Last week I was invited to talk about self-organised spaces in Reggio Emilia, a city 35 miles from Bologna in the north of Italy. This was perhaps the very best invitation to speak at a TEDx talk as the city has a special history which connects to the can-do ethos of the Canning Town Caravanserai 2011-2015. This TEDx talks are curated around a grand theme of REthink in the spirit of the now global TED events and broadcasts “ideas worth spreading”.
The Caravanserai talk was well received, it is a nerve racking experience but I hope I got the story and the spirit across. It’s a lot to cover in 12 minutes!
It started with a collaboration. Loris Malaguzzi founder of the ‘people’s nursery schools’ was very suggestible like the best innovators. This is how it happened…
Five days after the end of the war, a strange rumour started circulating in Reggio: some peasant women had started to build a school on the outskirts of town. Malaguzzi, then a teacher in his twenties, heard the news and jumped on his bicycle to go and see with his own eyes what was going on. ‘These women were cleaning bricks near the river, so I asked them what they were doing,’ he remembered. ‘We’re making a school,’ they answered, and that’s how it all got started. The women asked me to look after their children. ‘Our children are just as intelligent as the rich people’s children,’ they said proudly, asking me to teach their children enough to give them a better chance in life.
Malaguzzi spent his career trying to reverse the assumption that the child was a weak human needing special support, a potential victim of adult mistakes. Instead he said ‘We must credit the child with enormous potential and the children must feel that trust. The teacher must give up all his preconceived notions and accept the child as a co-constructor.’
Rethink, the TEDx event last weekend was held in the 400 seat auditorium Reggio Children building by http://www.zpzpartners.com/#/centro-internazionale-loris-malaguzzi-2/ which incorporates a grand old parmesan warehouse and simple factories with wave after wave of rooflight.
The halls in the centre which act as laboratories for children and adults have tactile names like the ‘digital landscape atelier’ the ‘taste atelier’ the ‘body atelier and the ‘ray of light atelier’. What is known as the Reggio Approach holds natural and artificial light in near cult like reverence. The patterns of light filtered through leaves, buildings or children’s drawings are magical, and in the Reggio nurseries called ‘nests’ children draw on glass tables incorporating both tubes of light in water. The light tables backlight paint, crayons, collage, sand, leaves adding glamour and intensity to the act of making, and these low worktables epitomise the Reggio approach. In fact one of the TEDx speakers claimed at that Reggio funding of these light tables had changed the ambiance and the fortunes of deprived children in her primary school in Naples.
A 6 minute film (see here) shows how the place has become a mecca for people from all over the world working in early years education.