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Cape Girardeau teachers create projects from children's interests

Monday, November 21, 2011

Children sing a song for their parents during a Thanksgiving potluck party Thursday for students and their families at Christian School for the Young Years in Cape Girardeau. The school uses a curriculum approach called Reggio Emilia, which originated in Italy.
(Kristin Eberts) [Order this photo]
As the interests of individual children have driven learning in two Cape Girardeau preschools, those schools have transformed.

The visible environments of the schools are a first indicator. Natural light comes from tall windows. Classrooms open to a central piazza. Baskets made from natural materials, such as grasses and branches, hold snake skins and seashells, paintbrushes and pencils. Light-colored wooden furniture is everywhere, as are photos of the students writing, reading, dancing, dressing up, or posing with their parents during a school picnic or fishing trip.

One corner of the Yellow Room, a Christian School for the Young Years' classroom for 3- to 5-year-olds, is dedicated to sports. In October, the room's teachers, Donna Renick and Katie Carsten, listened to the children's interests and drew a lesson from their ideas about St. Louis Cardinals baseball and involvement on fall soccer teams. From there the teachers created projects. For the baseball project, students participated in a baseball lesson with parents, popped popcorn and shelled peanuts, made a wall graph with the jersey numbers and positions they would like to have and talked daily about the ongoing games and which team would win the World Series. The project had a math focus -- children counted players on the field, the bases and scores. Pictures of players of various sports were also collected to use in sorting activities and as visual aids for math and language.

The teachers documented the entire project, including photos, comments from the students and a representation of a baseball field created by the students.

Documentation is a major part of an approach used by Christian School for the Young Years, as well as its sister school, Community Day School. Both use the Reggio Emilia approach, now known and used around the world, including in schools in all 50 states. The approach began in an Italian town of the same name in the 1940s, where educators still visit to draw inspiration from its schools.

Children enjoy some time on the playground at Christian School for the Young Years in Cape Girardeau on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011. The school uses a curriculum approach called Reggio Emilia, which originated in Italy.
(Kristin Eberts)
The approach places intensive focus on seeing and respecting each child as an individual; treating children, teachers and parents as co-learners; using the environment and documentation as tools; and promoting professional development for educators, according to documents given to parents when they enroll their children at the schools.

Christian School for the Young Years' owner Janet Goodin learned about the approach at a National Convention for the Education of Young Children in 1990, and later visited Italy to see it in action. Her daughter, Julie Albertson, is working with both schools on the approach as well as studying through Webster University in St. Louis to become a "pedagogista." A pedagogista assists teachers with planning, develops relationships with all staff, families and children, and leads a school in the approach.

"A pedagogista is someone who is taking the pulse of everything going on in a Reggio-inspired school," said Jennifer Strange, who serves as pedagogista for the Maplewood-Richmond Heights School District in St. Louis and as a board member of the North American Reggio Emilia Alliance. Strange consults regularly on the approach for the Cape Girardeau schools and has studied and taught the approach for over 20 years.

While the documentation hanging in the Yellow Room is a great way for parents to see what their child has been doing while at school, Strange said, it is first and foremost for the students and their teachers.

Teachers use the documentation when they meet for planning purposes, and often bring the documentation out later to review with students. Using it is a way to reflect on experiences, Strange said.

"The documentation process is actually an essential piece of building authentic and connected learning experiences," she said.

Another aspect of the Reggio approach, Strange said, is all about relationships, and thinking about a child not as a number, but as a member of the community. Doing that, she said, helps schools form a commitment to building rich learning possibilities and a community that shows great respect for learning.

Russell Grammer, a former longtime public schoolteacher and director of the Prodigy Leadership Academy, a private school in Cape Girardeau, said there are several things he readily notices about his students who have come from the Reggio-inspired schools.

"The children seem to be more apt to discover and explore with materials that are provided to them. They are vibrant in the sense that they search for things to learn from and put together and build with. They readily take ahold of that type of thinking," Grammer said.

Strange said she sees a big commitment to making Reggio Emilia an integral part of the curriculum at Christian School for the Young Years and Community Day School.

"They've been on an amazing journey, and with each thing that happens there, I see more commitment, and I think it will continue," she said.

The schools also use a curriculum known as Creative Curriculum, which includes goals and objectives in social, emotional, physical, cognitive and language development.



Pertinent addresses:

1912 Broadway, Cape Girardeau, MO

735 N. Clark Ave., Cape Girardeau, MO

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