Laura Magnavacchi joined Reflections Nursery on an internship for three months, from September to December 2013. Read below her insightful observations of the experience.
Observations of three months of work placement
When I arrived at Reflections, I had a welcoming visit around all the building and I was surprised by the rich environment that I could see outside. The nursery extends across a big garden where the nature has top priority.
You can see the importance of the outdoor learning walking between an asymmetrical bridge and a natural tunnel, journeys on mixed materials and creative buildings, trees, plants and a massive edible garden.
In my first two days at Reflections I could enjoy the forest school experience, knowing in this way a new educational approach that I had never met before. I learnt how forest school originated in Denmark with the idea of encouraging and inspiring children through positive outdoor experiences.
I found that these experiences give children an understanding of the natural environment and a problem-solving competence, and handling risks; very difficult to reach by an indoor learning. I also saw how the wild environment could facilitate co-operation with peers.
One of the most interesting things is how the ideas can travel between the indoor and outdoor environments, finding nourishment in both and growing up, materialising in the place that they prefer.
I understand how constrictive indoor spaces can be when outdoor a child could express himself using a massive space, in horizontal and vertical ways, from his hands to the horizon, from a deep hole in the earth to the sky, using a big range of natural suggestions as inspiration.
I think about what H. de Balzac said “What is Art but Nature concentrated!”
I realized that in Reflections the outdoor learning and environment has probably an importance that it doesn’t have in the schools which I experienced in Reggio Emilia.
Speaking about environments and spaces, I found some other differences from my Italian experience also indoors.
There are more smaller rooms compared to a few large rooms and I first saw that the building lacked a square (piazza) as place where to share ideas and experiences with the others during group discussion times. I thought this structure maybe could be also a mirror of the city structures, I mean that in England is more difficult to find cities with big squares, whereas in Italy everywhere has one. In this way it's also interesting to see how each place has its own identity and how the same values could be modelled around different cultural and historical models.
I also saw few differences regarding the management of the time (I mean year's inscriptions and some of the day's routine). However, apart from these more technical issues I really could feel how there are many similarities between Reggio Emilia and Reflections' approach. I could see the same educational philosophy based on the image of the child, as human beings possessing strong potentials for development, made with the hundred languages mentioned by Malaguzzi, co-protagonists in his knowledge-building process.
In both approaches the role of Atelierista is highly valued and I found how the atelier is not just a physical space, but an idea to work with children who walked the borders of the room and wander around all the indoor and outdoor spaces.
The thing that probably I appreciate more in Reflections’ approach is the way that they really have to ask continually questions to themselves about what they are doing, which could be the best way to work at, how could they improve their skill, how it could be modified for developing in the best way and following own ideals.
I think it's interesting to see how people from so different and distant places decided to share values and work across geographical borders for a shared project. I thought what C. Rinaldi said about “A new cultural geography that goes beyond the traditional geographical borders and creates a network among people who has common sensibilities and ideals.” and I could see also in this period, during the international meetings and conferences where I was involved, a dialogue between different countries all committed in this same project that is the early childhood education.
Laura Magnavacchi January 2014
All photos by Laura Magnavacchi