I sat in the theatre-style auditorium of a Toronto school, listening. At an early learning conference entitled The Value of Listening, it seemed the logical thing to do. Throughout that two day conference I experienced the value of respectful attention for the two Reggio Emilia educators and presenters, Ameila Gambetti and Lella Gandini. I also discovered, at a deep level, the value of listening to children.
The Reggio Emilia approach in education is named after the area in Italy where it was founded by Loris Malaguzzi in response to the Second World War. It was clear to Malaguzzi and to a group of parents in that area who had survived the ravages of war that a peaceful world depended on raising children who cared about and understood one another. It depended on raising children who would ask themselves questions, and who could consider ideas, situations and people from multiple perspectives. A peaceful world depended on raising children who knew what it was like to be heard, understood, and respected. Empathy, intelligence and creativity could flourish in such an environment.
Reggio Emilia is an approach that has gained traction in various parts of the world. Its influence is now embedded in the Ontario Ministry of Educations’ How Does Learning Happen and Kindergarten Program.
Though listening is an essential part of everyday communication with children, adults can easily err on the side of listening only for expected responses, giving children quick answers to their questions, and telling children what to think rather than prompting them to reflect and discover things for themselves. “Children’s quotes” found in books or on the internet are predominantly adult words intended to guide or instruct children, and quotes from the mouths of children are usually noted because they are ‘cute’ or ‘funny.’ Yet, when I use my ears, eyes, and heart to listen, I’m awestruck at the depth of children’s observations, theorizing, and empathy.
Listen to these children’s observations – words that are also poetic:
“To take a step forward you need to lose your balance.” (Simone, 3.10 years)
“It takes a breath to jump up high.” (Bariele, 3 years)
“Light and colour keep each other company and they keep me company too.” (Bernedetto, 3 years)
Listen to these children’s theories:
”Clouds fall down with rain.” (Viola, 2.4 years)
“The rainbow colours can never be changed because the sun designs them.” (Samuel. 5 years)
“It takes intelligence and imagination to transform yourself. You can transform almost anything.” (Tomas, 5.8 years)
“Wishes are beautiful dreams you are still dreaming.” (Pietro, 4.8 years)
Listen to their words of empathy:
“Mommy, I wish you were my age so you could be my daughter.” (Marley, 5 years)
“When I’m too big for you to hold, I’ll hold you instead.” (Ashlyn, 5 years)
“The thread of life starts from the heart.” (Nina, 4 years)
Listening has always been an essential component of supporting young children’s language and communication skills. But as 2017 begins, my New Year’s resolution is to listen to children more carefully and respectfully; to listen with all my senses to their ideas and interpretations of the world; to help them explore and test their theories, and perhaps in some small way create hope through them for a world that knows peace.