Category Archives: Uncategorized

Latest Blog

Category : Uncategorized Welcome

Human Rights.

This year, our Foundation Phase consists of a total of fifteen 6 – 8 year old’s, of which seven 6 year old’s are new to the school, and eight 7 – 8 year old’s were part of the school last year.  They are a racially and economically diverse group, representing at least four different cultures.

We decided to start the year with the theme of ‘Our bodies’, and to take a holistic approach exploring physical aspects like naming parts of the body and thinking about the function of each part, to considering social and emotional factors such as body image and feelings.

Listening to the voices of children

Listening to the voices of children

We often start a topic by listening to the children to find out what they think they already know.  Whilst naming parts of the body that we can see a child asked, ‘Why do we have different kind of voices?’  A fascinating conversation emerged with the children sharing their thinking.  This was definitely an area that the children were curious about, so we decided to continue the conversation the following day.  One child shared about people having different accents because of where they are from.  This led to another child explaining that he is adopted, and that, ‘I would speak differently if I was still there, which is far away from here, and I would speak isiZulu.’  The idea that he would speak a different language was a revelation to the rest of the  group, and within this, they `started to hear how other children speak isiZulu at home.  Excitement rose as they shared their desire to learn isiZulu; ‘so they can really understand one another’. 

Embracing the other

Embracing the other

Since the start of the school year at the beginning of February, the new children have been welcomed in to a community where there is a deep sense of respect for the other.  It has been amazing to see our 7 – 8 year olds encourage the new children.  As the new children shared with the whole group a sentence they had written, the older children spontaneously explained what they liked about what they said, or how they had shared it.  It was such a privilege to witness. In sharing what they were thankful for at the end of one school day, one child shared how she was grateful for the new children that were now part of the group. 

Our new children are being embraced in to a culture where the children value and listen to one another, appreciating different perspectives and ideas.    The new children are being encouraged to look at the child who is speaking, to listen to what is being shared because it  is important.  This is a shift for some children.  Children are needing to move from a context where they have been used to listening to, and answering questions the teacher asks, to an environment where discussions between the children are welcomed, with the teacher  observing, provoking and respecting thinking.  

Furthermore, we are observing children’s curiosity blossom.  In a culture where the children are ‘seen’, the children are asking so many questions about how their bodies work  At the same time they are developing the ability to share what they think, without holding it too tightly because there might be another answer. 

Learning to live with tension

Category : Blogs Uncategorized

So we’ve recently concluded our latest Inquiry-based Learning initiative (see Rachel’s previous Facebook Note on this); an inquiry where we focused on the environment for five 4-hour sessions.

If you’ve been following our educational journey on Facebook, via our website, or in person, you’ll know that the experiences, moments, and observations of children is our ‘fuel’. As facilitators of learning, we record everything – through a process we call ‘documentation’ – and use this to provoke, launch, and, relaunch child led-inquiries. Without these audio recordings, photographs, or written notes – alongside the time to review, reflect, and respond to them as a staff team – I can’t imagine how we’d facilitate a child-led culture of learning.

So when, our current group of co-learners fed back that one of their key learning points from the last five weeks was the “ups and downs” of working together as a team, I took note. My facilitative sensors were triggered; because, although the focus of our time together in July/August was ‘the environment’ – a trajectory that originated from a previous child-led observation that: “chemicals like plastics are bad & therefore kill the earth” and “adults aren’t doing enough” (03/06/2019) – this latest gathering of children didn’t collaborate in the same way they had previously. That there were Ups and Downs was a valid learning point to raise.

The very beginning of what would, in time, become known as: ‘The Time Machine’ (May 20 2019).

When asked what the children thought the difference might be this time – verses last time, when the children chosen to ‘go on an adventure’ into history, which involved constructing a time machine (right) – a few children felt that they had brought their own resources from home this time, rather than been provided with resources, last time.


“For the time machine we got given resources; this is the first time sharing resources.”



In July / August’s inquiry, our children decided they wanted to address some of the problems created by plastics by building a litter-picker-upper (above); although, as early as the second session they suspected it might not help, in fact it might make matters worse they thought, since it might make people litter more; “Is this going to make people lazy?” (July 22 2019).

