I am honored to be a Wonder of Learning Ambassador, and to spread the word about the amazing Reggio Emilia traveling exhibition that will be opening in Brooklyn in mere days. The Wonder of Learning exhibition in NYC is a must-see for all local parents and teachers! Our city is long overdue to experience this show which offers 6000 sq ft of stunning revelations of the capacity and depth of young children's minds. The Wonder of Learning traveling exhibition was last seen in Albuquerque, NM, and I saw it for the first time when it was on view last year in a neighboring state to my NC homeland: Greenville SC. The reason for this show's amazing world travels are the true wonders of learning coming out of the preschools of Reggio Emilia, Italy. It's only right that the many artifacts that constitute the show are making their way around the world: we outside the fold need to better understand how best practice is actually done. Thanks to expert documentation, we can see it firsthand through this show, and not have to travel to Italy. Not that we don't want to!! But this show has proven itself to be an excellent way of disseminating a world class teaching approach, and it has created a devoted following for all things Reggio.
We have Jane Racoosin, director of Beginnings Nursery in NYC, and her great staff of thoughtful educators, and the many voices represented within the New York City Encounters with Reggio Emilia (NYCERE), to thank for doing a massive amount of work to bring the show here. I've had the privilege of teaching at Beginnings for a few months this Fall/Winter, and I am so encouraged to see educational wisdom gleaned from the fabled small Italian town taking shape in New York City, with such profound meaning for 2, 3 and 4 year olds. Now is the moment for New Yorkers to consider how to apply what great things we have learned from Italy. Viewing children's actual work and accompanying documentation from Italy up close and personal is powerful. It can transform our conceptions of children, and for those of us in education, it can galvanize us to reframe our approach to be more child-centered.
In order to provide support to the public sector, Jane founded Teaching Beyond the Square as a non-profit companion organization to her excellent preschool. A key component of which is the Beginnings Materials Center, a sort of mini-REMIDA in NYC, which is run by the amazing Robin Koo, whom some believe has the best job in NYC. This center, otherwise known as the 4th floor of Beginnings, is one of my favorite rooms in the world. When I first walked in, I felt I had stepped into my own dream (of having a materials lab in Red Hook, ie: a library of natural and recycled materials saved and sorted for the sole purpose of young children's explorations). I have been so pleasantly surprised to get to know what Robin Koo and Amy Miller, studio teachers at Beginnings, and fellow alumnae of Columbia Teachers College Art Education department, are up to with this vast collection of materials.
Click image above to see two more images of my daughters in the Beginnings Studio. Note the similarity in color and shape of the blue objects in the box my 2-year-old is holding, and the blue medical boot on my 5-year-old daughter's foot. Willa, 2, went straight for this box of mysterious blue shapes, and stated, "X-Ray Shoes!" Sure enough, they were just that: miniature blue shoes that echoed the shoe shape and color that her sister had to wear post-X-Ray (which happened earlier this same day) and post minor foot fracture. The spot-on nature of this discovery renewed my love of my daughters and my love of working among young children, with open-ended materials like these. I would have never seen these blue objects as mirroring the boot on my daughter's foot, and that's just the point! How they see: in wise and wonderful ways! What a joy.
I donated several boxes of materials to the show, in hopes that my long-saved seed collection, including tiny bags and boxes of wispy milkweed and other ephemeral seeds of unknown origin, from around the world, as well as a cornucopia of plastic, cardboard and wood shapes, could be well appreciated by young and old friends from across New York City. That sounds better than sitting quietly in a dark storage room in our ever-bulging apartment! My girls and I, along with our friend Camille, helped sort some of these materials the week before the show opened.
To experience the Wonder of Learning, go to 299 North 7th Street in Brooklyn (L train to Bedford Ave, first stop into Brooklyn, directly across from Union Square), any Wednesday through Sunday from 12-6pm (additional extended hours listed on the website), from January 15 through May 15. The interactive ateliers are worth bringing children to! These include areas that focus on LIGHT, WOODLANDS and OCEAN, to name just a few. The ateliers contain thousands of treasures that children can touch and manipulate. Many of these objects are drawn from the Materials Center at Beginnings Nursery, which houses the best collection of loose parts and recycled art supplies for early childhood in all of NYC. The talented Robin Koo maintains this library of wonder, in her role as Program Director of Teaching Beyond the Square, and she is curating the ateliers of the Reggio exhibition as well. Because of Robin and Jane's directorial efforts, this show will be a reflection of one of the best preschools in NYC--Beginnings. Not only that, it's a marvelous opportunity to take a look into some of the best preschools in Italy and the world. What does best practice look like in early childhood? Come to Williamsburg and see.