Reflections Nursery and Forest School was established in Worthing in 2006. Drawing inspiration from the childhood centres in Reggio Emilia, the vision of Reflections is to create a place that values caring, respectful relationships.
The Educators at Reflections believe all children have the right to be understood as individuals and to be given time and opportunity to develop as creative, competent learners in a secure and inspiring space, with lots of access to the outdoors.
Reflections works on projects with the children supported by its Educators and Atelieristas (artists in residence) and this year it is celebrating 10 years of work by exhibiting documentation panels at the St Paul’s Arts Centre in Worthing. The exhibition “From bacteria to galaxies” shares with us the children’s journeys of exploration, experimentation, communication, creative invention and emotional connection.
So how does Reflections choose or find the concept for each project they document? Projects can be drawn from a variety of inspirational sources, be it materials the children interact with, a change of season, the finer detail of the environment or a transition encountered by the children. An encounter with a potential project might begin with a question and through listening, talking, reflecting and sharing ideas, it only generates more questions…
The documentation exhibited in Worthing represents the countless languages of expression children use in their daily exploration of the world around them and I have reproduced in this article only an outline of some of the many projects Reflections have embarked on with the children.
The line creature
Through exploring clay in the atelier, two year olds began to give movement and sound to abstract forms as if they were working with animated characters. The Educators decided to return to 2D images to see if the children’s markings brought the same degree of animation. This is when the children’s storying began as they started to interact with their figures, adding new detail and exploring language. Educators gave life to the children’s figures by projecting images on a wall and enabling the children to physically explore their creations.
The fascination of two year olds for darkened spaces led the children to discover a hole in the floor of the atelier. The children embarked upon a mission of discovery, exploring the inside of the hole with sticks and beginning a tale of a dinosaur living in the hole. The children fed their new friend with paper and were eager to meet him. Educators therefore projected a hole on a wall with the help of a light box allowing children a sense of being able to physically step into the world of the dinosaur. The children were also provided with boxes containing holes and torches allowing the group to explore the darkness within. These holes and spaces became homes to stories and relationships.
Words & Writing / Letters & Secrets
Prior to the transition to school after the summer term, many children begin reading and writing and so Educators decided to dedicate a space to the exploration of language and the interpretation of writing. Children began to imitate the writing of adults, learning that writing and the magical nature of language has many purposes; communicating, recording, informing, encoding and sharing.
In September 2015, the three and four year olds moved to a new building and along with them came a plastic crow one of the children had been working with as part of a construction called ‘puppet world’. This bird was flown by the children between the buildings and an interest grew in bird sounds as the children began to speak to the crow. Educators introduced a second bird, a taxidermy herring gull, which became a friend to the crow and was tenderly looked after by the children. Storying began amongst the group alongside nest building and a research space was developed by Educators where children could be hunters, explorers and scientists.
More recently, Reflections has also chosen a focus each year to work on with the children.
September 2013 to 14 – Sculpture
Amongst the preschool children, Educators noticed an interest in exploring faces and so they supported the group by providing mirrors and photographs and an opportunity to work with clay. Educators observed the children focusing on physical features when working in 2D but when clay was introduced, children began to differentiate between inside and outside qualities. In recognition of this development of self, Educators supported the children’s more philosophical questions, helping them to refine their ideas about the brain and the origin of their own thoughts. They also provided the children with torches, lenses and magnifying glasses allowing them to investigate ‘inside’. Out in the garden, tubes, cable and wire were given to the group to enable them to construct representations of the concepts and systems of flow and connections they had been exploring.
September 2014 to 15 – Storying
Educators noticed that children added narrative to almost every way in which they worked or explored; in the atelier, in the garden, in the forest, as part of dramatic play and also during every day routine. The storying of the children was preserved through text and recordings to enable children to revisit and elaborate as they explored new languages of expression. When the concept of a monster was born amongst the group, Educators supported the children in their exploration of the fire monster, offering new mark making materials and the opportunity to construct visual representations.
September 2015 to 16 – Sound
Educators focus not only on the sounds children make but the sounds children attribute to other sources, essentially looking at everything to which children give a voice. In working with clay, children often gave their creations life through animation, recreating their own movements or routines. Educators supported the children by creating a studio space where they could record the animation of their clay figures and of course the children’s own voices.
In search of deeper learning
What is evident from the documentation panels produced by Reflections are the listening skills of their Educators and Atelieristas. I refer to listening not only in an auditory sense but from a pedagogical perspective. The pedagogy of listening (a phrase coined by President of Reggio Children, Carlina Rinaldi) involves being sensitive to the thoughts and ideas of others. Educators at Reflections abandon all preconceived ideas about how the world works or how we think children should learn, appreciating that their own views or knowledge form a small part of a broader way of thinking.
The Educators listen with all their senses, not only to the words of the children but to the hundred, the thousand languages, symbols and codes the children use to express themselves and to communicate.
The documentation panels tell us only one story behind a project, we sense there are many more, and also recognise that during each project, investigation might not be continuous. As children might become distracted with another interest, a project might have times of silence, of long pauses, providing an important time to reflect.
Every Educator at Reflections shares the curiosity of the children, a desire to research and, in the words of Loris Malaguzzi, “leaves time to learn” alongside the child.
(The copyright to the featured image is owned by Reflections)