As I reflect on the ‘Ups and Downs’ of our time together, I think the children are correct in recognising how we treat resources we own vs. shared-resources that we have in common.

The Franciscan Community of Casa San Salvador in Brookland, Washington DC

Rachel and I have very fond memories of staying at Casa San Salvador, an intentional community in Washington DC, last year (May). As we traveled around the world, researching education, between April and June 2018, we intentionally chose to stay in lots of different places, where we met and were hosted by lots of incredible people, but I remember worrying about what it would be like living with others, before arriving in DC.

As it turned out, the fact that no one living in the house owned it, and all the resources were in common / pooled, meant that it was a real life tangible example of no one claiming, ‘…that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had’ (Acts 4:32). It was actually one of the most liberating experiences of living with others I’ve ever had. Very different to when I’ve stayed in someone else’s house, or when we’ve hosted people in ours.

The difference in children’s collaboration in May/June 2019 vs. July/August 2019, was not that the children were constructing a time machine vs. a litter-picker-upper; it was that the children had been encouraged / decided to bring their own (reusable) resources from home.


“Some people got jealous with what we brought.”


“I can’t read – I’m still learning (July 29 2019). “He can read!” (August 5 2019).

As I reflected on this, the morning after our latest feedback session, I suppose it was inevitable that I would begin by asking myself whether we had ‘failed’ this time around. Whilst its true that I was both surprised and delighted by how the children had relished the opportunity to stretch other skills – foundational literacy, for example (right) – I still couldn’t stop myself from focusing on how creative problem solving, communication, and collaboration didn’t flow in the same ways that it did before.

Thankfully, I wasn’t down for long; I ‘happened’ to come across an article on Facebook from IDEO – one of the top design firms that I often quote – which began with: ‘Not all tension is bad.’ What? Really! It was both timely and interesting.

In IDEO’s experience – when it comes to cultivating creative collaboration – ‘tension’ around i). ideas, ii). team dynamics, and iii). one to one feedback, is absolutely essential. They agree / argue that tension is ‘a critical element for fueling creative thinking on teams’ (IDEO 2019).

And so, the next time we gather children, I wonder if we ought to provoke an inquiry into teamwork, welcoming tension, or being intentional about sharing resources as a community?

The Life Skills Curriculum

Category : Blogs Uncategorized

Developing Foundational Literacies, Competences, and Character Qualities through Inquiry into the Environment.

In its New Vision for Education (2015), the World Economic Forum describes how children – in order to thrive in an innovation driven, rapidly evolving, technology saturated 21st Century – need to develop sixteen skills. During five weeks of a child-led inquiry-based project, focusing on the environment, the children we’ve gathered have learnt, in relation to one another, developed foundational literacies in English, numeracy and science, alongside competencies such as critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration, and character qualities of curiosity, initiative, persistence, and social / cultural awareness.

Through the child-led inquiry on the environment – which relates to ‘Life Skills’ for Grades R to 3 within South Africa’s Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement – the children have:

  • created a collaborative environment collage
  • shared what they knew about the environment
  • thought about the impacts of pollution on our planet
  • developed an understanding of the words ‘reduce’ and ‘recycle’
  • discussed and considered a question provoked by the children themselves: “How can we help the environment?”
  • designed machines to collect litter (in response to the discussion the children had about what they could do to help the environment)
  • attempted to collaboratively make prototypes of their machines, out of material collected from the home
  • developed deeper thinking, as they started to question whether the machines they were designing / making would actually help the situation, hypothesizing, for example, how they might, “just make people lazy”
  • questioned who and why plastic was ever invented (due to its impact on our environment)
  • collated and began to analyse data on plastic items that they found in their homes
  • were surprised by the amount of plastic in three homes represented by the group
  • began to consider how to ‘reduce’ their own plastic consumption, rather than just ‘reuse’ or ‘recycle’
  • reflected on the choices they have, and the consequences of these choices
  • made a commitment to make a positive difference to our planet

The whole inquiry was closely linked to the development of literacy skills through the sharing and reading of a big book: The Great Kapok Tree. The story, set in the Amazon Rain forest, describes a man, who – exhausted from his attempts to chop down a Great Kapok Tree – puts down his ax to rest for a while. As he falls asleep, the animals who live in and around the tree draw near and begin to plead with him to reconsider destroying their world. Initially, our children, were invited to look through the book using only the pictures (having covered up the words), describing what they could see, and what they thought was happening.

At this stage many of the children were eager to read the book showing great curiosity.

“Okay, can we begin now?”

Each child predicted how they thought the story would end, making their thinking visible through a choice of creative mediums, e.g. paint, pastels, papier Mache, construction, and so on. Before reading the story together on Week 3, the facilitator introduced what they imagined would be some of the trickier words; the children labelled the animals as a group. As the book was read together – a process called ‘shared reading’ – the children shared their understanding of the reasons the animals were giving for not chopping down the tree. Through working together, each child developed strategies in scanning the text to identify key information. One child, who had resigned himself to the fact he couldn’t read “I’m still learning” on Week 2, delighted the group on Week 4, when they released: “He can read!”

The child-led inquiry, and the reading of the story -which formed a major part of this – enabled the children to develop their understanding of question words, how to form questions, and the use of question marks. As they worked together in a process known as ‘shared writing’ (on Week 4), the group creatively decided what the Iguana – which although it features on the book cover, doesn’t speak inside the book – might have said to the man to try and stop him chopping down the Kapok tree. This included the use of questions alongside explanations. The children, then went on to work independently to create their own piece of writing.

Throughout the inquiry, the children had many creative opportunities to express their thinking. Children chose to work individually or collaboratively as they felt appropriate. Through this, facilitators were able to observe children being curious, showing initiative, being persistent, communicating their ideas, developing skills in problem solving, etc.As a result of the extensive research that we have carried out, as we have visited schools in different parts of the world, and, as we have practiced our philosophy in South Africa since, we are confident that the development of foundational skills in English, mathematics (above), and science can be naturally woven in to child-led, inquiry-based projects as and when opportunities present themselves, in relation to the growing interests of the children.

As facilitators continue to practice the art of documentation, that is the intentional recording of comments, experiences, and moments that go on within the learning environment, and, with the dialogue, reflection, and insight that this provides during and afterwards, the adult facilitator-teachers can be listening for the unknown, expecting surprises, and be led by the children, whilst still ensuring that the requirements of the curriculum are also fulfilled.


Category : Uncategorized

Our ethos is driven by i). our vision of an equal and integrated South Africa, which we believe begins with its citizens – children, their educators, parents-carers, and the wider community – learning how to live together, through the provision of high quality, diverse and accessible education…

and ii). our image of a self-giving, social, and unified God – who values, receives, honours, collaborates, and makes room for the other.

As God’s image bearers we seek out, welcome, and respect one another’s culture, faith, and socio-economic backgrounds, people who share different beliefs, experiences, and viewpoints from our own (McLaren 2012:130).

We celebrate, encourage, and support one another in our differences; we grow more, go further, and change more when we are together. We see ourselves, and the children and parent-carers in our schools, as ‘agents of change’ (Tennent 2010:479), with a mandate to re-imagine, create, and co-construct justice and peace in the teeth of society’s structures (Bosch 1991:179).

The wonder within the curriculum

Category : Blogs Uncategorized

I wonder what you think of when you hear the phrase ‘life skills’?

My understanding of life skills, as a subject that forms part of the South African school curriculum, has been based on explanations people have shared of it helping children to form their identity, sense of worth, or to understand their emotions, and of it supporting students to make good choices. Living and working in KwaZulu-Natal, a region with the highest HIV rate in the country – where over a quarter of the population is living with the disease – it is perhaps understandable that most of the faith-based non profit organisations we’ve worked with over the last 12 years include sex education (for older children) within life skills.

Since living and working in South Africa I have linked these descriptions (above) to my own experience and knowledge of working as a teacher in England; so I have considered Life Skills to be similar to PSHE (Personal, Social, Health Education), or SEAL (Social, Emotional Aspects of Literacy) – both of which have been part of the curriculum in England.

But in exploring the South African Life Skills curriculum for Grade R to Grade 3 learners (5 to 9 year-olds), as part of the preparation for launching our quality, diverse and accessible school in KwaZulu-Natal, I have been surprised by the content. Surprised…in a good way!

