After arriving in Reggio Emilia by train, visitors and residents pass through a sotto passagio, an underground tunnel under the railroad tracks. When one walks through a pedestrian tunnel connecting one side of the town of Reggio Emilia to the other under the train station one comes across an amazing visual display of images and thoughts about bicycles. The children of the Reggio Emilia have represented their ideas and conceptual understandings abut bicycles in a multitude of ways.
Starting with a strong familiarity with bicycles since they are everywhere and such a common form of transport in the town the children were able to discuss in depth their ideas about the nature of cycling, of cycles and how to represent them in a wide range of materials.
The drawings were created with discarded materials and bi-products of industrial processes, images that were scanned and digitized. Quotes from children in many languages capture and reflect their experiences and understandings about bikes and riding bikes, like the one from 5 year old Rupert, “If you put your eyes behind you it looks like the trees are riding bicycles, because they rush and rush.”
The striking graphic style testifies to children’s capacity to imagine, explore, and express ideas in beautiful and complex ways. It was part of wider project “Under the City Skin” developed byt eh Remida recycling centre.
Another common experience wandering about Reggio Emilia is the number of times the word “gustatore” features on eateries. I asked my host Andrea about the meaning as I’d heard it used in conversation in other ways.
“It means to savour what is,” he replied. “What is important about life is that you engage your whole self in the experience of today. You talk about today in the context of yesterday and when you absorb the past and the present you can create your future. With food then we eat, we enjoy, we talk about life, we see what it can be – like a recipe – it is traditional but you bring yourself and the characters of the earth and the vine to it”.
Thinking about “le biciclette”, it is the richness of the experiences that brings together past, present and the materials into a fusion of individualised yet communal understandings about bicycles. In Reggio Emilia the concept of the 100 Languages is readily accepted in Early Childhood education but it holds significant relevance across all areas of learning.
When students bring personal experiences, opportunities to play with ideas, materials/resources with unique properties to represent and often illuminate a concept or project the potentiality for creativity and real learning is enhanced. When students are asked to represent ideas, concepts, arguments, logic and theories the range of unique possibilities can open up a richness in teaching that is rewarding to both teacher and student alike.
What the bicycles of the tunnel in Reggio Emilia tell us is that when we allow children to bring personal experiences, work together to share ideas about understandings and then represent their ideas in ways that appeal to them or make use of the unique properties of a resource then truly unique but relevant outcomes are possible.
I’ll let Andrea have the last word: Ogni cibo è unico. Ogni vino è unico. Ci vuole una comunità per fare un pasto. (Each food is unique. Each wine is unique. It takes a community to make a meal).