“We then acknowledge through ecological thinking that learning is based in relationships and when a person is separated from their relationships, learning is reduced to almost nothing.” Reggio Emilia
Last year, I was able to spend time at the schools of Reggio Emilia. This post is part three of a series inspired by the ideas presented in that study tour. See Curating Mindful Inquiry Part One and Curating Mindful Inquiry Part Two, for the beginning of the series.
The first eight years are the most fertile time of development. Science backs this claim based on brain research and the neuroplasticity of the brain. In the first eight years, we develop theories about how the world works, based on our relationships within and among a community and the ecological context of our world.
Ecological thinking comes in contrast to the typical analysis of subjects through a singular and focused viewpoint. Instead of breaking situations into smaller parts and simply focusing on that sole part, ecological thinking aims to do the reverse by acknowledging that the individual is part of a greater whole, and to seek an optimal solution we must look at the interaction between parts in a system. With the absence of ecological thinking, we do not think of all possible routes to our goals and jump on the first solution that presents itself. By simply solving the problem in relation to one part of a system, you are effectively ignoring the effects it will have on the rest of the environment. The solution creates more problems.
By evaluating a variety of different solutions, keeping in mind the effects on immediate relationships, one can extract what works and discard what doesn’t. Ecological thinking is the realization that things are interconnected, and action is relayed along these connections. To seek an optimum environment we must recognize these points. Retrieved from Research for Experience Design.
Ecological thinking has implications for how we see the connection between children, their relationships, and environments. In acknowledging that knowledge is constructed in a social way, we recognize that children learn alongside others and reflect on everything. They feed us and we feed them in the cycle of co-learning and discovery together.
Learning is not a linear, sequenced process. Linear and sequencing is an aspect, a part of, how we learn to make sense of the world. Unfortunately, it is confused in education with what we learn. This leads to the concept that learning should be linear, sequenced, and measurable. This is where educators get in trouble. We mistake an aspect of learning with the experience of learning. We then overlook several fundamental tenants of learning including; learning is relational, learning is multifaceted, learning incorporates others point of view and meaning. Most important, we separate learning from the ecological context.
When we talk about the ecological context in which we learn, self-reflection is part of the process of learning to learn. One of our greatest challenges is supporting children along the journey of learning-to-learn.
How do we translate our everyday practices in supporting children in learning-to-learn?
When we enter into learning as co-learners, we construct our practices together. Our dialogue with all members of the learning community involves diverse perspectives that help to shape our ideas of children. When we collaborate, we work to remove the hierarchy of learning between adults and children. We then diffuse the limiting structures in our classroom and enter into new relational ways of being.
A new practice then runs through every aspect of the classroom, and new relationships are built on the knowledge that education is co-constructed together. The educator’s work is to hold that relational space, so the classroom is a place to exchange ideas together. This is the only way to walk with the children and grow the learning community.
Educators need to curate spaces that support children’s experiences in a learning context. Our image of the child, as a protagonist of their own knowledge development, is based on the competency of the educator to curate children leading their own learning. The educator then can focus their mindset on sharing the construction of knowledge with the child.
How do you curate spaces for children?