As I expected, the Life Skills curriculum does include aspects of social and emotional development, i.e. self-awareness, self-confidence, expressing and managing feelings and behaviour, and physical development; health and self-care, but it goes so much further…

The Life Skills curriculum is actually incredibly rich with themes that provoke children – alongside their teachers – to explore people and communities (the home, family, school, community, jobs, etc.), and the world (seasons, food, animals, plants, the weather, the environment etc.). In addition, all of the ‘content’ can be explored through the creative arts, where children have opportunities to use a variety of mediums, media, and materials to create in 2 and 3 Dimensions, and use their imagination as they express their ideas and thoughts via music and dance; all whilst developing foundational literacies.

Since the Life Skills curriculum outlines the themes – but doesn’t go in to great detail with a lot of specifics – it means, as a school, we can link children’s interests to areas in the Life Skills curriculum, using these as provocations to go deeper in to areas which the children are naturally curious and intrigued by. We can encourage children to explore and express ideas, thoughts, learning creatively and imaginatively, through one or more of their 100 languages.

In utilising themes from the South African Life Skills curriculum to provoke learning, carefully selecting areas which relate to children’s interests, and documenting children’s learning along the way, rather than assessing against predefined outcomes, we believe the tension of making room for ‘meaning making’ within / alongside a curriculum can be balanced. Dahlberg et al. explain pedagogical documentation is:

‘…about trying to see and understand what is going on in the pedagogical work and what the child is capable of without any predetermined framework of expectations and norms’.

Dahlberg, Moss and Pence (2007: 146)

Documentation – notes of the children’s actions, comments, and conversations during their work, alongside photographs which capture these ‘…ordinary moments and everyday experiences in the classroom’ (Kashin 2014) – enables teachers to enter into dialogue with children and fellow staff members, to consider different perspectives, critically reflect, and relaunch learning. Working in this way, teachers will be listening for the unknown, expectant for surprises – meaning making will be paramount.


Dahlberg, G., Moss, P. and Pence, A. (2007) Beyond Quality in Early Childhood Education and Care, Oxon: Routledge.

Department of Basic Education (2011) Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement Grade R to 3 Life Skills, South Africa: Government Printing Works.

Human Sciences Research Council (2017) South African National HIV Prevalence, Incidence and Behaviour Survey.

Kashin, D. (2014) Progettazione: Reggio-inspired Teaching in Dialogue with the Learning Processes of Children [online]. Accessed June 2019.


H is an adventurer, a designer, and an innovator of note. He enjoys the freedom, space, and time to observe, think, and work independently, whilst accepting the contribution, feedback, and insight from others. He has an affinity with construction, his environment and animals; he brings all of these to his learning, reflecting and relaxing.  H always shows great persistence / grit, ingenuity and creativity when he puts his mind to it.

Making Learning Visible

Category : Blogs Uncategorized


Documentation is a key feature of the Reggio Emilia Approach to teaching and learning; a pedagogy we had the opportunity to experience first hand last year, in Italy and beyond.Documentation is a way of making children’s learning visible; it often includes notes of the children’s actions, conversations, and comments – usually made by adults, as children go about their work – along with photographs that illustrate these experiences and moments.

Documentation enables the progression / stages of thinking and learning to be made visible.

Making learning visible during an inquiry on ‘identity’

During the March school holidays, a series of creative workshops were facilitated by a team of adult facilitators for a group of fifteen children, aged 5 to 9 years. The inquiry began by focusing on ‘identity’ – which included an exploration of colour through a provocation that introduced children to the shades, tints and tones of red, using a number of objects.

