I returned this week from an intensive week-long international study session in Reggio-Emilia. What a gift to be immersed in dialogue with such a diverse and passionate group of Atelieristas, Teachers, and Pedagogistas.

(That’s me, John, Alysia, Sarah and Margaret, some of the SWS family in front of one of the beloved Reggio Lions.)all ofus

Before I left for Italy, we enjoyed an amazing day in the National Arboretum with all the Pre-K children. In the studio, we had just finished a  ritual of the pre-k’s each mixing and naming a color to be placed on the paint cart in the common area. These 40 paints become the shared colors for the school. But we had no time to try all  the paints, because I was off.

First day back, I layed out photos from the trip 2 weeks prior, and asked each child to choose one they liked, match the child- invented colors from the paint cart, and paint.

Observing this project was like a dream. The jazz music of Melody Gardot played as the choreography of choosing, painting, dipping, and swirling began. Each child approached the materials and representation differently. Some talked throughout, some only saw the background, while others fixated in just a corner of the photo image.

But when Lili silently selected an almost abstract photo of the Koi fish and chose each color with a distinctive eye and no hesitation, I made like a fly on the wall.3paint She never once looked to me or her peers. She chose her brushes and began with a gestural black stroke that mimicked the moving dark water of the pond. 1paintIn a slow constant motion, she painted,  stopping only to study the photo. Time stopped, and she noticed nothing. Not her friends playing loudly in the playhouse, or a class walking by. She continued as her friends made their way back to the classroom to do music.2paint She was alone, painting in the common area. I whispered to her, “You can paint until you are done.”  The movement of her brushes were fast and slow, looped and dotted, always referring back to the photo. Then she stopped. She turned to me, the first time in over 20 minutes and quietly said, “I’m done.”

What’s the title? I asked

“Looks like fishes.” Lili replied.


I looked at her and said quietly, “You are a painter. You will do many things, and be good at many things, but always remember, you can paint.”

It was a rare moment to watch. A 4 year old, in that zone, where time and space and the world melts away and nothing exists except the paint and the fishes.

Later that afternoon, some Kindergarten students came to the studio to prime their Dream House constructions. They had chosen so many materials, I was concerned that adding paint might be unsuccessful without an all surface primer. (An unintended result was the ability to see shape and form clearly after priming.)Lailaprimed

Once again, the movement and choreography of their bodies and hands as they solved the challenges of covering 3 dimensional surfaces was absolutely beautiful to watch.

primermeduim primerhighprimerlow

Everyone keeps asking, so, what did you learn in Reggio?

The answer is complex. My eyes and  my being feel a heightened sense of awareness, a heightened sense of caring, and a heightened sense of questions to share. My clipboard is full of observations and possibilities. My heart is full and my passion to advocate for studio learning has expanded.

I saw magnificent schools in Italy, and dream studios created by architects working hand in hand with the Atelierista, Teachers, and Pedagogista. The longing to have such a space was huge for me in the moment.

Right now, I am grateful to return to my own Atelier. It is not an ideal space.  But, it is full of soul and meaningful encounters. It looks like fishes and a dance. And I am glad to be home.


(Sunrise at the  Reggo Emilia train station on our departure date.)