The Studio Approach to Early Childhood Education

The Studio Approach to Early Childhood Education

It was twenty-five years ago when our story began. We were brought together by a mutual interest in early childhood education and the Reggio Emilia Approach. When we met, Rosalba was working at a child care centre and I had just begun to teach early childhood education at the local community college. My background was also child care. We connected and a relationship ensued. As we journey forward on our learning paths, we continue to think contextually about learning environments. In our province, even though we are experiencing a third wave of lockdowns and stay at home orders, child care remains open. What a challenging situation this must be, and our hearts go out to all the early childhood educators coping with this impactful pandemic. We offer this post as well as future blog posts, focused on a studio approach as a way to inspire the spaces that are shared with children. What impact can a studio approach to early childhood education have on the environment, the child, the educator and the family? How can it help us all navigate our paths forward? We share the following images taken at the Loris Malaguzzi International Centre in 2018 to inspire your reflections.

The studio approach is influenced by the ‘ateliers’ in the infant-toddler and preschools of Reggio Emilia in Italy. According to Vea Vecchi (2010), the term ‘atelier’:

The concept of an atelier is very complex. Learning about these spaces in Reggio Emilia and recognizing them as opportunities for techniques and expression (Vecchi, 2010) offers an excellent starting off point for those considering how these spaces can evolve contextually outside of Italy. In 2018, when we had the privilege to attend another study tour, context was foremost in our minds and hearts. We were thinking deeply about what we could learn from the opportunity to engage with the ateliers of the Loris Malaguzzi International Centre. While the pandemic makes it impossible to return to Italy, we appreciate that even at a distance, there is access to the Malaguzzi Centre Ateliers, to find suggestions, stimulus, and encouragement along with ideas and prompts, and starting points for working with children of different ages. We offer this video to you for a glimpse into the Malaguzzi Centre. We invite you to consider your context as a “place of places”. Notice the ateliers featured in the video – the digital landscape atelier, the atelier of food, of body and the ray of light atelier. 

When you notice, you listen. As educators what do we listen for? Do we listen to truly hear the voices of children? How do we demonstrate that we value the voices of children? How do we view voice? Voice can be seen as a metaphor of development extending well beyond the expression of a point of view. “Voice is a powerful psychological instrument and channel, connecting inner and outer worlds” (Gilligan, 1993, p. xvi). To have a voice is ]relational; it depends on listening and being heard. Voice also reflects the empowerment of those being heard. Throughout this blog, we share photos from Rosalba’s time at the Acorn School. This was a time of listening and considering how to apply a studio approach to the environment. We also include photos from Rosalba’s current studio space which is used for professional learning to inspire others and give back.

Listening leads to empowerment. Empowerment is sparked by empathy. Empathy is the ability to sense the emotions of others, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling. Vecchi (2010) speaks of empathy, as a relationship that people have with their environment, a kind of thread that connects together. Some may think of studio spaces as places for art and where techniques are taught, and materials are provided. Vecchi (2010) suggests going “beyond materials and techniques to stop and look at processes of empathy and intense relations” (p. 12). We know from our province’s pedagogy for the early years, How Does Learning Happen? (2014) that responsive relationships are key but when we go beyond, we see that relationships include so much more than what is between the adult and the child.

By engaging with a studio approach, we can think about living in spaces together. We can think about materials for children. We can think about building relationships with materials. How do space and materials speak to us and are we listening? When we think about studio spaces as inspired by ateliers, we can think about ourselves as studio teachers. You do not need to hire an expert. Listen to your own voice – you have the capacity and competence to listen and hear in one hundred languages and hundred, hundred more. Studio spaces speak to children and educators from the aesthetic dimension. As Vecchi (2010) reminds us, there is “a risk of a superficial aesthetic attitude” (p. 13). When we were in Reggio Emilia in 2018, we were inspired by the relationship between epistemology and aesthetics. Epistemology is the philosophical study of the nature, origin, and limits of human knowledge. Simply put, it is studying how learning happens. Does learning happen when we think deeply about the connection with aesthetics? Ateliers or studio spaces are about voice, languages, images, relationships, learning and aesthetics. An atelier can be defined as a ―workshop, or studio, furnished with a variety of resource materials, used by the children and adults in a school (Edwards, Gandini, & Forman, 1998, p. 467). According to Ganus (2010) the term studio is commonly used by educators implementing these ideas in contexts other than in Reggio Emilia.

Pelo (2017) writes about inquiry-based studio practices in early childhood settings in The Language of Art. While the book focuses on art, it calls upon us to open our hearts, to take children’s points of view, to examine the environment, to collaborate with others and to reflect and take action. Any space in the environment can become a studio if it is seen as a place of research that cultivates the hundred languages of children.

We welcome you, the reader of this blog, to offer your reflections and experiences with a studio approach to early childhood education. We invite you to consider your spaces from a studio lens. We are excited about writing more posts and we want to hear your voices! In the meantime, we offer these questions to guide your reflections about the possibilities of studio spaces:

We now share with you, images from Rosalba’s current studio space. What elements do you notice and how do you think this space speaks to children and adults? As a space for virtual presenting and interaction how does this space speak to you? Can you imagine children in this space?  

In conclusion, when we consider the possibilities of studio spaces, the words of Loris Malaguzzi can inspire, provoke, stimulate and invite: