ORA-Journal-MastWinter 2012


‘Listening to Ordinary Moments’


In this Issue:

  • President’s Message

  • From London Bridge Child Care Services

  • “What does it mean to learn in a group?”

  • The Mega-Quarry Project

  • The Intentional Teacher

  • Learning in Relationship… Pedagogical Orientation

  • The Reggio Philosophy: A Journey to Life-Long Learning

  • Save the Date – Co-constructing Contexts for Meaningful Engagement

Editor’s Notes

Dear Members of ORA,

The winter issue for ORA Now offers contributions from five settings around the province – London, Sudbury, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, and Kawartha City – each highlighting a process that arises out of ordinary moments in a day yet leads to larger and more expansive reflections about teaching and learning. Watch for the way an educator at The Jacob Hespeler Child Care Centre shifts her stance, from thinking she will need to correct “destruction,” to listening to a child’s positive intention and embracing it. This stance of authenticity in the adult, listening closely and suspending a tendency to leap to action, then appreciating a child’s intention with empathy, is one I call “aesthetic responsiveness”. I see educators developing aesthetic responsiveness as a consequence of holding an image of children as competent and resourceful – just one of the changes that occurs to those engaged in Reggioinspired processes. And note a similar stance from the adults, suspended in observing closely a boy engaging with a puddle, in Anne Marie Coughlin’s contribution from London Bridge Child Care. We are given as well multiple interpretations generated by the adults in response to the photo image. Here, in my view, is an example of what Karyn Callaghan brings to our attention in her message: Elena Giacopini’s argument that our work requires elaboration, giving value to “the thoughts of teachers and parents”. In a culture that values research so highly, giving value to the voice and perspectives of educators remains important.

With good wishes to all,

Carol Anne Wien, editor


From the ORA Board President: A Pedagogy of Relationships

Our understandings of the Reggio experience become more complex, and our sense of how much more there is to learn grows with each opportunity we have to engage with educators from Reggio. The presence of The Wonder of Learning – The Hundred Languages of Children exhibit in Vancouver for the past six months has been accompanied by conferences and events involving Carlina Rinaldi, Elena Giacopini (pedagogista) & Loretta Bertani (atelierista), and Lella Gandini. Several educators from Ontario and members of the ORA board of directors were participants in these events, and bring our constructed meanings back to our context.

Elena Giacopini said that it is not enough just to do things with children, and listen to them. We must elaborate our work. We need more capacity to interpret what we see in young children and give value to the thoughts of teachers and parents. The challenge is to organize all things in such a way that experiences are not simply immediately pleasant, but rather that they promote other experiences which are desired, generating an experimental continuum, moving forward in learning.

She described documentation as a strategy for a culture that brings together self-reflection and dialogue, a culture that keeps together a variety of perspectives. These views challenge us to construct a new view of the role of the teacher. We have had to infer much about what the educators do in the context of Reggio Emilia, but we heard more about this in Vancouver. Elena said that they don’t ‘teach’ children; they ask them to create strategies. They repropose variations on experiences, in contexts that are coconstructed with the children. Their role is to support children’s discussions, to pay attention to the ideas arising, perhaps to “throw one back”, or invite drawing, or propose another “relaunch”. Loretta Bertani said that you don’t always need a direct question. The educators in Reggio do not engage in a teacher-child interrogation, but rather pose a question for a group to consider. And she cautioned that if children give the response you expected, it’s not a question.

Several members of the ORA board have been invited to engage in meetings with teams from the Ministry of Education. These opportunities are also rich, as we think together about the transformation that is taking place in early learning in Ontario. Assistant Deputy Minister of Education Jim Grieve spoke at a recent conference organized by the Canadian Association for Young Children and ORA, and stated that changes that are being proposed are being inspired by the Reggio approach. The educators in Reggio encourage us to be courageous, to recognize that it is necessary for us to refuse redundancy and conformity, and rather to push outside our bounds. Malaguzzi urged them not to get stuck in their ways, to have an attitude of research. To dare the future then is not a risk, but a necessity. We are seeing more and more courageous educators, administrators and policy-makers who are embracing this opportunity to transform early learning in Ontario. It will not be easy, but with optimism and joy, we are facing the challenges together.