In seeing a metronome for the first time – one of the objects chosen by the lead facilitator – it was noticeable how intrigued the children were; by the sound it made, and how by re-positioning the adjustable weight on the pendulum the speed of that sound could be changed. As the team of facilitators shared and reflected on their documentation and observations of children’s “moments” and “experiences” at the end of the day (Kashin 2014), a consensus was reached that it would be appropriate to respond to, and attempt to build upon, the children’s curiosity with sound. This involved the children:

  • being invited to become more aware of sounds in their ‘learning space’ through silent listening
  • exploring sounds in the built and natural environment around them, by going on a listening hunt
  • verbally sharing the sounds that they had heard – as a whole group
  • describing and classifying the sounds
  • exploring the sounds that they could reproduce and produce through a variety of materials – individually and together
  • sharing the sounds they had created – in small groups
  • verbally describing their sounds
  • discussing what they would like to ‘do’ with the sounds
  • working through their suggestions in small groups, either to (i) develop rhythms, (ii) create a sound story, or (iii) form a band
  • sharing their collaborative creations with the whole
  • and finally creating something to show what they had discovered about themselves

The aforementioned steps emerged – they were in no way predetermined – the ‘project’ evolved out of children’s initial / growing interests, and their affordance with their contexts. Children’s thinking was voiced, and became visible, through sensitive facilitation; the inquiry developed and progressed as a result of adults and children co-learning alongside each other. Written and photographic documentation of children’s comments, experiences, interactions, moments, thoughts, and so on, was intentional and essential to the learning journey; initially this was carried out by the adult facilitators as they worked with and observed children.

Within a short space of time, children began to mirror adults, and document their own learning (see the bottom row in the photographs above), to the degree where adults stopped documenting some aspects of the journey, trusting children to document it themselves.

The power of documentation

The facilitators’ documentation – alongside some of the children’s – offered a way identifying and evaluating what and how the children were learning; it encouraged and enabled facilitators to reflect together before, during, and after working alongside the children.

Ways forward – the next steps – emerged as a consequence of collectively discussing the documentation, which led to further provocations coming to mind, and being ‘set up’ in response; these provocations relaunched ideas and allowed children to go further.

As adults – and children – we opened, ‘ourselves up to new and courageous landscapes’


An inquiry into identity, through sound

Category : Blogs Uncategorized

The context

For one week of the Easter break, a series of creative workshops were facilitated for a group of fifteen children, aged 5 to 9 years. The planning team’s initial thoughts had been to provoke some sort of inquiry into identity, with the understanding that, should any kind of ‘project’ evolve, it should be allowed to emerge out of the children’s initial, and growing interests (see our February Facebook Note for what we mean when we refer to something as a ‘project’).

By ‘project’ we mean a child-led, inquiry-based, and open-ended learning trajectory that encourages children to explore, experiment and express an idea, interest, and / or experience with others, through multiple mediums, lenses, and directions.

The week proved to be incredibly rich in learning for both the children and adults involved.

The children…

… developed skills in collaboration. Over a five day period the children developed a deep respect for each other, as they learnt how to collaborate in response to authentic and emerging challenges. In providing a ‘space’ where children were encouraged to explore, experiment and express their thinking – individually, in pairs, small groups, and as a whole – the children were able to experience listening to others and being listened to; which led to a deeper appreciation for others’ perspectives. The children grew together quickly; they began to learn in relation to others and understand how they need others to ‘go further’.

… developed skills in reflection. In spite of the fact that the concept of self-reflection seemed new to the majority of the children, the team’s decision to persist – but to adjust their approach – led to a remarkable shift in each of the children’s ability and depth of self-reflection by the end of the week. In creating space for the children to think first before inviting a response, by giving every child the option to share their thoughts in turn, and by having flexible open-ended focused times of listening – alone in silence, and to one another – the children developed skills to self-reflect, beyond expectations, in a short space of time.

… expressed creativity through prototyping. By exploring a variety of art, anti-waste, and natural materials, most of the children chose to think and work in 3 dimensions. Model making seemed to unlock levels of creativity in this particularly group of children in ways that 2 dimensional ink, painting, and pastels didn’t. The opportunity to rapidly prototype their ideas supported the expression of emerging thoughts in a process that one facilitator described as “layering” – “Playful prototyping meant each child was able to build their next thought on top of their previous way of thinking; ideas just seem to flow in a manner that these children weren’t able to achieve with something like watercolour.” As children’s ideas developed, they were able to return, remodel, and / or recreate their creations quickly.

