I Need you to Write the Curriculum for a Reggio School...


I need you to write the curriculum for a Reggio Inspired school. That was the request by a good friend and colleague, an architect who is charged with designing a new early childhood center where the benefactor/founder wants it to be Reggio Inspired.

We have requests that are similar to this one from time to time.  For example, this blog in a response to an email query addresses how to start to make learning visible, and this one explores how to compose student work in a book form for a public audience.

My written response to the request to write a curriculum for the Reggio approach follows:


Let’s be clear that there is no “written curriculum” to be followed for “The Reggio approach;” though there are: architectural patterns for setting up aesthetically pleasing learning environments, lists of highly recommended materials and their organization, ways to integrate different disciplines, the 3 R’s and all the others including all the arts in skilled and inventive ways, methods for developing authentic and meaningful experiences that generate deep learning, mediums for documentation and assessment of learning in ways that make the learning visible, protocols for collaboration between teachers that results in evolved and advanced practice.

In fact, this way of teaching is a paradigm shift…something completely different than what most of us have experienced as the norm. It’s a bit like the difference between jazz and classical music…while both require fundamental knowledge of the instruments and the ability to read music, jazz has only a skeletal outline, a melody (not a complete score) that is an open “provocation” for each player to innovate…and much of the innovation is inspired by each player’s attuned listening to the others in the group.


All that said, can teachers learn to teach using the Reggio approach? Absolutely, but in our experience it requires systemic changes in thinking and ways of doing.

First: hire teachers who believe in their hearts that this is the right approach. Before their interviews require them to read The Hundred Languages of Children, and Bringing Reggio Emilia Home. In the interview, ask open ended questions like: What in all this makes sense to you?; and What do you wonder about? From their answers you’ll know which ones are really “on the bus.”

Second: with the new teachers, convene a series of collaborative discussions around shared readings…to develop thinking about and context for the work of creating a classroom and a school community.

Third: set up the classrooms and common spaces with well organized, beautiful materials, in aesthetically pleasing ways.

Fourth: plan/outline/map a series of authentic and meaningful experiences…”provocations”…and prepare to listen to the children and to document their thinking.

Fifth: schedule regular meetings of teacher teams for collaborative reflection on the dynamics of the classrooms, the specific experiences recorded, the composition of documentation of the experience (making the learning visible), and ideas for next experiences.


Sixth: schedule learning experiences for the teachers throughout the year.

This is clearly a simplified and synthesized outline of how to think about a curriculum inspired by the work in Reggio Emilia in a new and transformed way.  To launch this work is a challenge and a great journey as well as an enormous contribution to children and families and communities.  This way of thinking about and creating school honors our intelligence and creativity as human beings on the planet and creates the context for real, engaging, lasting learning for everyone. Let's do it!


*the images in this post come from archives of the St. Louis Collaborative, The College School and The Principia in St. Louis and Buckingham Browne & Nichols in Cambridge, MA.

The Arts and Community


This week we are with our grandchildren in Boston helping out while their mother and father go to work and the children’s schools are not yet in full swing. We are looking forward to this time to be with them for two full weeks of adventures! A few weeks ago we posted some images in gratitude for trips, hikes, family and friends, gardens in our backyard and views of the sea and lakes after long upward climbs.  Now, as summer comes regrettably to an close, we continue to reflect on the many blessings of this bountiful and beautiful season.

In this post, we want to take a moment to think about the importance of friends gathering and celebrating the arts.  One of our friends, Anni Mackay, owns two galleries in two different small Vermont towns, both called Big Town Gallery.  We enjoyed splendid occasions this summer orchestrated by Anni and Big Town Gallery…several openings, and dinners, and celebrations of books and cooking.  It is inspiring the way Anni reaches out to her communities and creates occasions to honor the arts, to present beautiful food and the chance to mingle and talk with other community members and friends in a setting surrounded by the best of what human beings create.


One evening, Anni suggested that we gather for a dinner after an art opening in her tiny rectangle of open ground behind one of the galleries.  Anni has created a magical place there, where you can peek up to see the stars while surrounded by buildings, where there are long narrow picnic tables and benches and twinkling lights.  All guest brought contributions…smoked chicken, spinach and strawberry salad, bread for the French bakery next door, fruit pies.  We enjoyed a most delicious and celebratory meal.  No one wanted the evening to end.


The arts bring communities together and provide us with sustenance and inspiration.  We can follow Anni's lead in schools where we celebrate beautiful student work that contributes to the health and vibrancy of communities everywhere.  We can make schools centers of culture, innovation, beauty and connection.

Thank you, Anni, for all that you do to inspire and uplift everyone around you with the work of artists who see what is possible and strive to make it visible…and for envisioning and creating a generative, generous and beautiful world.


Summer Gratefulness in Images


We are grateful for a summer full of adventure and beauty in travel and close to home. Here are some images from the bounty around our house in Vermont, from some trips and hikes we have taken and one from a drawing class we took together in July. We feel fortunate to be surrounded by the colors of summer, mountains, water, friends and family. We wish you all beauty and the ease of light and warmth as we live the last few weeks of August.