Karyn Callaghan


From London Bridge Child Care Services

by Anne Marie Coughlin

2012-w2For the past seven years London Bridge Child Care Services has offered opportunities for early childhood educators to participate in an 18 month leadership program that focuses on vision, values and growing a culture of reflective thinkers. Educators in the program each take up an action research project based on an inquiry they have about their own work. Last year Shelley Brandon chose to do her research around the question, “How can I support a toddler curriculum within a patch of grass.” Shelley’s research stemmed from her deep connection to the outdoors and her strong desire to offer young children meaningful experiences in a natural environment. Her idea was to study how toddlers engage in an outdoor space that housed nothing but grass, stones, logs, leaves and other items that would be naturally found there.

A skilled photographer, Shelley found that she was able to capture and study profound moments in the children’s experience. Her personal photo study, while very helpful, left her to fill out her own ideas without considering other perspectives. This revelation led her to include others at her centre to study and make meaning of the children’s moments with her. This in turn inspired a photo study and writing initiative across multiple child care centres throughout London Bridge. Individuals would submit a photo from their own classroom and would work together in groups to study each image for upwards of 45 minutes. We asked questions like;

  • What words come to your mind as you study this image?
  • How is the child conveying this to you?
  • How does the child help you to remember your own childhood experiences?
  • What is the child showing you that he knows or is capable of?
  • What do you think the child is thinking or feeling in this moment?

In each case the group would decide on the word that in their view best captured the feeling or idea that the image left with them. From the dialogue that unfolded around each photograph, the group would write up a short paragraph or poem that captured the essence of their conversations. These photo studies were attended by early childhood educators, administrators, students, directors and even some of our centre cooks.

The intention was not so much to capture exactly what happened, but to practice a different way of seeing children. A way of seeing that might help us to linger in a moment, examine our own values, and consider more deeply the competencies and perspectives of the child.

Below is the result of one such photo study.

RESEARCH Hovering hands Suspended between the castings of shadow and light A gentle caress or a countdown to a monumental splash? Tiny fingers dancing in their own silhouettes Tickle the surface and interrupt the still Enveloped in this murky oasis he is in charge of so many possibilities

 “What does it mean to learn in a group?”

by Sharon Speir, Superintendent of Schools, Rainbow District School Board


After the camera has captured the perfect pose, the children dissolve into laughter – pure joy! These girls have constructed their own meaning of this shared experience – which is often the case when we work with 4 and 5 year olds – one totally different from what their audience will perceive in the published picture.

Rainbow District School Board in Northern Ontario is implementing the new Ontario Early Learning program for 4 and 5 year olds using the Reggio Emilia philosophy as inspiration. This year, a small group of teachers and early childhood educators, along with a speech pathologist, education officer, professor and superintendent, have been meeting monthly as a research group. Our goal is to gain greater insights from the children in Early Learning classrooms about what it means to learn in a group.

This research focus is important to us because we have discovered that, in a group, learning takes on different trajectories and quite different meanings emerge than those we had anticipated. This keeps us on our toes – in an adaptive mode – constantly seeking to understand the meaning that children are making of their experiences in school.

About teacher’s competency, Rinaldi (2006) writes: “There is also an element of improvisation, a sort of playing by ear, an ability to take stock of a situation, to know when to move and when to stay sill, that no formula, no general recipe, can replace.” (p. 73)

As we meet to examine photos, text and video of children spontaneously forming and reforming groups, we are struck by how tenacious children are in their commitment to be with each other, and the plethora of strategies that are required to navigate the murky waters of group dynamics.

According to Rinaldi (2006), the idea of dialogue (which I translate here to include the often unspoken communication in a group) is of exchange with the possibility of transformation – of giving up the ability to control the final result and, in the process, facing the prospect of losing oneself. The idea of letting go of control is risky business, especially in schools where ‘knowing’ remains an important aspect of our identity as teachers and educators. Yet letting go and losing oneself opens us up to the possibility of learning and of transformation.

