(originally appeared in Boston University Wheelock College of Education and Human Development News)
The Wonder of Learning Boston, a multimedia exhibition and professional development series presenting the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education, concluded a five month residency at Boston University on November 14. The exhibit drew over 5,300 professionals from the field of education (and several families) to BU to tour the installation, participate in workshops and dialogue events, and network with peers and colleagues.
Collaboratively organized by the Boston Area Reggio Inspired Network (BARIN), Boston University Wheelock College of Education & Human Development, and a steering committee of educators, academics, and policy professionals, the Wonder of Learning Boston represented an opportunity for the public to deepen their understanding of and commitment to early childhood education. Under the Reggio Emilia approach, educators encourage children to pursue their interests and to approach teaching children in ways that that honor and harness their natural curiosity. The approach is recognized internationally as one of the most effective models for supporting children in becoming engaged learners for life.
One challenge the exhibition organizers faced was to bring this approach to audiences who would not otherwise be exposed to it. Holding in mind the goal of “crossing cultures, contexts, and communities,” they designed on-going professional development experiences to align with Boston’s commitment to equitable universal Pre-K and high quality teacher training. The Wonder of Learning team conducted outreach to all 7,000 Massachusetts early childhood education and care programs, bringing new visitors to the exhibition and facilitating new dialogues about early childhood education in Greater Boston.
Such events included the Community Policy Dialogue, which brought educators and parents together with policy-makers from the state and local levels. Other events, such as a screening and Q&A session with the directors of No Small Matter and a panel discussion featuring members of the Boston Society of Architects, encouraged attendance by a diverse set of professionals while re-emphasizing core principals of the Reggio Emilia approach (creative expression and learning through the use of materials, the enchantment of writing, using research and experimentation as a mode of learning, documenting learning so it is visible to all, designing and appreciating the space in which children learn). Additionally, the Boston Opportunity Agenda and the Boston Foundation provided extensive support, both as significant donors and as event organizers.
Exhibit organizers had made it a priority to keep the Wonder of Learning Boston open to the public with free admission. This encouraged wider attendance, especially among schools serving disadvantaged communities. Over 350 schools from throughout Massachusetts brought their teachers to tour the exhibit or attend a Wonder of Learning workshop. Professional development workshops brought educators and families from 34 U.S. States and 22 countries to the exhibition.
Early childhood education practitioners made up a significant portion of the attendees, taking in the Reggio Emilia approach and forming new connections with BU Wheelock faculty and BARIN members. University faculty from several Massachusetts colleges, educators throughout the Northeast, administrative officials, professional development consultants, and curriculum designers from Brookline, Boston, and Cambridge Public Schools and scores of independent schools helped organize and attend professional development workshops related to the exhibition. These teachers and educational professionals gained a deeper understanding of how an emphasis on high-quality early childhood education, made public and facilitated by well-trained practitioners, can positively shape the learning experience for their children.
Peer faculty from Lesley University, Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, and UMass Boston all became involved, as did BU students from Wheelock’s early childhood, elementary, secondary, special, and bilingual education programs. The exhibition also brought longtime Wheelock College adjunct faculty member Amy O’Leary, currently president of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), back to the Fenway Campus. Ms. O’Leary contributed significantly to the Wonder of Learning Boston’s professional development committee, and co-ordinated the No Small Matter screening.
Note: the Wonder of Learning was a large-scale undertaking made possible by many volunteers, donors, and organizers. BU Wheelock wishes to thank all who were involved and who attended. We also wish to recognize the outstanding contributions from the following organizers: Kelly Pellagrini, co-director of the Charlestown Nursery School and founder of the Boston Area Reggio Inspired Network; BU Wheelock faculty members Stephanie Cox Suarez, Jane Lannak, Megina Baker, Eleonora Villegas-Reimers, and adjunct professor Sara Yessenow (who also served as project coordinator); Lesley University’s Sue Twombly; Angela Ferrario, liaison to international Reggio Emilia organizations North America Reggio Alliance and Reggio Children. Many, many others from universities, school systems, and other organizations contributed, and are listed here.