… developed in self-confidence. It was noticeable how much the children grew in confidence, in an environment where adults offered a space which welcomed their thoughts and ideas; a space where the children could explore, experiment, and express themselves. Adults intentionally chose a posture of facilitation; provoking learning, listening, observing / documenting, and valuing every child’s unique contribution, without feeling they needed to judge, correct, or ‘make’ children conform. The environment offered a space where children could be themselves together; it made room for each and every child to make sense of their world in their way. Children were free to explore multi intelligences, and express their thinking through any one of the 100 languages they possess – by ‘languages’ we mean all the ways we express ourselves that go beyond spoken or written words – all of which allowed them to unearth unique insights about their true self, others, and the world around them.

Spontaneous movement, provoked by background music.

Adult facilitators developed an understanding of …

… the importance of scaffolding learning. By utilizing a variety of ‘instructional techniques used to move students progressively toward stronger understanding and, ultimately, greater independence in the learning process’ (The Glossary of Educational Reform 2015) – also known as ‘scaffolding’ – the group of children were able to develop skills in self-reflection and collaboration (as mentioned above). In spending time reflecting as a team of facilitators – before, during, and after every workshop – potential opportunities to ‘go further’ would emerge whilst reviewing the documentation of the day; the facilitators role became one of provoking children to oscillate between the known and the unknown.

This movement between the Known and Unknown is a journey. Both expertise and exploration are necessary components, and the journey is an oscillation between the two.

Rill B. R., and Hamalainen M. M., 2018. The Art of Co-Creation: A Guidebook for Practitioners. Singapore: Palgrave Macmillan, p. 30.

… the power of rapid prototyping. Playful prototyping – in this instance exploring sound – encouraged and enabled the expression of ideas, thinking and innovation.

Heath’s Real Clap Stretcher (™) really did make clapping in time so much easier. Imagine different sizes and coloured elastic bands for different tempos; you and your neighbours would never miss a beat again!

… the importance of foundational literacies. As the workshops progressed the importance of foundational literacies, e.g. literacy, numeracy, science, and so on (WEF 2015), and the relationship between a child’s competence in these literacies and them realising their ‘creative potential’ (Robinson 2001:131), became more and more evident. Sir Ken notes how ones ‘creative achievement’ is related to the control one has over ones ‘medium’ – the paintbrush of an artist or decorator, pen / pencil of a writer, or piano in terms of music.

‘Children and adults need the means and skills to be creative….These things need to be learnt and if they are not, the creative possibilities…are limited’

Robinson, K. (2001) Out of our minds: learning to be creative. UK: John Wiley & Sons, p. 131-132.

Within a school context children need valid reasons to want to develop certain skills. These skills could and should be introduced as and when it becomes evident that a child requires them; ideally when they show that they are ready, when they identify a desire to utilize and therefore learn a particular skill. Children then need to be given an array of opportunities to apply the skills they’ve acquired – creatively – and an array of opportunities that require skills that they don’t yet have; once again, this requires dancing between the known and unknown.

… the importance of the environment and their posture as facilitators. Rather than a predetermined curriculum or prescribed program of activities, delivered to children by adults, the ‘theme’ for the week – An inquiry into identity – was effectively realised through the provision of space. Facilitators were intentional about offering a cognitively, physically, spiritually and socio-emotionally diverse space, where the experiences, feelings, thinking and views of a group of unique children were welcomed, valued, respected, and celebrated.

In summary

Through a brief exploration of sound, children were able to embark on a journey of self-discovery – individually and collectively – a journey which enabled them to develop a range of foundational literacies, competencies, and character qualities (WEF 2015), in what was an authentic emerging context, rather than a ‘staged’ sterile environment. In learning how to share a space, and make room for the other – cognitively, physically, spiritually, and socio-emotionally – the children’s inquiry caused them to work alongside others with different viewpoints, empowered them to assign themselves roles in groups – based on skills, rather than age or gender – and led to a deeper understanding of sound and their true selves.


Rill B. R., and Hamalainen M. M., (2018). The Art of Co-Creation: A Guidebook for Practitioners. Singapore: Palgrave Macmillan.

Robinson, K. (2001). Out of our minds: learning to be creative. UK: John Wiley & Sons.

The Glossary of Educational Reform (2015) Scaffolding [online], Available from[Accessed April 2019].

The World Economic Forum (2015). A New Vision for Education [online], Available from [Accessed April 2019].

