Farshad Danicek is the co-founder and principal of House of Knowledge, a trilingual kindergarten (German, English and Chinese) which offers a curriculum which incorporates Reggio Emilia, Montessori and Confucian theory. We asked Daniecek to school us on the Reggio Emilia approach. For Part 1 click here.
How did you become interested in Reggio Emilia?
I’m German and I grew up in the multicultural heart of Germany, Berlin. I studied at Freie Universitaet Berlin and did my diploma in early childhood education (MA.Ed.). A Professor at the university, and a very good friend of mine, Prof. Dr. Annette Dreier, sparked my interest in the philosophy of Reggio Emilia education. She was very passionate about Reggio Emilia and infected me with that passion.
Why did you decide to make it a core feature of the HoK curriculum?
Actually, the Reggio Emilia education is more a philosophy of life than a curriculum per se. As it is a child centered education you have to adjust the learning outcomes to each child individually. The HoK curriculum defines outcomes for all our age groups and development areas, but there are hundreds of ways to reach those outcomes. For the HoK curriculum the path of development is more important than just reaching the outcome, the path becomes the aim of our approach.
Each child follows their own journey, as HoK educators accompany the children on this path of building a strong foundation of core competencies. For me personally, the Reggio Emilia approach is the best educational approach in a multicultural and multilingual environment like Beijing.
What are the benefits of Reggio Emilia? What advantages does a Reggio Emilia school give children?
From my point of view each Reggio Emilia school is different from one another and each Reggio school can only be an adoption of the Reggio Emilia approach and not an attempt to copy or duplicate. The culture, country, parents, teachers, environment and the students will always influence and create a unique adoption of the Reggio Emilia approach.
Therefore, the advantage of Reggio Emilia is a child-directed approach that allows for highest possible level of intrinsic motivation to explore, discover and learn at school, expanding their social and academic potential.
Reggio seeks to promote fundamental competencies for lifelong learning. This philosophy believes that we are all students for life, and infinitely able to learn about our surroundings and ourselves. More important than learning facts, is the process of learning to learn.
Can children from Reggio Emilia schools be accepted into any elementary/high school (e.g. local Chinese elementary schools, American-style junior high schools)?
Absolutely, even if a child is stepping into a new curriculum or previously unknown academic subjects, Reggio will have equipped them with the competencies to pursue and acquire knowledge. They will use deductive reasoning; feel confident to ask others for help, or utilize any number of other methods to get the information they need. Through use of these strategies, a child will learn from and use their new surroundings, making them highly adaptable in any school setting.
What one thing would you like Beijing parents to be more aware of, as regards choosing a school for their kids?
The basic foundation of learning is not to build up meaningless and endless knowledge in different subjects. It is more important to build a foundation of competencies, on which a child can grow. Those competencies are for example, a positive and stable self-image, a high level of self-esteem, trust in one’s own strengths, a helpful attitude towards others, strong conflict management skills, ability to accept responsibility, etc. Parents should choose a kindergarten which helps build strong competencies.
Furthermore, I recognize that in order to become a successful world citizen in a globalized world you need to be open to new cultures and to have knowledge of different languages. Parents should choose a school which offers a multicultural environment with multiple choices of languages and a high student-teacher ratio to assure new languages are learned in the time frame giving in the early years.
How are parents involved at Reggio Emilia schools?
Parents are the child’s first teacher, they must be prepared to be involved at a Reggio Emilia school. At HoK for example, we ask our parents how they might involve themselves into our projects. We appreciate parents coming to our classes to talking about their professions, cooking dishes or teaching us dances from different countries, etc. Furthermore parents are asked to help by preparing events or joining some field trips.
It is said that the Reggio Emilia approach is not teacher-directed. What does this mean?
In a teacher-directed school the teacher is the center of the class, directing daily school life and lesson plans and also deciding what subjects will be studied. The Reggio Emilia philosophy, is a child directed or child-centered approach. Therefore, teachers must observe very carefully their student’s interests and plan the daily tasks based on those interests and the level of intrinsic motivation the child is bringing to explore and discover within the lesson and classroom projects.
How are Reggio Emilia classrooms arranged?
The Reggio Emilia approach sees the room as “The 3rd Teacher”, after the parents and the classroom teachers. A Reggio Emilia classroom must invite children to explore their environment independently. All Materials and learning stations must be reached by children without asking for help, e.g. all kind of art materials, learning stations, computer, books, etc.
Furthermore, at HoK we design all our classrooms with high level areas so our children can climb up to a place to overlook the classroom and be taller than others. This gives the children another perspective to see things from another angle. The speaking and project walls are also part of our classrooms.
Photos courtesy of House of Knowledge