Early years: to 1963
Loris Malaguzzi tries to explain what led him to remain in Reggio Emilia and with the children. “There are choices you feel when they stick to you.” He reflects on whether there were many factors influencing him to stay, the places, the people, himself. And the experience of war which pushed him towards “the job of educating as one of the many possible new beginnings for living and working for the future.” Malaguzzi professes to never having regretted that choice and for what he left or stripped from himself in pursuit of a discovery of learning and a new creativity.
The image of the child was fundamental to Malaguzzi’s approach with a child’s character and personality being constructed from birth, “it is right to sweep away once and for all the foolish belief that we must wait for a certain age in order to begin children’s education.” He recites French philosopher Henri Wallon, asserting that from the first hours of life, children engage in their battles, “they are a nervous system developing, a sensibility awakening, an intelligence expanding.” However, Malaguzzi is mindful that children do not learn in isolation, adults have a decisive role in helping, supporting and guiding.
Years of growth: 1970 to 79
One of the predominant themes running through the long term educational research project in Reggio Emilia is the common premise that “children know how to know, children can know.” Malaguzzi believed children wished to discover the world for themselves, with their own senses, their own curiosity, their own intelligence, their own hands, their own body. They want “to research for themselves, try, make mistakes, try again, marvel, understand, imitate now and not imitate later. Each step forward, each curiosity satisfied, each test overcome, each problem brought closer to the truth, each discovery, is a source of well-being, great satisfaction and great confidence for children.”
Malaguzzi thought there was a strong connection between a child being allowed to learn independently and a child developing a sense of self.
It is this sense of self which Malaguzzi felt deserved particular attention when discussing children with special rights (historically regarded as children with special educational needs in the UK). He was of the opinion that whatever the challenge, be it physical, social or biological, each aspect is not disconnected with the others. Furthermore, it is our responsibility to define the life story of the child and arrive at a unified intervention involving the whole of the child, integrating them in the richness of school normality, in the richness of the normality of socialising with other children.
Malaguzzi reflects on how the evolution of children might move slowly, not at all, or with difficulty. How it can be a straight line or a contorted line which goes back on itself, with sudden stops and sudden responses. He believes this to be linked to the existence of two worlds: one inside the child and one inside us. Repressive forces, tensions, influences, stresses and anxieties can block the evolution of a child’s potential. It is therefore crucial to avoid a dogmatic style of teaching which does not allow a child the courage to soar and to try out different models and behaviours. “If the children are afraid of the outcome of an experience they are about to have, it is all over.”
Loris Malaguzzi strived for a liberal education, an inclusive education,
“respecting the rhythms nature could and would allow if they could move freely without brakes and without stops”.
Opening to the world: 1980 to 89
Loris Malaguzzi considered every action of a child to leave a trace. No act after birth could be perceived as devoid of meaning in any way with the first period of life being the most fertile for every kind of learning. He called for a participatory education where teachers and families form “a new diffused social consciousness of education” which adopts “a method of democracy and confrontation as a permanent choice, developing processes of individual and social participation and co-responsibility.”
The final years: 1990 to 93
Malaguzzi regarded one of the biggest problems in forming a democratic education as being the transformation in thinking from “the vision of a child who has to be created, to the vision of children constructing themselves with others.” He endeavoured to show that children are forerunners who are capable of being forerunners of themselves. Central to his vision, being the image of the child, was his conviction that a child needs to understand context and how something interacts with the world before interest can be stimulated – “until you get the children closer, there is nothing.”
“You will never get children to be interested in a leaf or a tree. A child has to understand that a leaf is a living context, a contextualisation of life, in itself. A leaf, a bud is a contextualisation…. the tree has its interaction with the earth, with the air, with the sun, with the moon, with the dark, with carbon dioxide, with oxygen. If children can perceive the contextual form, the interwoven ecological form, then they will be able to give life to objects and more meaning to things they feel are alive but don’t perceive as a part of living nature…What I mean is: there is the story of the leaf, and then there is our story, you understand?”
Without question, we can now understand the passion and time Loris Malaguzzi dedicated to defending and nurturing the ongoing educational research project in Reggio Emilia and protecting the rights of children across the world.
For those of us promoting an alternative discourse in early childhood education, we have a clear responsibility and a political commitment which requires us to find the courage to take risks, to embrace uncertainty and go against the flow, opening up dialogue, listening and being open to change.