Wow!! I’ve been transported into a Tolkien novel, and I am the adventurous Bilbo Baggins. After a rest in Rivendell (Ljubljana), I will explore the caves at the bottom of the Misty Mountains. Somewhere, Gollum is lurking behind a stalagmite talking to his enchanted ring. “My precious…” Actually, what you see are views of beautiful Slovenia. Below is Predjama Castle, Lake Bled, and the Postojna Caves.



I am making my way to Slovenia and spending the night in Trieste, which is very close to the border. Trieste is a medium sized seaport with a very Austrian influence. The buildings remind me of large concrete wedding cakes! The view of the Adriatic Sea from the harbor is truly breathtaking. This is where Italo Svevo wrote “Zeno’s Conscience” which was translated into english by William Weaver. A famous quote from the book: “Life is neither ugly nor beautiful, but it’s original!”


Firenze, home of the Duomo, the Ufittzi Museum and where Michelangelo played in the streets as a child. I’m taking a day trip before moving on to Trieste. Remarkably, there have been many changes to this ancient city since I last visited 12 years ago. There is something magical when you step outside the train station and take in the first view.  The last time I was here, the Duomo was covered in scaffolding, but today it’s in it’s full splendor. It had rained the night before, but now the sun is shining and the air crisp and clean. My first destination: The Apple Store (as I mentioned, the city has changed) to charge my dead iPhone. With that off my list, I’m off to Point de Vecchio for some gelato. It’s spring break, and the streets are swarming with tours of middle and high school aged kids. I decide to move on to Piti Palace (an ironic name, if you ask me.) I get in line behind a group of American middle school students.  One of the first sights is the grand ballroom, with it’s gilded walls, magnificent frescoes on the ceiling, and illuminated by huge crystal chandeliers.  I overhear one girl say to her friend: “this is actually pretty nice.” I am sure the Medici family would be flattered by her assessment.


Throughout the sessions, the pedagogistas kept reiterating that what they do is unique to Reggio Emilia. It is an approach to learning, not a method. There are no college courses to train to be a Reggio Emilia teacher, no certificates of participation. Outside of the town of Reggio Emilia, all schools and preschools are Reggio-inspired, using an adaptation of the approach specific to the needs of their community. The environment is  considered to be the third teacher and is recognised for its potential to inspire children. A classroom filled with natural light, order and is esthetically pleasing. With open spaces free from clutter, where every material is considered for its purpose. The classroom is ever-evolving to encourage children to delve deeper and deeper into their interests. My research question before beginning this journey, was: Can the Reggio Emilia approach work in a traditional school, such as Curtis? Obviously, most of the conversation was about best practices for preschool aged children. As an elementary school, we can still follow the example of blurring the lines between indoors and out by incorporating more objects of nature into the classrooms. Curtis has one of the most beautiful elementary school campuses in Los Angeles; why not bring some of that indoors? Each group of children is unique; the classrooms should reflect their uniqueness by adapting the environment to match the interests of that particular group instead of remaining stagnant from year to year.  Now I am done.  I am taking the next train to Florence and toss my Teacher’s Hat into the Arno.


The study group is coming to a close, and one of our final visits was to the onsight gradeschool at the Loris Malaguzzi International Centre. Esthetics are still key to the level 1-6 classroom environments, as is the use of natural lighting and plants to create an osmosis between indoors and outdoors. As with the preschools, there are many designated areas to work and collaborate, as well as an abundance of space to occupy. I didn’t notice a ” Teacher’s Desk” in the classrooms, and each room seemed to have a distinct personality. We were not allowed to observe students in the classroom, or to take photographs in order to respect the privacy of students and faculty.


Today we visited the Remida Recycling Center.  Over 300 factories donate discontinued, slightly blemished, and remnant materials to Reggio Emelia schools. The Remida Recycling Center brilliantly displays the materials in a way that is more reminiscent of an art gallery than a recycling center. Teachers may drop by and choose materials free of charge.


This morning we toured a classroom with the children present and at work. It was interesting observing how the teachers interacted with the children. Instead of modeling a task or sharing their knowledge, AKA teaching, the teachers would dialogue with the children and provide materials to further discovery. A group of 4 boys in the 3 year old group were playing with Hot Wheels type cars. The teacher discreetly put some drawing paper and markers out because she knew that one of the boys liked to draw race tracks.  Soon all 4 boys were designing race tracks. To pique their interest, the teacher brought out an overhead projector and asked if the boys would like to recreate their designs on sheets of clear plastic.  Of course, they immediately took the bait, and began using the plastic sheets. One of the boys focused the lens of the projector on the floor, placed his plastic sheet in the correct spot, and instantly there was a virtual race track!  They tried out all four designs and complemented one another as they brainstormed how they would change the race tracks next time. As we were leaving, I saw them siting in chairs using large recycled film reels for steering wheels as they imagined going around treacherous hairpin curves.


The amazing brain. Today we learned about the brain’s development from the womb to age 3. Neurons and synapses form the wiring of the brain, and messages are passed through the synapses.  By age 3, a child’s brain has twice as many synapses as it will in adulthood, and synapses form at a faster rate from infancy to age 3 then at any other time. In the first few months, a baby in an English-speaking home can distinguish between English and the sounds of a foreign language. He/she loses this ability by the end of the first year: the language heard at home has wired the brain for English, and the pruning process begins. Around age 2, the most dramatic changes involve the brain’s language areas, which are developing more synapses and becoming more interconnected. These changes correspond to the sudden spike in children’s language abilities – sometimes called the vocabulary explosion – that typically occurs during this period. Often a child’s vocabulary will quadruple between his/her 1st and 2nd birthday.  We all have probably heard or read about the importance of a child’s 1st 5 years of development, and it is backed by science. A rich learning environment that stimulates all of the senses is crucial at this time, and will provide a lifetime of benefits.


Per Meera’s suggestion, I am showing some of my new friends from New Zealand how to pull pasta. With me is Al Dente, a pasta-pulling dog. Pasta dogs were used in the Northern Region of Italy for centuries before being replaced by more modern (and sanitary) methods. Some dogs are still working in the rural areas.



Background on Reggio Emilia Municipal Schools

Orientation was quite an event.  There were dozens of representatives from around the globe.  From small African nations to Australia and the US,  people made their way to this little known region of Northern Italy. We learned about the impact of WW2 and how the residents endured fascism, Natzi occupation, and air raids by allied forces. After being liberated, the citizens of Reggio Emilia and surrounding areas were left to fend for themselves by a new and overwhelmed government.  In 1946, women were allowed to vote for the first time.  Feeling emboldened, a group of women from Villa Cella got together and decided to build a school so that their children might enjoy a life of possibilities, rather than the suppression the former generation grew up with. They were able to convince a farmer to donate a parcel of land, and fund the building by selling a tank and other pieces of equipment left by the fleeing Natzis. There was rubble everywhere from buildings that had been destroyed during air strikes.  Bricks were gathered by men and women for the new school and “brick by brick” became a metaphor for beginning a new life. At the same time, Loris Malguzzi graduated from university with a degree in pedagogy. He heard about the unique school run by Villa Cella’s municipality which was also one of Italy’s first secular schools. A few years later Malguzzi became an educational psychologist and founded Reggio Emilia’s municipal Psycho-Pedagogical Medical Centre. He is known as the founder of the Reggio Emilia approach to learning.