Naturskolan: Sustainability and Education in Sweden


The Swedish are advanced in their resolve, their thinking and their actions around sustainability in all of its manifestations... from wind power, to eco hotels, to organic produce, to sustainability and nature education offices and programs as a part of every school district in Sweden.  According to current research Sweden is the most sustainable country in the world.

We were lucky enough to spend a day with Anders Kjellsson in Lund, Sweden visiting with his colleagues in their Naturskolan offices, and touring three schools where they work. Anders is a close friend and colleague of our colleague, Sharon Danks, author of Asphalt to Ecosystems: Design Ideas for Schoolyard Transformation.  From Anders, we learned that every every school district in the country works closely with an office like theirs to develop relevant, meaningful programs that emphasize learning outdoors, growing and harvesting, seed to table, adventure education, science studies, green school yards and sustainability theory and practice.

Anders picked us up at the train station on his bike and we walked together to the first school, right in the city center, an elementary school where we met with teachers who showed us the gardens, ponds, insect hotels and the bee hives maintained by students. Then, we shared a delicious lunch with the whole staff of the Lund Naturskolan office exchanging ideas about programs and curricula, the work that they do and the work that we do.


After lunch and sharing, we visited an after school program that will forever be a standard for us when we think of eco-education, engaged, delighted children, and life lived to the fullest out of doors.  When we arrived it was pouring rain while a large, happy group of elementary students were enjoying an afternoon snack of organic strawberries picked nearby, a cake that they had made with flour they had ground, served by a group of girls still in their bee protection suits from working the hives.  They were all crowded together at outside picnic tables under a long arbor covered in vines and protected from the rain.  Some images are forever etched in our memory. This one is of them.

We then toured the campus of this extraordinary for us, (and not so unusual in Sweden), after school program.

A conference brochure of the 2016 International School Grounds Conference introduces Sankt Hansgården this way:

This is a youth centre with a unique architecture and a fantastic biodiverse forest garden. It is both a good place to produce food and the most imaginative playground possible. A key word here is respect; respect for the individual needs for plants, animals, environment and each other.

We found buildings with green roofs, extensive gardens, a barn with goats and rabbits, cared for by children in tall rubber boots, a clay studio, a forgery...We met Lennart Pranter, a builder, designer, carpenter and engineer who has designed and built all the buildings on this campus alongside the students who attend.  Sharon hopes to bring Lennart to San Fransisco for a project there.  Stay tuned for that.

Our third visit was to a preschool called Vinden meaning wind in Swedish.  We toured the grounds where small children have invented countless structures that have been consructed with the assistance of teachers and parents out of simple materials.  There are paths and low shrub woodlands and places to explore and be secluded.  There is a fire pit where Anders says they have a fire almost every day.  This place feels wild and wonderful, inventive and high spirited, a children's world where there are no limits to imagination.


What a beautiful vision and hopeful place to be right now.  We feel gratified and grateful to have had these experiences and to be able to share them in some small way with you.  Go here to see a lovely, short video and learn a little more about eco school yards in Sweden and beyond. If you have an interest in the International School Ground Alliance, go to this site.  Their next international conference is in September in Berlin.  Probably, you could still go.  We are planning to attend one in 2020 in Scotland! Something to look forward to. In the meantime, we plan to use what we have learned to inspire our current work with schools.


A Living Building as Learning Center


On a recent visit to St. Louis, Ashley and I took a drive out of town to visit the new LaBarque campus and Jan Phillips Learning Center of The College School. This outdoor country campus has many habitats including a wetland, a prairie, two creeks, cliffs, woodland, and now, a beautiful learning center that is one of the 11 living buildings in the world. We were so impressed with the design and the vision for this extended campus of one of the most exciting schools we know. We met Tim Wood there, an old friend and colleague. Tim explained many features of the Learning Center. The building is dedicated to Jan Phillips who taught at the school and then was Head of School, serving the College School for 35 years.  The center is designed to extend the school philosophy of experiential education, connect people with nature, and advocate a sustainability ethic for the region.


The fire place in the building shows the strata of rock that goes down under the building for several thousand feet, ending with the foundation rocks of the house that used to be on this site. Local timber and many other local materials were used for construction.

Students designed the iron fence and will continue to add features to this campus over time.   A living building goes beyond the idea Leed certified. Every aspect of the building and the footprint is sustainable and actually creates energy rather than consuming it.  A Living Building needs a year of operation before officially becoming certified.


What a hopeful and beautiful legacy to leave a school as Jan Phillips has done. I learned from Jan to recognize sasafras and striped maple, to listen to the sounds of the forest and name them, to lead children into the woods knowing that much would be learned there for life.

Thank you to The College School, my "home school," where I taught for 16 years.  We are so proud to be a part of your family and to watch and admire all the good work that you do in the world for children, families, sustainability, and education. Your influence and example reach far and wide.