A Spotlight on Frog Hollow Neighbourhood House: Interviews with Rosa Palacios and with Gary Dobbin and Maryam Naddaf

Photo Credit: Unsplash User  Pan Xiaozhen

Photo Credit: Unsplash User Pan Xiaozhen

The Reggio Emilia approach originated in the town and local area of Reggio Emilia in northern Italy, after the Second World War, out of a movement towards progressive and cooperative early childhood education. Based on the principles of respect, responsibility and community, through self-guided exploration and discovery, the approach holds at its core an assumption that children form their own personality during the early years of development and are endowed with “a hundred languages” of creative expression of their ideas in everyday life. It is not a method to be taught, but an approach which sees each individual and community as different and unique.

The fundamental principles of the Reggio Emilia approach arise from the “rich image of the child”:

  • Children are capable of constructing their own learning.

  • Children form an understanding of themselves and their place in the world through their interactions with others.

  • Children are communicators.

  • The environment is the third teacher.

  • The adult is a mentor and guide.

  • An emphasis on documenting children’s thoughts.

  • “The Hundred Languages of Children”: This concept expresses the belief that children use many different ways to show their understanding and express their thoughts and creativity, such as drawing and sculpting, dance and movement, painting and pretend play, modeling and music.

For over ten years now, Frog Hollow Neighbourhood House in Vancouver has been implementing the Reggio Emilia approach in their work with children in their childcare programs.

Gary Dobbin, Executive Director of Frog Hollow Neighbourhood House, notes that a commonly articulated perception of children is of an “empty vessel to be filled” who will “grow up to be somebody”. The image of the child in the Reggio Emilia approach is of an unique, competent, and capable individual in their own right, where they are now.

The approach is not rigid. It is flexible and adaptable to individual circumstances. It is about growing and developing in community, an ongoing collective project which can embrace participants changing over time as people leave and enter the group. The objective is to support parents in learning how to “be” with their children, to counter the pressures to rush, to slow down and enjoy the moment, to be liberated from a rules/task-oriented approach. It is not dependent on special materials, but is centred on values and approaches. The approach has complementary crossover with the traditional values of indigenous communities.

The CAPC programs at Frog Hollow Neighbourhood House are currently in the process of incorporating the Reggio Emilia approach to their programming. As an early part of that journey, the Family Programs team had travelled to Seattle to visit Hilltop Centre, an established Reggio Emilia-inspired education centre, to experience the approach in a different setting and community. Whilst for child care centres, there is a development process to actively involve parents with the approach, for Family Resource Centres, the experience will be a different one. With children, parents and educators all in the same room, there will be learning around what it feels like to “live together” in the experience of incorporating the Reggio Emilia principles.

We spoke with Rosa Palacios, Family and Seniors Programs Coordinator at Frog Hollow Neighbourhood House, who is enthusiastic about integrating Reggio principles into the drop-ins as part of their ongoing best practices commitment, which includes promoting autonomy, decision-making, democracy, and following people’s interests and experience. She noted the courage and commitment of the Family Programs staff in adding a new component to all the objectives they are already meeting in the program, but the decision to move forward with introducing the approach has not been a big stretch for the team in that it is closely allied to both the organizational values of Frog Hollow and the personal values of the team members. Having a strong existing staff team is a huge asset in taking the step forward.

The Family Drop-In is a noisy, busy environment. On a recent site visit, Colleen Wickenheiser, PHAC Program Consultant, witnessed the extreme diversity of age, experience, origin, and length of time in Canada, of participants in the program. The program team reach out to connect on an individual basis with families, and the Drop-In serves as a building block for families to link to other Frog Hollow programs and to community services.

Rosa noted that one aspect of introducing the Reggio-inspired approach can be a focus on how staff members view the children and their contributions to the program, observing and starting to document the children’s curiosity and what holds their interest. This step can provide opportunity for modeling and for discussion with parents and caregivers in the program. One of the existing Drop-In staff members also works at the Daycare Centre, which provides a useful crossover link to bring inspiration from her work there, along with ideas for how to introduce Reggio-inspired materials into the program. The Drop-In staff team is looking at the way the room is set up, and how to incorporate the environment into the Drop-In setting. They are playing with different ideas and following the children’s lead, paying attention to the reaction and interest of the children.

Being part of a Coalition also provides opportunities to share ideas amongst the multiple Coalition sites. There has been discussion of the concept at Coalition meetings and the Kiwassa Neighbourhood House team has expressed interest in further exploration of the approach.

