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July 1998

Education, arts, and community combine in "The Hundred Languages of Children"

The scientific, artistic, and emotional discoveries of very young children are on display in a special exhibit, "The Hundred Languages of Children," at the Mesa Lab from 15 June through 15 August. The exhibit's 140 large panels, light boxes, and cases document young students' explorations and introduce the educational philosophy of a small Italian city that has focused on early childhood education for more than 30 years. The NCAR showing is sponsored by Boulder's Make a Mess and Make Believe, Inc., a local preschool.

Preschool children illustrate their concepts of color in this panel from "The Hundred Languages of Children."

According to NCAR outreach coordinator Linda Carbone, the exhibit was originally scheduled to reach the University of Colorado in Boulder in 2001. Instead, it arrived early in order to dovetail with an international conference of early childhood educators hosted in June by Make a Mess. "Since most exhibit space is arranged two years in advance, all of Boulder's exhibit venues were booked by the time the exhibit was accepted by Make a Mess," says Linda. "Make a Mess was looking at spending $20,000 for an exhibit that was going to have to sit in its crates. We were a creative solution that has turned out to be very beneficial all around for us, CU, the preschool, and the conference."

In the exhibit, original artwork, photographs, displays, transcriptions of children's dialogues, and the comments of their teachers create a portrait of the preschools in Reggio Emilia, a northern Italian city slightly larger than Boulder. The city has been recognized internationally for its innovative, publicly funded network of full-day infant-toddler centers and schools for young children, including children with disabilities.

The Reggio Emilia philosophy is based on belief in children's potential for learning, exploring, and entering into relationships with peers, teachers, the environment, and the community. Educators are viewed as researchers and partners with children in the learning process; children make hypotheses, explore their environment, and discover connections and meanings, and they "have many, many languages for expressing and communicating" what they discover, according to the Italian educators.

The exhibit is organized around thematic investigations. In one set of display panels, children encounter a computer and discover that it, too, has a language. For an investigation of shadows, the preschoolers pose scientific questions about where shadows come from. They discover the answers in the relationships among light, mass, and surface by making observations and conducting experiments that test their initial hypotheses. The investigation ends with an exploration of the metaphorical meanings of shadows. "Young children find both scientific and emotional problem solving to be valid and meaningful; the integration makes for a deep and powerful educational experience," according to the exhibit's creators. •Zhenya Gallon


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