Re-positioning the Curriculum

Category : Blogs Uncategorized

In feeding-back findings from our world-wide research into child-centred inquiry-based approaches to education, we were asked which curriculum we are planning to use. Some parent-carers have concerns that the South African curriculum is not rigorous enough, and that it is not supporting children to develop skills they need to thrive in the 21st century; skills such as creativity, critical thinking / problem-solving, curiosity, and collaboration.

As parent-carers we need to be seeking spaces where our children can develop these skills.

But are we asking the right questions?

As we researched approaches to education around the world, approaches which enable children to develop knowledge, understanding and skills to fulfil their aspirations and relevant for today’s society, it was evident that every teacher we met, in every school, in every country, had to work within a prescribed curriculum. The curriculum wasn’t the limiting factor preventing children from developing skills but rather each teacher’s belief about the image of the child – and thus their approach to teaching and learning.

Allow me to explain further…

In 1968 Paulo Freire critiqued education systems that fail to ‘develop the critical consciousness which would result from [children’s] intervention in the world as transformers of that world’ (p. 47).

If we believe children are nothing more than empty vessels that need filling with information, then teaching and learning will be approached from the understanding that educators need to talk whilst students passively listen; in the hope that what is being downloaded can be regurgitated at a later point by the learner – a ‘feat’ for which they will be symbolically rewarded.

Education in this sense is about filling children with content, with little consideration given to application, analysing information or collaborative problem-solving.

In contrast, if we believe all children are competent, capable, creative and curious, then teaching and learning will be approached from the understanding that every child should actively participate in their own learning and development; educators / teachers here will work with students to determine what should be learnt and how best to learn it. Education in this sense ensures greater involvement and sustains interest; children discover for themselves in authentic situations, co-constructing knowledge with others, as they develop skills in creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration and innovation.

As we establish a school we start with the belief that every child is a unique individual who is competent, capable, creative and curious. As teachers our posture will therefore be one of provoking learning by facilitating engaging ‘projects’ in line with children’s interests.

The word progettazione is a concept we initially encountered in the Northern Italian city of Reggio Emilia, which is where we began our child-centred inquiry-based education research. Over the next 10 weeks we had the opportunity to experience similar expressions in various contexts, forms and languages all over the world. Although progettazione sounds a lot like the English word ‘project’ is it best understood as ‘design’, which articulates better what we mean by ‘project’. Education is not about off-the-shelf, prepackaged, or prescribed activities – with predetermined outcomes, scope or time-spans – but rather a learning trajectory that encourages children to explore an area, with others, through multiple lenses and directions.

A ‘flexible approach’ with ‘an openness to the unexpected and new thoughts’ of children and adults alike (Moss 2005:27).

Progettazione observes, interprets, and documents, ‘The ordinary moments and everyday experiences in the classroom’ (Kashin 2014). It is an approach that lends itself to an integration between subject areas. Most ‘moments’ and ‘experiences’ are worthy of exploration, but not all of them necessarily, ‘lead to an all-encompassing long-term project.’ Regardless of whether an inquiry is long or short, it is a collaborative approach that encourages the development of creative problem-solving, and self / social intelligence.

Working in this way requires staff to have a good grasp of educational milestones, with an understanding of the knowledge and skills children should be developing at certain stages. Curriculums for the various subjects outline this information. We imagine we will have a fusion of curriculums – from different countries – to ensure quality and high standards.

Over the last couple of months, we have been particularly exploring milestones within early childhood development (18 months to 5 year olds), and mathematics for 5 to 9 year olds. The curriculums at our school won’t dictate teaching and learning, but as children explore an area, experience, or moment – collaboratively solving the challenges they encounter – staff need to be able to identify which areas of the curriculum are being fulfilled and consider how to provoke further learning. This may sound messy, but none of us work or learn in silos. Our interests enable us to explore an area through multiple lenses, with seamless connections between disciplines.

‘We need an education that values different modes of intelligence and sees relationships between disciplines. To achieve this there must be a balance of priorities between the arts, sciences and humanities in education and in the forms of thinking they promote. They should be taught in ways that reflect their intimate connections in the world beyond’

Sir Ken Robinson 2001. Out of our Minds, p. 201.