Emily Caruso-Parnell, a lead Kindergarten teacher and a member of our research group, produces a newsletter for parents and colleagues in which she made the following observation: “Lately, I’ve been very interested in the way that children choose to work together, how they configure their groups and how their groups change over time. I’ve been surprised at the ways that children choose to work together. It never would have occurred to me that children would choose to paint together. From an adult’s perspective, painting seems like a solitary pursuit, but the children disagree.”

Working with documentation is a bit like that, suspending beliefs and expectations of what we think we will see to allow ourselves the opportunity to see what we may not expect. The sense of ambiguity, of being okay with the not knowing, takes courage. The Reggio perspective is that children are researchers, and their ideas are not fixed but provisional. These are qualities we, as educators, can learn from.

“Children can give us strength of doubt, and the courage of error. They can transmit to us the joy of searching and researching…the value of research as an openness towards others and toward everything new that is produced by the encounter with others.” Rinaldi (2003)

Emily continues her reflection on what is happening at the paint easel: “It’s become very common to see more than one child sitting or standing together at the easel. Interestingly, they usually don’t identify the finished project as being a shared creation. They tell me: ‘It’s Noah’s painting and I helped’. One child seems to take on the role of creative chief. In one case, however, a group of girls developed a sort of custody arrangement for one particularly precious work of art. So much of the work we do in Kindergarten is focused on personal and social development and being able to work in a group is a critical skill for success in school and the workplace. I’m excited to see where our group learning takes us.”

Reading Emily’s words, I am struck at how children value one another by standing by and offering support through the ambiguity that comes with trying something new.

I note that, as a research group, we are now able to see and value the learning of the child who stands on the side, in contrast to earlier when we might have only noticed the child who produces the work of art.

There are many other questions we will explore in our research. How do groups form? How do children support each other’s learning in a group? How do individuals influence the group and how does the group influence individuals? How do we document learning in a group? What learning do we value and why? We are certainly interested in hearing from those working in this way about what questions you think are important.

Like Emily, I cannot wait to see where our group learning takes us.


Rinaldi, C. (2003). The teacher as researcher. Innovations in Early Education: The International Reggio Exchange. 10 (2), 1- 4.

Rinaldi, C. (2006). In Dialogue with Reggio Emilia: Listening, Researching and Learning, Routledge, New York, NY.References:

Rinaldi, C. (2003). The teacher as researcher. Innovations in Early Education: The International Reggio Exchange. 10 (2), 1- 4.

Rinaldi, C. (2006). In Dialogue with Reggio Emilia: Listening, Researching and Learning, Routledge, New York, NY.

The MegaQuarry Project

By Aida Fahoum and Rachel Hughes Teachers at The Bishop Strachan School in Toronto

2012-w4At The Bishop Strachan School, it’s always our intent to develop learning experiences that are real, meaningful and relevant. We honour the girls’ experiences, curiosities, and desire to explore by cultivating a learning environment that is a safe yet challenging space that provokes them to think deeply about the world around them.

Last year, our Grade 4 students conducted a year-long investigation into the proposed 2,316 acre quarry in the township of Melancthon, just north of our city. This real-world and local provocation not only allowed the girls to develop an understanding of the big ideas: diversity, heritage and sustainability, but also helped them see key issues from a multiplicity of perspectives.

Their experiences were many, but included: exploring collage as a way to understand how the creation of quarries involves the deconstruction of natural landscapes for the creation of new ones, a study of the photography and ideas of Edward Burtynsky, the sketching of quarries to explore their expansive nature, learning about geology (rocks and minerals), using media literacy skills to create effective mega-quarry posters, and writing petition letters to individuals in public office.

The girls became quite passionate about their viewpoints and increasingly articulate in voicing their opinions and expressing their emotions. The girls created a video that represents a number of viewpoints from a variety of people involved with and/ or affected by the proposed development. This video illustrates the complexity of the issues and was created with the intent to present the facts in a way that helps others make up their own minds about where they stand on the issues.

