Freedom to explore and learn at the Malachim Preschool in Tel Avi-Yafo.

Freedom to explore and learn at the Malachim Preschool in Tel Avi-Yafo.

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The Reggio Approach to education – developed in Italy – views children as capable, creative, curious, intelligent, and – as a result – encourages children to problem-solve and make sense of their world through affordance with what they find in that world. The approach is known for its resonance with social constructivism, i.e. that learning is an interactive process that happens in relation to others and the environment. The role of educators is to set up experiences / provocations within the zone of proximal development to support children’s learning.

MALACHIM PRESCHOOL, TEL AVIV-YAFO

By the end of May the research had led to Israel with a quite wonderful opportunity to visit a Reggio inspired preschool for 3 to 5 year olds in Tel Aviv. Arriving during morning free-play and breakfast – and with complete freedom from the centre’s Director to explore the space and engage with the staff, children and their parents – meant a focused and uninterrupted period of time with a group of 3 to 4 year olds, who were happily engaged in activities, with one another, in the space the school offered, both inside and outside.

LEARNING FROM FREE ‘PLAY’

As Phil took photos of the facilities, Rachel was drawn to two girls playing with 2 dimensional shapes – squares, rectangles, triangles, diamonds – in two small plastic baskets. On the table in front of the girls were cardboard templates designed to encourage children to make pictures, for example, of a house, out of the different shapes, but these girls had a different idea…they decided to turn over one of the blue baskets and cover the whole of its base using the shapes.


The girls worked together, using their hands to make a square out of diamonds and triangles. Chatting together in Hebrew they worked out which shapes would fit together without overlapping or leaving any space – they were developing skills in tessellating. As they continued their joint activity, a third child arrived and sat down beside the two girls, along with her mother. Rather than rushing off, the mother spent a considerable amount of time interacting with all three children, asking questions and commenting as her daughter began to get involved. The mother was obviously interested in what the children were doing. It was so beautiful to witness such interaction between the children and this parent. Even when the group were asked to pack up, the girls’ continued to learn by choosing to sort the shapes by colour and shape. At this point an educator engaged with the children, first observing, then listening, before asking questions and commenting on what they were doing.

It is amazing how much a 10 minute observation reveals about a schools’ philosophy; on this occasion, the adults’ view of children and their belief in each child’s capacity, creativity, curiosity and intelligence. Remember, these were only 3 to 4-year olds, children working cooperatively to make sense of the world through an activity / shared experience which their educators had carefully and intentionally offered in way that they felt would best support children’s development. It is incredible how much learning can take place – even before the day has ‘formally’ begun – when adults consider and offer activities / shared experiences within children’s zone of proximal development and then trust these children with their own learning by giving them the freedom to interact with others and their environment. Having a camera to document each stage of the children’s thinking and development as events unfolded would have been handy – a personal learning point for the future!

SUPPORT STRUCTURES THAT SUSTAIN TRANSFORMATION

As this piece of research progressed there was increasing awareness and acknowledgement of the role the senior leader of each organisation plays in bringing change and transformation. The kind of rich learning environment that sees staff view and treat children as intelligent, curious and strong – the kind described on the previous page – is a testament to the handwork of the director of Malachim Preschool, Yael Maimon (below left).

In conversation with Yael, she came across as a strong leader, with an equally robust philosophy of education, that more than anything prioritizes the learning of every child. Her leadership which was evident in:

  • the warm, friendly and stimulating learning-environment, that has been created
  • the way all adults – class teachers, chefs and parents – interact with the children
  • how parents are included in the day to day life of the school
  • how educators / teachers set up learning experiences

What is clear is that Yael has a very high regard for all her staff; she has been, and is, intentional about appointing the right staff and then establishing structures that support them as they facilitate the points above. This support includes individual observations with feedback, weekly staff meetings and professional development days four times a year. Yael, alongside Dr Naama Zoran, Israel’s representative for Reggio’s International Network, carefully consider important transitions to work through with Malachim’s staff team.
Reflecting on the experiences of the education offered in Tel Aviv-Yafo, there is a growing sense of i) the need to appoint and establish a staff team that has a pro-collaborative and child-centred approach / mindset, and ii) a deeper understanding of the role the director and senior leaders play in establishing structures that best support these staff, as ‘we’ – the leaders, staff, parents and children – all nurture the kind of positive relationships that support a learning environment that regards every child as capable, competent, creative and intelligent.