I recently visited a Head Start program in Arizona to learn more about their Reggio-Inspired curriculum.  Taking the most critical aspects of the Reggio approach and aligning them with the Head Start Performance Standards and Early Learning Outcomes Framework is no easy feat!  However, this program beautifully blended the best of Reggio in addition to utilizing additional curricular enhancements in a way that maintained a commitment to the regulatory standards to which they must adhere.

When there are so many rules and regulations a program must follow, it can be challenging to create home-like environments that are warm, welcoming, and inviting.  Hallmark to a Reggio-Inspired environment however, are spaces that are aesthetically pleasing and styled with real-life, natural materials for which the children can engage.  I was so happy to see a plethora of such materials throughout their classroom environments.  Some of my key take-aways were:

Incorporating and improvising on natural materials: many Montessori and Reggio-Inspired programs use glass materials in their classrooms, however state licensing often prohibits their use.  Use natural glass when possible, but if that isn’t an option, there are many plastic options that provide the look of glass and still create an aesthetically pleasing environment for young children.  Stage materials to encourage sharing and collaboration.

Bring the outside in: using nature as a source of inspiration in the classroom can spark many activities including art, science, and literacy-centered work.  Nature isn’t only just the center of curriculum, but can bring a sense of calm to the classroom.  Use geographically-specific nature elements to increase the level of discussion around community and environment.

Incorporate family and culture: a classroom should always represent its inhabitants.  If you walk into a classroom on a Saturday, the environment should provide clues as to who enjoys the space on Monday through Friday.  Elements of children and family (photos, names, artwork), as well as culture (materials and artifacts) should grace the classroom space.  This particular display not only includes family photos, but also includes each child’s depiction of their own family.

What I enjoyed most about my visit is that the essence of the community of children, families, and teachers was evident through each classroom and the program as a whole.  How might you capitalize on your school community to create an environment that feels like home?