On November 21st, it was with great excitement that we were able to share news with the girls that the Highland Companies officially withdrew their megaquarry proposal and issued this statement:

“While we believe that the quarry would have brought significant economic benefit to Melancthon Township and served Ontario’s well-documented need for aggregate, we acknowledge that the application does not have sufficient support from the community and government to justify proceeding with the approval process.”

We thank the girls for their hard work throughout this investigation and know that this authentic learning experience has helped to cultivate a desire to actively participate in real-world events and work to enact positive change in their communities. We are incredibly proud of their efforts and hope that the memory of this achievement fuels their future endeavours in helping the world become a better place.

The Intentional Teacher

by Carol Bartlett from Woodland Park Child Care Centre

2012-w5This summer as I walked my favourite beach every other morning I picked up small rocks. In my mind I thought of all the wonderful learning that would take place. I chose speckled ones, pink hues, round white stones and flat, smooth gray. I envisioned the stones being carefully sorted, counted, studied through the magnifying glasses placed beside them. At meeting we could play games with the stones touching on math concepts, literacy and science.

During the first week of school things went as planned. I watched some children playing with the stones in the ways I thought they would.

Then one day in the second week I heard a great clattering sound and discovered stones strewn everywhere. I approached a child in charge of this “destruction” and asked what he was doing. “I am building a pathway to the couch.” My plans for the stones did not include this idea. At first glance I saw “destruction” but he clearly saw a pathway. Fortunately I took the time to question and really look with his eyes. Emergent curriculum helps us see the possibilities for learning. Children are wonderful at teaching us through their creative approach to materials.

Recently I read the new core learning for the 21st century includes the following four C’s:

curiosity, creativity, collaboration and critical thinking

I feel fortunate to be part of this new learning environment.

Learning in Relationship… Pedagogical Orientation

by Lorrie Baird, Kawartha Child Care Services

2012-w7Kawartha Child Care Services (KCCS) has been in operation since 1981 and has grown from a licensed Home Child Care program to a large umbrella organization that spans three municipalities, offers care in 23 licensed programs and supports nearly 200 educators and staff. In 2005 we embarked on one of our greatest journeys to adopt a child-centred emergent curriculum inspired by the educators of Reggio Emilia. This change has been, and continues to be, a wonderful challenge that has given educators a new framework for their work with children and families. It has required each person in our organization to commit herself (or himself) to think deeper, to look more closely and reflect on our values and beliefs, and to collaborate. It has meant that we must challenge our thinking, question our certainties and take important risks in our work. It has not always been an easy journey, but we have joy in our work and have learned a great deal from our important mistakes.

Over the years we have developed systems and structures to support our deep dedication to this work. We hold a strong commitment to professional development and believe that learning happens best through a reflective model that closely parallels the work we do with young children and that teachers deserve the time and resources to be both intellectually and emotionally engaged in their work.

As we have grown we have had to look carefully at our practices of hiring and orientation and how they too connect with our values and beliefs. We have changed the way we hire new staff and consider differently how we offer orientation to new educators. In keeping with our beliefs around the importance of building strong relationships and collaboration we have developed a new way of thinking about Pedagogical Orientation.

This past year, we developed “Building Foundations Together,” a Pedagogical Orientation process that welcomes new educators to our organization. The process spans six months and educators are paired with a mentor to reflect and think through a five-part series of modules. The mentorship is a critical component of the process as we believe that learning happens in relationship. The five units include Setting the Foundation, Beginning With Values, Our Image of Children, Families and Educators, Designing Environments for Learning, and Pedagogical Documentation. The modules offer stories, photos, quotes, articles and activities that are designed to engage educators and mentors together in reflective practice.

In a time of great change in our Province, we want to consider how we can support educators from the beginning of their time with us, to connect with the our values and beliefs and find opportunity and joy in this learning. It is our hope that this orientation process will be the foundation for supporting a culture of reflective teaching, in turn building a higher quality learning environments for all.

