The Image of a Child

If, as a Director, you follow the trends, research, and best practice in our field, the phrase “the image of the child” will bring your thoughts to a community in Italy, Reggio Emilia, where many have studied the principles and fundamentals of the Reggio Emilia approach. Many of us have been deeply inspired by this philosophy – this way of thinking about children and early education – and it has greatly influenced our own programs.

In Reggio Emilia there is much discussion around this principle – The Image of the Child. For it is the point from which all teaching and learning begin. What the adults believe about children determines everything. These teachers and parents give great thought to the quality and the instructive power of child space. And so, for the children, how will the environment be designed? What will it include? How will children move through their day? What experiences, opportunities, and possibilities will children be able to explore and discover? And, how will the adults support all of this?

Reggio Emilia schools are places where children come first – before anything else. I’ll repeat that because I, too, believe this – deep in my soul. Children come first – before anything else! Children are the focus of all that happens. Visitors see and hear this message as soon as they enter a Reggio school – it is palpable. The presence of children and their work is everywhere.

Reggio Emilia schools are places where children are powerful. They are in control. The space belongs to them. They create again and again. They make choices and decisions. Everything is accessible and organized for them and is arranged artfully to draw them in. And, yes, they are inspired by what awaits them. They are naturally curious and interested in constructing their own learning – by touching, investigating, exploring, questioning, manipulating, taking apart, observing, discovering, enjoying, listening, discussing, putting together – everything in their environment.

This is so because the adults (both teachers and parents) hold an image of the child that allows all of this to take place. They see children as capable, competent, interested, powerful, creative, curious, thoughtful, imaginative, expressive, engaging, and involved communicators, collaborators, and learners. And, it happens, much like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

How much time have we spent thinking about our image of the child? And, do our early childhood settings reflect the image we hold?

Do we put children first? Are they the focus of our work?

What we do and why we do it are important questions to visit and revisit from year to year. So, this September, this new beginning, I invite us to look more closely at our work with young children. And reflect upon our own practices of teaching, directing, and leading.

Some questions to get us thinking and focusing – yes, on the Child:

  • Do we value and respect all of the ways a child expresses his thoughts and feelings?
  • Do we value equally the verbal and nonverbal child? the rational thinker? and the creative thinker?
  • Do we listen to what a child says with her words? her behavior? her body language?
  • Do we interrupt the thinking processes of a child when we follow a rigid daily schedule? 
  • Are we driven by the clock? Are so many transitions necessary?
  • Do we carry out meaningless activities during the day that are not relevant to the child’s real world and experience?
  • Do we pay enough attention to a child’s strengths?

And, the most important one of all, What is our Image of the Child?

I’d love your feedback on this topic. My next couple of posts will focus on children as well.

See also the writings of Loris Malaguzzi and Lella Gandini.

This entry was posted in Early Childhood, Early Childhood Leadership, Early Childhood Teachers, Managing Early Childhood Programs, Training for Early Childhood Directors. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Image of a Child

  1. Elena says:

    What a wonderful post. You wrote it last year but no one has replied! Sometimes there are so many reflections left to a reader that is hard to come up with a comment.
    I have been interested in the Reggio approach since 2001 when I was hired by who is now in charge of the Reggio study group travels to italy to work as a pre-school teacher. What I was looking for was to work as an atelierista, I was right out of art school and the role of atelierista aligned pretty well with my personal philosophy of teaching. Discovering Reggio open my eyes in so many levels and changed my practice as an educator. I currently work as an ECE and elementary art school teacher during the day and I teach some college art classes at a community college in the evenings.
    I came to your site because I am getting ready for my first school conference as a parent and I think that my husband needs to understand clearly what “the image of the child” is all about. I find that when I speak to him I sound a bit preachy so I was looking for the same words in a more neutral tone.
    I do think that it is essential for educators and parents to have a clear idea of what their image of the child is. reflect upon it, question it if necessary and challenge oneself to see it differently if needed.
    As parents sometimes we project onto our children, we see them weak or shy or sometimes as leaders and social bees when in reality our child is someone totally different. WKnowing who our child is allows a parent to clearly advocate for her/his needs. The difficcult situation I find is to educate my child’s teacher I think that is a job I shouldn’t take as my responsibility but what to do when you notice that your child’s teacher is not “getting” your child?
    Thank you!

    • Marcia Hebert says:

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments about the Image of the Child and Reggio Emilia. It is so much fun to connect with like-minded colleagues. I hope the dialogue continues. I, too, wonder how many of us really ‘get it’. I mean ‘really’ – from the depths of our souls. I suppose this is my motivation for writing this blog. To touch someone’s core, and, in the process, touch a child’s life in the most meaningful way – ever. Thanks again –

  2. Kathy says:

    I appreciate your post even though I’m only now encountering it. I’ve been in early childhood for around 36 years now. I’ve started doing coaching and teaching around this very topic. I feel so many of the things we consider best practices actually rise from this work. My goal is to introduce new teachers to this and support teachers in their work with the children in a way that is beneficial to all, especially the children.

    • Marcia Hebert says:

      Thank you, Kathy, for responding! I love hearing from like-minded colleagues. My focus, like yours, is all about the children and what they are experiencing. Is it the best it can be for them? My best to you! Inspire your teachers! Thanks again –

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