Reggio Emilia is often admired for their beautifully designed environments, natural materials, soft-lighting, real toys and wood and glass containers. The environments are so inspiring others are often trying to replicate what they see.
The problem with replicating environments is we only recreate what we see. We don’t replicate the feelings, intentions, or reasons the environment looks a certain way.
Looking at an environment we can’t possibly know that a teacher put crystals in the window because at rest time the dancing prisms shine a rainbow of color on the cot of a child who does not sleep.
We can’t possibly know that the masks and costumes were designed and created by the class, nor can we feel their pride in using their hand-made materials in their play.
We don’t experience the class being encouraged without words to drink when they are thirsty, and eat when they are hungry, or comprehend the importance of that foundation of trust in the classroom dynamic; all we see is child-sized pitchers and snacks readily available for children.
We don’t know what it is like to watch a child who is overwhelmed with emotion, step into a “me” space, wrapped around with an airy fabric and soft place to rest, calm down and start over and make the choice to step back out of their safe place; we only see the beautiful cozy area.
There are so many things we don’t know when looking at environments. That is why replicating them will do us no good. We must evaluate our needs as a teacher, our children’s needs as individuals as well as a collaborating whole, and our community unit. We have to dig through the beauty and find intention.
Beauty is more than what we see, it is what we feel when we are seeing.
Every year my environment has different needs. One year I might have a platform in blocks center, another year I might use the same platform as an open material/stage throughout the room to facilitate a class experimenting with power and height. One year I might have fabric hanging from the ceiling, fans blowing, crystals swaying; another I might keep these things to a minimal to help a class that is easily over-stimulated.
The environment is so much more than a pretty thing. It is a living part of our classroom. It facilitates, it reflects, it questions, it challenges – it is a part of us and it reflects back to us what we value and what we are working on and through.
What does your environment say about you, about your class and community? What can you see just on the surface level, and what must be lived in to understand?