Boulder Journey School

As I have had a deep interest in early childhood development and education for most of my life, I was particularly excited to have the chance to visit Boulder Journey School, in Boulder, CO. This well- established program serves children from 8 weeks to 6 years old and is inspired by the pedagogical approach of the schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy. Yes, Reggio Emilia is a place, not a person. Loris Malaguzzi helped create places of learning dedicated to exploration and innovation, that acknowledged and celebrated the Hundred Languages of Children (see poem below). Our visit to the school was coordinated by Alex Morgan who went above and beyond to introduce us to the school on a Saturday morning. 

Many of our visits to the various schools we have seen have been during times or days that there have been no children on campus. This may not be the ideal way to truly get a sense of the school as the interactions of children and teachers bring life and energy to the place. However, the place, setting, materials, and context that learning takes place, reveals plenty of insights. It was clear upon visiting the classroom settings of Boulder Journey School that the environment was the third teacher and the rich context for learning was a key component of what they offered their students. Alex explained to us the triangular relationship of I, Thou, It that points to how things help us learn and create relationships with one another. She described a situation in which two children might be molding clay together. They meet in this shared context, using the same material, but have a chance to listen to each other and recognize how others might have different questions or perspectives about the same process of working with the clay. “They have a common theme for discussion, they are involved together in the world…. The richer this adult provided contact, therefore, the more firm is the bond that is established between the human beings who are involved.” (Hawkins, 1974) It is helpful to understand that the rich context we provide for children can be in service of forming deep relationships, not merely for fun, colorful toys to keep children busy. The materials invite us to participate together.

In addition to the classroom design which was captivating, and the materials set up in a way that beckoned exploration, one of the most interesting parts of our tour was the school’s materials room. This room, which was open to all teachers and children, was inviting and inspirational… more accurately, it was the equivalent of a kid in a candy store for early childhood educators. There were all sorts of items made of wood, metal, plastic, paper, and so on, that could be used in endless ways. One section had small items organized by color, but the individual items, at first glance, seemed rather random. There was a green ball, a green cup, and a green piece that actually came from a different building toy. Alex pointed out these particular materials and explained that when presented in this way, it inspires teachers to see the different properties of materials and explore various ways they might be used. Similarly, when they ask parents to look at home for new materials to donate to the room, they will ask in a way that encourages the families to think of materials in new ways, for example, things that make sound instead of asking directly for something like bottles or bubble wrap.

Documentation in the Hallway
100 Ways to encounter paper

One of the valuable lessons from Reggio Emilia, which was abundant in Boulder Journey is the use of documentation. Lining the walls of the hallways, as well as in the individual classroom, are children’s drawings and creation, quotes, and short summaries of various activities. The documentation in the hallway represents the values of the school and has been collected over the years, while the documentation on the walls of the classrooms are more current and relevant to the students in that room. One example that we observed in the hallways was the display of an exploration the children did with a paper entitled, 100 ways to encounter paper. Another series of displays documented the children’s exploration of wire and noted their process and curiosities around Slinkies. “They (the children) seemed to make predictions about what the slinkies would do when held up, pulled apart, and let go. To support and extend the children’s questions and predictions, we created a slinky pully system that offered even more opportunities for pulling, letting go, and moving wire slinkies around the room. Alex commented to us that when the children play and explore a certain material, they may not always clean it up at the end of the day. When there is not this sense that they have to dissemble everything, they can come back and continue their explorations. This connects to what is referred to as the “contextual curriculum,” a curriculum that is defined on their website as “a result of experiences, environment, relationships, family, community, culture and politics. No singular, predetermined, standardized path for learning could serve as an appropriate curriculum.” There is a deep recognition and appreciation of the child and the practical approaches of the school reflect that in a multitude of ways.

Young beings are often not given the respect, trust, or value that they deserve. At Boulder Journey School, the child is recognized as a capable being with inalienable rights, the rights of the child. They have on their wall a permanent display of this Charter of Rights which ranges from the right to plant flowers with other people, to the right to be listened to. These are rights that children have a voice in recognizing and creating for themselves, their contributions are sincerely valued and help shape a sense of identity and self-directed purpose. If we as educators take up this principle and practice, we have to provide enough space for children to solve their own problems and suggest their own ideas. What happens when a child is struggling, do we intervene or do we respect their potential to overcome? Can we deeply consider this fine line between constricting impositions and freedom, a delicate space where we let go of our assumptions for what is best and ultimately have the best interests of the child at heart? It seems to sprout from a place of deep trust, love, and respect for the child, if we can start from there, the rights of the child will surely emerge.

See the gesture here

To conclude our tour and meeting with Alex, she offered us a graceful gesture that she commented was often used by many teachers when they discuss their school. As she moved her hands inwards, it was an embodiment of how the school brings things together and inward for the children. We are so grateful for our time at Boulder Journey School and for Alex’s detailed tour and comments on the school’s philosophy. It is also worth mentioning that the school has a teacher education program in partnership with the University of Colorado Denver. During this program, participants spend a year teaching at Boulder Journey School under the mentorship of an experienced teacher. It is wonderful to see programs such as this that are providing educational experiences for future teachers that support a holistic understanding of child development and education!

100 Languages 

No Way. The Hundred is There 

The child
is made of one hundred.
The child has
a hundred languages
a hundred hands
a hundred thoughts
a hundred ways of thinking
of playing, of speaking.
A hundred always a hundred
ways of listening
of marveling of loving
a hundred joys
for singing and understanding
a hundred worlds
to discover
a hundred worlds
to invent
a hundred worlds
to dream.
The child has
a hundred languages
(and a hundred hundred hundred more)
but they steal ninety-nine.
The school and the culture
separate the head from the body.
They tell the child:
to think without hands
to do without head
to listen and not to speak
to understand without joy
to love and to marvel
only at Easter and Christmas.
They tell the child:
to discover the world already there
and of the hundred
they steal ninety-nine.
They tell the child:
that work and play
reality and fantasy
science and imagination
sky and earth
reason and dream
are things
that do not belong together.
And thus they tell the child
that the hundred is not there.
The child says:
No way. The hundred is there.

Loris Malaguzzi   (translated by Lella Gandini)

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