporation?) in the 1960’s and 1970’s. My school age kids are with me for the February vacation. Our school is on hold for another year. Perfect time to play around with science.

Inside both envelopes, to my surprise, was the same booklet on Mobiles! One had a note from the used bookseller on it’s condition. The other had a note from the gentleman at the Museum of Science who had sent me the last of their ESS materials, having cleared out the last in their donation to our school of science materials no longer needed in the Museum’s collection.

I thought I might interest my six, who was restless. Turns out I could not capture his attention. I, or the Mobiles, did catch the attention of some others. One girl spent a long time cutting shapes of the thin cardboard that came in the packaging, as the booklet illustrated many other children doing. My three loved the book, wondered if each child pictured there was me as a child, white, black, boy, girl. My six loved collecting the sticks from the yard, stuck his together in a sculpture of an A for his sister, using the twist ties I offered as a substitute for the various metal clips illustrated in the booklet. Another six made a mobile, or started one. A seven strung sticks together with string, stopped there. Others gathered around in the project room  messing about with the flubber we had spent our morning making.

I’m back in the world of elementary science. I do love these early primary kids, so much fun, basic skills. Time to end the day. I’m on a new trail, following my predecessors exploring the material world with children..stay tuned..

Here’s the booklet we enjoyed today..more are on the way:)

Well, guess what? I must have the last two copies..no picture or link available. I’ll scan it if I get ambitious, so you can enjoy it, too.

This afternoon my after school guy brought a recipe which he had copied onto an index card from a book he was reading. The kids made the cake and it’s in the oven. While we wait, we’ll share the recipe with you. It smells delicious.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter

3/4 cup sugar

3 eggs

1 t. vanilla

1 1/4 cup self-rising flour, or 1 1/4 cup flour plus 1 3/4 tsp baking powder plus 1/2 tsp. plus a bit more salt

1. Set the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Butter 9 inch pan.

3. Mix butter and sugar together.

4. Add eggs and mix one at a time.

5. If desired, add vanilla.

6. Mix in flour (with baking powder and salt mixed in already).

7. Put batter into pan and bake half an hour.

8.Eat warm with milk.

We’ve taken photos and eaten it. The kids pronounced it a winner and took a piece to the boy’s teacher, as he had found the recipe in his school book.

My girl who will be off to kindergarten in the fall began as a shy person in our group. Today she told us about a dancing class where she is afraid to participate because she is shy. She said this in our informal group meeting time, when others were talking about dancing. This participation alone made me happy she is no longer shy with us.

For a long time, this girl and I have shared time at the kitchen sink in the afternoon. She loves water. I first thought to do it with her because she did not join easily in the afternoon playtime of the other threes and fours awake at nap, and because I knew she spent a lot of time in the company of her many grandparents. When I was a girl, I loved to visit my grandmother. One of my favorite things to do at her house was to wash the dishes with her, with my uncle, with my sister, my cousins, my mother, my aunts, whoever was there for tea or lunch or dinner or a party.

Here are photos I took last week of my girl at the sink. This is her third year of washing with me, I think. That is something I love about mixed age grouping and about family child care. We are together for a long time, and we do regular things together, many of which give us great pleasure. Ask the fours and fives that helped to haul the Halloween pumpkin which had frozen and softened on my porch around the side of the house and into the compost bin this morning. They didn’t want to leave for the park for all the fun they were having with that pumpkin, working together to drag it on a large wood handled, metal scooped shovel along the brick walk, where I hoisted it into the compost bin and they jabbed at it with pitchforks, letting the air out of it like a big balloon, watching the liquid drain from the holes, pulling strands of pulp out the holes which they called noodles, watching the thing collapse on the pile of composting food and leaves and fungi, as our fungi loving newly five admired. Real work is real learning and real fun.

What I loved about this series of photos is the shifting of the activity from sink to table. I also loved being able to take the photos without disturbing her work or concentration. If anything, the photographing seemed to make her more attentive and invested in her project, which turned into filling glasses and carrying them on a tray to a table, which she set gradually to look as though she were expecting guests.

I’ve also included four photos of her work before the dish washing. You can see how she has made a place for herself to work on the kitchen floor by laying a table cloth there and bringing puzzles and a game, and how she has made a cozy nest on the futon where she rested beside me while I typed and the younger children fell asleep. The ability to create spaces of one’s own is something we all need. Our family child care tries to create such opportunities within our space and routine. The children make many small worlds each day.

All day long I wanted to write. I never found time. Now it’s near eleven. I have a few minutes and will try. I don’t know what to say, only that I miss the writing habit.

