Consent is a topic we think about, or should think about, quite often in a classroom. Teaching children that they are in control of their own bodies is a message that starts at a young age. This is something that was talked about often when I worked with RIE, Resources for Infant Educarers. To go from a world where the youngest of infants are asked to be picked up, toddler’s personal boundaries and love languages are respected, and children are over-all viewed as in charge of their own body, to Reggio, where children are viewed as capable and competent in regards to learning, but maybe less so in other areas, was really difficult for me. Particularly because, as far as I know, there isn’t a black and white approach to these topics outlined by Reggio Emilia educators. Teachers who choose to adopt Reggio Inspired Approaches adopt approaches in regards to curriculum, environment and relationships with children and families, typically keeping the approach to topics like behavior they had before exploring Reggio Emilia.
I recently was in Italy for a study group and while I loved 99.99999% of what I was able to see, there were some questions, some cringing, and some confusion as well. Why in a community where children are viewed as capable and competent are children being swooped up without being asked or even spoken to first? Why are children being told they cannot choose where to play but must go where the teachers are guiding them? Why are children active protagonists in their learning, but not actively in charge of their own body?
This is something I have been thinking more about in regards to project work and curriculum threads. I will start out by saying I do not know the answer. This is largely speculative, and I think more conversation is needed. I was recently told that redirecting children back to their project work, a provocation, or other activity they were otherwise engaged with is not controlling but it is rather helping them follow through with what they said they wanted to do. On the surface, I nodded along and didn’t immediately see a flaw in this thinking but on further reflection, I have a different perspective.
Correct me if this is a stretch – but don’t we want to teach children they are allowed to change their mind? That they are allowed to say they want to do something, and then later say they don’t and have that decision respected?
What message about consent are we giving children if we tell them, “You said you wanted to build a rocket, so we are going to go build a rocket.” after they clearly state they aren’t interested in building a rocket anymore, maybe even just at that moment?
I have been there. I went to the studio to paint with my project group while we listened to a playlist of music provoking various emotions. After about 10-15 minutes they were more so just trying to paint as tall as they can and the actual point of the studio had shifted. Could I have redirected them back? Sure. In fact I even tried to, but they clearly were no longer interested in what they initially went to the studio for, and I think that is okay. I think saying, “We came here to ___ so that’s what you are going to do.” would have felt really strange to me.
I often sit down and start a blog post, only to pin that one and start another that I end up loving even more. If someone had been over my shoulder telling me to stick with my original plan, half the blog posts I have written would not exist. But that is not a problem I deal with, because as an adult my agenda, my thoughts, my opinion, and my personal choices are respected.
I recently was lucky enough to collaborate with Jen from Not Just For Christmas while in Italy. She just shared her thoughts on the intersection of RIE and Reggio Emilia. It was really helpful for me to talk about Reggio with someone not actually involved in a center that is Reggio Inspired. I think we have a tendency to idealize the educators in Reggio Emilia, or at least I know I have. This is surely not their fault – during a sit down conversation with the pedagogista in one of the Infant-Toddler centers the idealistic view of their teaching was addressed. “No one is an expert in this approach, not you or me or any teacher here. No one is an expert in teaching. Everyone is learning, growing, developing their own methods and approaches.”
While I admire the work Reggio Emilia educators are doing in regard to curriculum, environment and community involvement – I also think there could be more awareness for listening and respecting a child’s voice. I think we should think about what messages about consent we are sending children because we put so much value on project work and curriculum, that we want to keep the thread going even if it is at their expense.