Junior Kindergarten Teachers pose in front of the Junior School Annex

After an inspiring professional development opportunity in Reggio Emilia, Italy for three SMUS Junior Kindergarten teachers in May, learning will quickly shift to leading as the Junior School campus will turn around and host a local Reggio Emilia conference this August.

For those who have been fortunate enough to experience the magic at the SMUS Junior School recently, there has been a lot to take in. The unveiling of the new Trottier-Morgan Annex has brightened and opened learning and collaborative space at the Victoria Drive campus and this year the school celebrated it’s first-ever Junior Kindergarten classes, bringing bright and inquisitive three and four-year-olds into the mix.

The Reggio Approach

You may have also heard this term Reggio floated around and that is because it is the name of the educational philosophy and approach that guides the SMUS early years learning. Current Junior Kindergarten teachers Jennifer Flaherty, Angela Ireland and Jennifer Medak have recently returned from an engaging conference known as Study Week, hosted in Reggio Emilia, Italy in May.

“What resonates with me about the Reggio approach is that it is based on the ‘image of the child’ and the belief that children are capable, competent and the constructors of their own knowledge and understanding,” described Jennifer Medak, who has been an Early Childhood Educator for 23 years. “Children are given opportunity to represent their ideas and understanding of the world through ‘languages’ (different medias, mediums, and forms of expression).”

A powerpoint slide from the Reggio Conference in Italy

Study Week

Over 90 teachers, administrators and educators from around the world participated in the conference that included lectures, small group work, tours to different schools and a visit to the incredible ReMida Center, a creative recycling center.

“This trip validated what we are already doing and how on track we are,” said Angela Ireland, who has been teaching for over 20 years and feels the possibilities on how a child can learn are endless.

She shared a takeaway quote from the conference that resonated with her: “Children have a relationship with the school and their classroom that is similar to falling in love”. We want children to feel this joy, embrace it and want to return (to the classroom) for more!

Conference lectures were delivered by experienced arts practitioners (ateleristas) and teachers (pedagogistas) and topics included outdoor play, the image of the child, understanding the importance of graphics, words, clay and art as part of the 100 languages of children. 

The Opportunity

A table full of clay figures from the Reggio-inspired pedagogy.

“By following the children's interests, we can create learning opportunities that build on their current knowledge while asking them to explore new worlds,” added Jennifer Flaherty, who joined in Spring of 2023 as an Associate Teacher in Kindergarten before leading a Junior Kindergarten the next Fall.  “For example, this year the children in the Sandpiper (Junior Kindergarten) room were interested in dragons. This led to reading books about dragons and fairy tales, creating art projects, building castles, drawing treasure maps, studying real maps and comparing dragons to other creatures like dinosaurs and birds. By following the children's curiosity, we were able to explore art, science, literacy and numeracy.”

An investment in SMUS teacher professional development that can be immediately felt and implemented with SMUS students is not one that Head of School Mark Turner hesitated on.

“I was so grateful to have Mark Turner’s support to send our Junior Kindergarten teachers to Reggio for professional development,” said Becky Anderson, Director of the SMUS Junior School. “Being immersed in a community that embodies this child-centered philosophy, learning from experts, and connecting with teachers worldwide is a game changer. This opportunity also enables us to reflect on our program, celebrate its strengths, and get excited about ways to continue growing and evolving.”

SMUS hosts Reggio-Inspired Summer Institute

That growth and evolution is never-ending at the SMUS Junior School as the campus will play host to its own Reggio-inspired conference, supported by the Westcoast Reggio Network, on Aug. 22-23. The conference will bring other like-minded educators together to create community and exchange ideas and will feature three experts including Matt Glover, Janice Novakowski and Misty Paterson. 

This conference is also made possible thanks to the work behind the scenes of retired SMUS Kindergarten teacher and program specialist Margaret Lincoln.

Conference registration is live and available at smus.ca/summer-institute