Diane Chan, Coordinator of the Frog Hollow Drop-In, and her team, look forward to working directly with families and having them be part of the journey, through involvement, documentation, and engagement in planning. Family Programs staff members will model for parents, ways of giving children room and space to respond. The aim is, as the Family Programs staff gain confidence with the approach and build capacity, established families in the program will help integrate new families to the approach. With the diversity of the participant group in the Drop-In, the team looks forward to incorporating creative traditions from other cultures into their iteration of the Reggio-inspired approach. Each exploration of the Reggio approach is unique, and the families in the program, as they respond and give back to the initiatives, will shape the final look of a Reggio-inspired Drop-In program. Rosa notes, the goal is “to have fun together, get messy together, and trust children to lead the exploration”.

As they move through the process, the CAPC programs will have the support of the Frog Hollow Reggio-Inspired Learning Centre. Having visited other Reggio-inspired centres in the Pacific Northwest, and having travelled to Reggio Emilia in Italy, it was established that there was no consistent training in the approach in the Vancouver area, so Frog Hollow Neighbourhood House decided to establish a Reggio-inspired Learning Centre to help educators, parents and caregivers learn more about the Reggio Emilia approach. The leadership team worked together with a cross-disciplinary advisory committee comprised of professionals, educators and academic leaders in Metro Vancouver to support the development of the Learning Centre, which opened in early 2017. The intention of the Learning Centre is to provide “practical advice and support so children and communities across B.C. can blossom through this creative and engaging approach to education”. The Frog Hollow Reggio-Inspired Learning Centre is now established as a training centre for educators and caregivers in the Metro Vancouver area. Maryam Naddaf was hired two years ago as the initial Coordinator of the Learning Centre and, as of October 2018, she has been appointed to a newly-created post as Director of the Learning Centre.

The underlying belief of the Learning Centre is that the best way of learning is a highly individual approach. Inspired by the philosophies and methods of the Reggio-Emilia approach, the learning strategy is framed in a three-part structure:

Observe: “Holding a curious mind and a rich image of the child is a practice that comes with understanding of the self and other and requires ongoing collaboration and reflection with colleagues and families.”

Reflect: “Every educator and every program is unique and the process of reflection is essential to prepare and bring back information for your own programs.”

Discuss: “Collaboration is our key to a better world.”

We spoke with Maryam Naddaf and Gary Dobbin about the expanding role of the Learning Centre as they begin a journey to make training available to Family Resource Centres. They noted that the original Reggio Emilia education style was founded and developed by parents, which makes the move to engage with Family Resource centres, who work together collaboratively with children and parents, a natural development for the Learning Centre.

Maryam comments that there is an organic development as parents see the value of the outcomes of the approach. There is a lot of buy-in from parents as they become familiar with the approach in practice.

The facilitator can assist in:

  • Breaking concepts down into what they look like in practice in real situations (e.g. “What does it look like at the dining table?”). Using simple language, learning by example, role modeling leadership, and asking questions of the child (negotiating, rather than instructing), components of the approach, are ways of interacting in simple, concrete, manageable steps alongside the child.

  • Helping group participants understand what the approach is.

  • Helping group participants learn more about parenting using the Reggio Emilia inspired principles.

  • Helping group participants understand that the approach is not “one way or the other”. It is not necessary to invest in expensive equipment or get rid of and replace what you already have. Often existing resources can be supplemented through the use of recycled materials and natural materials collected from the environment.

There is no rigid “how to” in the Reggio Emilia-inspired approach. Maryam stresses that implementation can look very different from one location to another. Starting points can be questions, such as:

  • Do I have a rich image of the child?

  • Is my program reflecting that image?

  • In what ways is my program reflecting that image?

  • Exploring the rules we hold in our heads, both the ones we grew up with ourselves, and the ones we currently assume for the children in the group.

  • Adopting an attitude that rules need good reasons to be, and need to be able to be explained simply.

The aim of this process is to minimize the barriers to growth, development and relationship with the child.

Maryam has already been approached by groups interested in introductory training towards incorporation of the approach in settings where caregivers and children attend programming together. While the creation of scheduled workshops is a longer process – the Learning Centre ultimately hopes to be able to provide province-wide workshop training, although for now the initial development phase is will be centred in the Metro Vancouver area - for the moment, Maryam can provide customized training for groups interested in moving forward with implementation of the Reggio Emilia approach. This September, Maryam was invited to present a customized workshop for the Vancouver School Board Strong Start programs.

An attendee from one of Maryam’s workshops shared, “Talking about emergent curriculum, I found that it was hard to start in our “theme-based” centre. However, after this workshop, it seems like that I got a “map” to start and work with. Madoka, an educator, commented, “Attending this workshop you can learn about how amazing the Reggio Emilia approach is; deeper than you think.”

The Frog Hollow Reggio-Inspired Learning Centre offers free Round Table Dialogues on an ongoing basis, to which they have been inviting parents. Maryam suggests that staff from Family Resource centres who are interested in participating contact her at Maryam@froghollow.bc.ca (604) 817-2491

The website at www.reggiolearning.ca also offers resources and a range of starting points for reading for educators and for parents who are interested in exploring the Reggio Emilia approach.

Nelli Agbulos