When I was 4 years old my father, an engineer, was hired to build a tobacco processing plant in Bari, Italy. We landed in Bologna, Italy in January 1960. My older siblings went away to boarding schools, in Switzerland and Milan. However, I stayed in the neighborhood and attended a Maria Montessori preschool. At the time I had no idea that it was a "special" preschool. It wasn't until I told this story in one of my early education classes that I recognized the significance of attending a preschool in Bologna Italy influenced by Maria Montessori and her "Casas dei Bambinis". Fast forward to 1996. I was conducting research for an exhibit about the power of air for 2-5 year olds and came across a popular early childhood philosophy called Reggio Emilia. Reggio was actually a city in Italy, not far at all from Bologna, where early education celebrated the capabilities of the young child. I was intrigued. I found several American researchers who had traveled for the Reggio Emilia study tour and brought the philosophy back to their preschool or university settings. They greatly informed the exhibit research I was conducting.I continued to follow the progress of the Reggio influence in the U.S. for many years after that. As a member of the Association of Children's Museums I had heard talk over the years about organizing a study tour to Reggio. I tucked the idea away as a future goal and dream of mine. As I write this several of my close colleagues in the children's museum field are on a study tour of Reggio Emilia. Unfortunately this was not the year I could make that happen. I know I will have another opportunity, or at least I hope so. I am grateful for the experience I had as that 4 year old to attend a school much like a Reggio school in Bologna Italy. Who knows, maybe that had an influence on my career path. Think so?
Call me crazy but I actually like flying. Luckily I live in a part of the country where I can get anywhere in no more than 4 hours. That's pretty amazing. I love sitting in airports and watching people. Where are they going, why, why are they dressed like that? Most people I meet in line to board or on the plane are very friendly. I watch as they help each other lift their suitcases up into the overhead compartment. On my flight today I chose the window seat and then began chatting with the woman who sat on the aisle seat in my row. It started with "I like your suitcase," and by the time we were taking off we knew each other's names, where we were from, where we were going and why, how many kids each of us had and what we did for a living. Neither of us was being nosy, we were just chatting for a few minutes. I don't think it's just because we were women, cause on my last flight a gentleman struck up a conversation with me and by the time we took off he had given me tips on how to handle all the restaurant food I have to eat while traveling- eat salads. He told me the story of the 7 years he commuted to another city for work and only came home on the weekends. He told me what he did for a living and why he had to commute. He also told me who he worked for now and why he was traveling. And yes, I was interested.
There is so much negativity around us all the time, bad news, the flu, fighting about politics and gun control. It's nice to be reminded that we all are just regular people, trying to make our way and figure this world out, we need each other. Sometimes it's OK to talk to strangers.
While prototyping a new exhibit for a children' s museum recently, I observed children trying out a " Design a City" challenge. The activity provided children with a plot of land to build on, and colorful foam blocks that represented many of the buildings, businesses and services you might find in a typical city. Some "building regulations" were suggested, like not putting a water treatment plant next to a hospital, etc. and children came up with some of their own reasons for placing buildings where they did. One of the objects provided was a school. A few children placed a "neighborhood" , cluster of houses, near the school. That made sense. The children wouldn't have to be bused, they could walk to school. More than one child put the police station right next to the school "for security." Another put the jail next to the school and a child nearby explained," don't do that cause if a bad guy gets out of jail he'll head straight for the school." One child added a military base as well as a police station near the school. Perhaps the most poignant was the child who surrounded her school with objects that represented houses. It looked like a charming neighborhood to me. When I asked her to tell me about what she had built she stated," those aren't houses. That's a wall around the school to protect it."
It has only been a month since the Sandy Hook tragedy and not surprisingly those events have altered the way some children think about schools and safety. Shortly after the tragedy one of the schools in this city received a bomb threat. The school went immediately into "lock down" and children were sent to "hide" in closets for about 6 hours. This happened to be the same school where we did much of the prototype testing, although going in none of the designers or researchers were aware of this.
It is always amazing to me how resilient children are. They take tragic events and incorporate them into their play as though they are normal, while not seeming to be upset. This is a reminder of how important play is for children, even as therapy.