Recently I was lucky enough to visit Macquarie University and meet with the staff at Mia Mia. Mia Mia is a early childhood facility where passionate staff provide education and care to our littlest citizens. They refer strongly to The Reggio Emilia approach. This approach views children as capable learners who work in collaboration with their peers. The role of teachers is to encourage this collaboration while taking on the role of learners themselves.
While at the centre I was able to observe how practice informs and is informed by research in child development. I noticed how children thrive when placed in a rich environment in which they are free to be agents in their own learning and development. “We are a school and we are supposed to make children think”, says a Mia Mia staff member.
I was taken on a tour with a group of mostly childcare workers and early childhood teachers as Mia Mia receives many visitors throughout the year who hope to take inspiration and ideas back to their own centres. Notes were hurriedly scribbled and the questions flowed from the time we walked in the front door! Ghosts from my university days were dug up and I looked at them with fresh eyes as our tour guide (a Mia Mia educator) spoke of the theorists who have shaped the way we understand children and their play. Play is held in high regard as the essential ingredient for the growing child, for example, the sophisticated meta-cognition required for a child to turn a simple wooden block into a mobile phone with their imagination and for the children around them to understand what they are doing.
The children’s rooms felt like home and outdoors is an important and interesting environment that entices children to play and learn. Lunch time is a lot like the “real world” with a cafe style set up that lets the children see the kitchen staff at work and that separates this part of their routine from the rest. Even staff meetings are a part of the children’s world and begin at the end of the day while some children are still present so that they can contribute to problem solving and see adults at work. I was surprised to hear that children’s artwork is not displayed as I am so used to seeing walls filled with paintings and projects. When our guide asked us to imagine if she took a page from our note books right now and hung it on the wall for everyone to see, I suddenly understood! The children are taught care and consideration in exploring materials and there is a large focus on ongoing projects. The important thing in a child’s work is the process and not the product, an important attitude to foster if we want our children to be internally motivated and persistent.
Another surprise was the approach taken to introducing new children to the centre. In the world of Quirky Kid we spend a lot of time supporting parents in dealing with separation anxiety so I was keen to hear more. Parents are told when they bring their children to have a plan A, B and C. In other words, don’t expect to drop them off on their first day and rush back to work! Children are gradually exposed to separation from their parents at the pace that is right for them. The parent may play in the room for much of day one, work on their laptop in the room as the child plays more independently then stay on-site in the staff room until their child is relaxed and confident about being separated.
I left Mia Mia with a head full of ideas for Quirky Kid, some challenged perceptions and many more questions.