Young students show off research at ‘More Than a Playground’ symposium

Reggio Emilia learning approach used by University of Nevada, Reno’s Child and Family Research Center

11/20/2012 - By: Megan Akers
young students playing on the quad The young students inspect and play with natural objects, such as branches and leaves, in order to learn more about the historical Quadrangle.

The University of Nevada, Reno's Child and Family Research Center recently collaborated with the Nevada Museum of Art to host the "More Than a Playground" Early Childhood Symposium. The two-day event, which was held earlier this month, helped demonstrate research conducted by the center's children and further explored the Reggio Emilia style of teaching.

The Reggio Emilia learning approach emphasizes teaching children through the use of objects and experiences to develop their problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. Children enrolled in the center's Infant/Toddler, Preschool and Kindergarten/First Grade programs frequently use the historic Quadrangle on campus as a learning environment. The children, aged infants to first-grade, have been conducting "research" throughout their explorations of the Quad. This research was displayed through a temporary art installation on the Quad created by the children, teachers, families and University School of the Arts' faculty.

Leah Sanders, administrative faculty, mentor and coach for the College of Education's Child and Family Research Center, facilitated the exhibition.

"The art installation is a reflection of the University's youngest students' interest of what is on the Quad, as well as the teacher's knowledge of what's appropriate to teach the age group," Sanders said. "We present the children with a challenge, such as measuring their favorite tree, and then they solve the problem from their point of view."

The installation featured 11 interactive projects based on the children's frequent visits to the Quad and their interactions and research with and involving the Quad. One project on display was "Building a Castle," done by 2-year olds. The children were presented with the challenge of re-creating the University's Morrill Hall as a castle. They used various tools such as cardboard and paint to create a physical example of their interpretation of Morrill Hall. This particular display demonstrated the ability teachers have to encourage children's analytical skills and imagination.

"We look at our children as competent, able to do research," Sanders said. "The research the children have done on the Quad is beyond just playing, even though that is how they approach it. We are trying make visible the ways children think, create, imagine and invent. Our community partner is the Nevada Museum of Art. "

Additional projects on display included "Sounds of Music," in which 4-year-olds used elements of nature to create sounds, and "Improvisational Dance," where kindergartners and first-graders created dances based on their observations of natural objects on the Quad.

After the art installation, members of the community joined classroom and museum educators from across the nation at the Nevada Museum of Art for a symposium. The symposium explored new and innovative ways to incorporate art and object-centered teaching and process-thinking into experiences for early learners and children. Lella Gandini, Reggio Children liaison in the United States, and Betsey Bowers, deputy director of the Smithsonian's Institution's Early Enrichment Center in Washington D.C., were featured as keynote speakers. Three Reno Early Childhood teachers, Megan Grimes (Washoe County School District), Jentry Hammond and Tracy Casbarro (Child and Family Research Center), also presented classroom work.

Participants learned more about early childhood classrooms and education in the environments of museums. They also had the opportunity to experiment with how different points of view affect their interactions with their surrounding environments.

The symposium, which organizers considered a huge success, created interactive campus community relationships that Sanders hopes to continue.

"We are continuing to partner with Colin Robertson, the Charles N. Mathewson Curator of Education, for the Museum, to create something different in museum experiences for children and their families."

For more information, contact the Child and Family Research Center's Director Sherry Waugh at (775) 784-6762.


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