We had the opportunity on November 12 to host education innovators from Anji County, China. Leaders in materials-based play curriculum, our guests were invited to tour our schools, learn more about our Reggio Emilia-inspired approach and our curriculum here at Williamsburg Northside Schools, as well as exchange stories about school life in China and New York.
“This was an opportunity for our faculty and children to learn more about what educators and kids do in a very different – or is it so different? – part of the world,” said Head of Schools Gina Farrar, PhD. “Their visit stimulated new ideas and new relationships that can serve as provocations for our own explorations.”
Under the guidance of Ms. Cheng Xueqin, the regional director of early childhood education for Anji County, they have developed a curriculum that over the course of 14 years that focuses on the importance of play in the development of the children. Play is at the foundation of the investigations of the Reggio Emilia approach.
As Lella Gandini, Liaison for the Dissemination of the Reggio Emilia Approach, told the Journal of Play in an interview, Reggio Emilia approach pioneer Loris Malaguzzi’s “very first explorations and experiences with children were based on play with a purpose. His views were contrary to ritual play managed and controlled by adults, where children were expected to repeat gestures and words chosen by teachers.”
Instead, she says, children begin their day interacting with one another through play, building relationships with the children they’ve known since their days in infant programs (like at our Infant & Toddler Center). She adds, “Relationships with many shared experiences of learning and play are at the basis of life for all young people who go through those schools.”
All of our children were excited to have the opportunity to hear about play in China. The third and fourth graders, were particularly excited to meet our guests and have the chance to interview them. With globally focused Social Studies projects in progress, exploring different cultures and countries, including researching and studying about Asia, the children asked questions like, “What type of games do your children play?”
The fourth graders were surprised to learn that families in China also have customs around a “tooth fairy,” but the traditions differ. The students explained that here the tooth fairy leaves money, but our guests explained that in China, the children often throw their lost teeth to the roof! There are also typically 50-60 children in each elementary school classroom with only 1 teacher!
Another surprise was the population difference between the United States and China. While Anji County is known as primarily rural, the visiting educators said they’ve worked in schools all over China and there are a number of cities with larger populations many times larger than New York City’s. Fourth grade teacher Matt Cole had his students, currently studying multiplication, did some mental math to figure out how very large the population differences were.
Our faculty enjoyed guiding our visitors through our Lower School, Preschool and Infant & Toddler Center (ITC) and talking at the end of the day about what they observed in our classrooms. We were proud to show them how we approach play and learning in our classes.