My son Ben and I have been working hard the last month or so to complete his college applications, my yearly accounting and 2011 tax return, and our financial aid applications. The holidays are past. We’re in a lull between events in the life of the Charter School. I’m communicating with prospective day care families for September 2012. Two families visited today, and many more will visit over the next few weeks. Yesterday Liana attended a workshop about documenting children’s learning. When I stopped to visit at the end of my second parent interview this morning, she was deep into a conversation with the children about her experience. I left them doing egg experiments, physics. This evening one of the parents shared more about the egg experiments, which her son and his dad were enjoying at home. She shared her gratitude and wonder at Liana’s teaching. I felt lucky, as I often do, to be working with her, and a little envious, both of her for having attended this workshop, which I would have loved to attend, and also for her pure love of children and her way of engaging with them so wholeheartedly in their learning. On days like today, I love talking with our new families and having time to do my desk work, but I feel like an administrator more than a teacher. I miss the kids and being with them and Liana and Alice.

Tonight I had my kids at home. I finished more of the financial aid process, got my bills in order, communicated with a financial advisor, wondered at the steps still ahead in this marathon of college applications. When I took a break at last, near eight, my son and I made dinner, then my daughter joined us and we ate and talked. As I sat back in my chair I wondered at the normalcy and the specialness of it, that time at the table with my children talking, as I had as I looked in the side view mirror of my van while I waited at the drive through window of the bank, where I caught a glimpse of workers on scaffolding putting together the newest luxury condos in what used to be a our working class neighborhood, and of the delicate, sparse snow flakes catching the sunshine like fairy dust floating in the air around me and my van and the bank windows and the workers, and I thought I caught the worker’s eye, which makes no sense now, but did in the moment of feeling myself adrift in a magical world of normal.

Now my daughter is beside me sleeping, having drifted off before I realized it, while I read to her from The Wheel on the School, tired girl, near eleven, past her bedtime. We stretched out the night, as we have only two nights together  this week, then the girl and her brothers are gone five nights with their dad, this weekend and then again next weekend, so they can go winter camping with him and our friends. I worried with her before she drifted off that her boots are not right for winter camping. They’re leather and the winter camping advice sent from the campground to her dad to me to her today has warned us all that leather boots may freeze, even if they are, as my girl reminds me, waterproof. The boys are home, too, the oldest from a babysitting job, the middle guy here all night long, telling me as we cooked about Colbert and his election antics, and about Mitt Romney and his foolishness, and I’m grateful as I listen and join in, that I listened to NPR on my drive around town today, all about Mitt Romney and his money and the elections, rather than listening to music, was grateful even as I listened, to be back in the world again, to have passed that phase of my life where all news was overwhelming, where only music on WUMB or from one of my favorite CD’s would do.

I thought then of how passing into the dark for awhile makes the light all that much brighter when we emerge. Later I wondered if that was why the snowflakes in the sun looked so much like fairy dust, if that was why my childrens’ conversation over dinner made me so especially happy, if that was why my son’s new facebook profile picture looks like a new boy.

I’m grateful to be back amongst the living with some cash in the bank, with our bills paid, with a job I love and children who are strong and healthy and happy and fun to be around, with kitties who have their bad habits, but who fall asleep occasionally on my chest while I watch tv with my youngest two and we all laugh at the silly stuff and sometimes I cry at the not so silly stuff. Watching tv and dinner and chores and npr and store bought salad dressing and a new pair of pants in a larger size that fit and won’t remind me too much of the weight I’ve gained, and the e-mail my mom sent yesterday about being thankful for small things remind me to do just that. Happy New Year 2012!

Today the kids and Liana and I made an adventure. We walked up the hill to Broadway, down Broadway to the new entrance to the new section of the Alewife Brook Greenway, followed the path to the end, crossed the street, and peered down into the water where the Alewife Brook meets the Mystic River, turned around, walked back again along the path to Broadway, walked the opposite direction on Broadway, entered the cemetery across from the path, traversed the plots to the Brook, followed it to a small path in the woods, emerged on the small bridge over the Brook where we have been starting our recent adventures of playing beside the Brook.

There are pillars with maps of these paths and waterways at the intersections of the path. The children and teachers are studying them, positioning ourselves, reading the names, studying the brooks, rivers, ponds, wondering how much further we’ll go.

When I last walked this path, I was with my friend James. We had continued on along the Mystic River, where we met some kayakers hoping to continue on to the ocean. I tell that to my children, wonder if someday we’ll walk to the ocean. My five tells me the ocean has waves. We admire the water, as it flows from storm drains and trickles over soda bottles buried in the mud. The children name the trickling a waterfall, ooh and awe at the gushing storm drains, name the ducks, daddies and mommies, lay low on the boardwalk to get a closer look at a stream running under it from wetland to brook, slip and slide on the steep boards up to Broadway and through the rutted path in the woods leading from cemetery to bridge.

When we near my house, we can’t see it, but things are familiar. The children exclaim. It’s my house! It’s a funny house! I wonder if they thought we would walk all day. We didn’t check a watch. When we get home, we find we’ve walked two hours and it is time for lunch, time for midday pickups. We are wet. Our fingers are stiff. We change our clothes. I make soup, bagels, cut cheese, offer clementines. Liana helps kids undress and dress, bags wet things, organizes the front hall. We eat together in the kitchen. The children are loud, not worn out as I would have predicted, but laughing, teasing. I think now that most likely they were proud.

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