Over the rainbow and beyond the light box:

A journey with the Reggio Emilia educational project

My journey with the Reggio Emilia educational project commenced with my undergraduate studies, teacher and director Emma Cullen writes.

I remember being deeply inspired by the ideas and the thinking that followed, and excited that there might be another way to program, outside of the ‘boxes’. This influenced my teaching, and set me on a path of inquiry – reading, thinking, talking with colleagues, pushing the bar, leading change – and soon there was transformation of environments, deeper listening and thinking, strengthened relationships, and richer curriculum explorations and experiences.

I continued to read, talk with others and attend professional development training opportunities. Every mention of Reggio Emilia further ignited a spark inside of me, and I knew that one day I had to visit this place for myself. My dream was finally realised in 2016, and I embarked on a Reggio Emilia Australia Information Exchange (REAIE) study tour. Joined by passionate educators from around the globe, we spent seven days immersed in Italian culture, exploring the ateliers of the Loris Malaguzzi International Centre, visiting some of the schools of Reggio Emilia, soaking up the wisdom and insight of the incredible speakers, and engaging with like minded professionals in the most intense and rich pedagogical dialogue I had experienced. The spark inside was well and truly alight!

I returned to Australia a different person. I had an intensified sense of curiosity and wonder. I had new friends all over the country and knew just how important these collegial relationships were. I wanted to share ideas, unpack meaning, be challenged and create new knowledge. My team was keen to hear about my experience, but the challenge of portraying such an incredible journey was real. I shared photos, readings, and snippets from my notes, but no words could describe the experience – the colours, sounds and taste of Italy, the richness of the ateliers and schools and the depth of thinking.

I was reminded that learning is messy, complex, and interwoven, and when you have a group of educators with diverse backgrounds, it takes time. This gave me permission to slow down, and to start with cultivating a sense of curiosity and wonder.

As a team, we considered our image of the child. What did we believe about children? Was this authentically reflected in our curriculum and rhythm of the day? We considered our image of the teacher. Who were we? What was our role? How did this impact on our relationships? We considered our environments. Were they working as a ‘third teacher’? How were they connected to our community and wider context? Did they support relationships? Were we provisioning with appropriate time, space and materials? We considered the Hundred Languages. How did our environment support encounters? Did we have enough experience and confidence with a range of art materials? Were we limiting our provisions to those things within our comfort zone? How could we widen our lens? We considered our pedagogical documentation. Were we authentically capturing the children’s voices? Where was our voice? Were we giving ourselves enough time to think and unpack?

The questions continued, and so did the gradual changes in our collective thinking and practice. We seized professional development opportunities and attended together where possible. Some of our team met Carla Rinaldi at a conference in Darwin, and the photo of our encounter remains in the foyer as a reminder of our collegial learning, and the possibilities ahead.

When an opportunity to take up a position on Norfolk Island crossed my path earlier this year, the flame inside flickered brightly. Leaving my team at such an exciting time on their journey was not an easy decision, but I am now living in a beautiful and remote environment, getting to know new children and families, and working with a new team and community. While the challenges are immense, the possibilities are exciting. My heart is full, the flame is burning brightly, and my spirit is well and truly alive. As Loris Malaguzzi said, “nothing without joy”!