Thursday, 9 April 2015

Provoking a Teenager, Reggio-style?

The more I read about the Reggio Emilia pedagogy, the more I like it, but the more frustrated I get that it seems to be aimed exclusively at preschool and lower primary aged children.  It's fine for Youngest: I can just lay out some lovely colourful interesting items on a table, and his innate sense of curiosity and exploration will take over - I completely agree with and endorse this manner of "provoking" a learning experience.  However if you try to research Reggio for a secondary age environment the best you will find is absolute silence on the matter - the worst being some very opinionated people who are adamant that the Reggio philosophy cannot be translated to older children (these people also seem to believe that all children learn best in a school environment, so I feel no obligation to agree there).

The thing is, in a couple of days' time I am going to be Mum to a teenager!  And while the examples of the lovely well-balanced HE teens we know have meant I am not in despair expecting a "Kevin-the-teenager" type manifestation (Harry Enfield, anyone?), it is more than obvious that Eldest is growing and his needs are changing.  He is not quite ready to be tackling GCSEs, but he does still need mental stimulation as much as the rest of us - and if I laid out a Reggio-style invitation at Youngest's level, he would most likely walk right past it with maybe only a second glance, and quite rightly too.  But I have thought about this quite a lot, and I still cannot see any good reason why a teenager would not thrive on a smiliar kind of learning opportunity, just more age-appropriate.

For example, I think Eldest would enjoy the provocation of  - say - a challenge to find a way of dropping an egg from a first floor window without it smashing on the ground.  I could leave out a supply of card, tape, bubble-wrap, tissue paper etc - and the eggs of course, with the challenge written on a card.  it may not be entirely open as I would provide the initial challenge - but the process of exploration and learning would be entirely natural and entirely his.

Similarly, I could leave some examples of Monet's art out, with watercolour paints and paper, OR challenge him to design a computer game to help his brothers learn their times tables or number bonds, OR challenge him to make a functioning compass, OR set him the (paid) task of fixing our dripping tap etc etc... the possibilities are endless!  The Dyson challenge cards will hopefully come in handy here.  As far as I can see, the main difference between his needs and the Reggio preschool approach would be that there would likely be a specific starting point of a challenge given - leaving the rest of the process to him so that he still has ownership over his own thought processes; still has space to fail and evaluate and try again, still gets to learn in an exploratory hands-on manner that he controls.

Of course, I also have his brothers as a kind of secret weapon.  With some of the challenges I can ask him to see if he can help them to learn - he does enjoy sharing his knowledge with others!  For example, today he asked me out of the blue where plaque (that grows on teeth) comes from.  We looked it up and discovered it was a bacteria, then he wanted to know how bacteria grows "as it doesn't have babies".  So we looked that up and learned a bit about binary fission.  I reckon if I could give him the tasks of explaining similar things to his brothers it will really help his reasoning and communication skills.

This is very much a work in progress still, and with a lack of others' experiences to use for inspiration I am kind of working blind - but it appeals to the part of me that doesn't like to be told something can't be done. Maybe the Reggio approach was developed for preschoolers and maybe it is hard to implement in a school setting for older children, but the beauty of Home Ed is that we don't have to conform to classroom structure and teacher-of-many limitations.  So we're going to give it a go, in this short window of time that we have left before Eldest is ready to study in a more conventional way to gain qualifications, my hope being that even once he is on the more academic GCSE path, he will always have a love of exploration and learning that will last hime for life.  Anyway, watch this space to see how we get on!

PS To those who have gone before: I can't believe I am really the first one to try this, so if any of you would like to share your experiences of educating your teenagers in autonomous style, that would be much appreciated!

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