The Reggio Philosophy: A Journey to Life-Long Learning

by Marlina Oliveira, Head of School, Richland Academy

2012-w8“Our journey is an inspirational one and truly transformative, both for the children and ourselves as co-learners. Embracing the Reggio Philosophy has brought us back to the roots of childhood, and allowed us the privilege to experience the joy and wonder of learning through a child’s eyes.” (excerpt taken from article written by Jane Black, Paola Ciocio, Kate Daniel, Richland Academy for ORA newsletter 2011/2012)

Now in our eleventh school year we wanted to take the time to celebrate the years that have passed and look towards the future, with much joy and excitement for the endless possibilities that await us. Although still in the early years of this journey, we remain guided, inspired and committed to the image of the child. It is the very image of the child that transforms our thinking, learning, understandings, and the organization of our learning and physical landscapes. We have openly embraced the Reggio Philosophy of learning into our community. This philosophy of learning views “the child as rich in potential, strong, powerful and competent.” Children are naturally resourceful, curious, imaginative and inventive individuals, possessing a desire to interact and communicate with others. It inspires students to become selfmotivated, lifelong learners.

2012-w9The fusing of Reggio inquiry learning into our classrooms, results in our children becoming more actively engaged in their learning. The classrooms are alive with questions instead of answers and thinking instead of teaching, students are asked what they think and where teachers plan and co-construct knowledge with their students, ultimately investing a greater deal of personal interest and relevance in their work, making their work authentic and meaningful. The children are guided to spend more time inquiring, exploring, experimenting, synthesizing and connecting what they are learning.

We have been compelled and committed to changing the learning landscape for our students. Our work as a pedagogical team has begun, yet we have much more research and development to do to prepare your children with the multitude of literacies critical for the 21st century.

The vision of education in the 21st Century is focused on the way we receive and transform information. This new era which has been coined the Conceptual/Creative Age, focuses on skill development, citizenship, humanity and creative thinking. In his book, The “World is Flat”, Thomas Friedman observes that the first and most important ability you can develop to flourish in the 21st century is the ability to learn how to learn. The focus is not on adding more to the curriculum, but transforming it, it is about moving children forward and away from teaching to learning. The image of the child in the future is one who can think and problem solve, have mental flexibility –who plays with ideas , connects learning and applies to authentic situations. Tomorrow’s world needs engaged thinkers, strong communicators, and ethical citizens who possess an entrepreneurial spirit.

Driven by passion and a purpose and equipped with the skills and knowledge of this century, our children hold in their hands the power to be the change agents of tomorrow’s world.

Save the Date: March 2nd, 2013

Charles Sturt University Bachelor of Early Childhood Studies Conference

“Co-Constructing Contexts for Meaningful Engagement”

Keynote Speaker: Dr. Lilian Katz, Co-author of “Engaging Children’s Minds”


Charles Sturt University, 860 Harrington Ct., Burlington, ON

For information, visit www.charlessturtuniversity.ca in the new year.


We invite you to consider submitting to the ORA online journal. The Ontario Reggio Association online journal, ORA NOW, is a scholarly non-refereed journal edited by members of the ORA board. It comes out twice a year, spring and fall/winter.

The journal is available to ORA members only. Submissions from members of ORA will have priority.

Requirements for manuscript submission:

ORA members are invited to submit articles for consideration by the editorial committee. Length may vary from brief articles of 7-10 manuscript pages to longer articles up to 20 manuscript pages. We wish articles to be accessible but also grounded in literature related to the work of Reggio educators and others writing about their interpretations in North America. Manuscript pages are double-spaced with 1” margins and carry about 250 words. Style should be consistent with either the APA manual (5th ed.) or the Chicago manual. Articles should be sent as email attachments to the editor. Images may be included if ethical consent to use such images has been given. Authors do not need to submit consent forms but should keep them. A brief biographical sketch of the authors (up to 150 words) should be included.

Submission deadlines: Spring edition – May 15th, 2012

Download a PDF version of this journal.

ORA NOW Journal Winter 2012