Over the past several months I’ve received quite a few emails asking me about my role as atelierista, aka art teacher, in a Reggio inspired preschool. I thought I would share my experience here in hopes that I can shed some light on this mysterious “Reggio” word that has become quite trendy over the past decade. Perhaps you are interested in becoming a Reggio inspired art teacher. Or perhaps you’ve heard this word “atelierista” and thought “What the heck does that even mean?” I will try to demystify my role as much as I can for you here, in addition to sharing a bit about our art studio space and why I love it so much.
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Welcome to Our Ever Changing Art Studio
And if you like this post, be sure to check out my ebook Art Secrets Every Teacher Should Know…a Reggio Inspired Approach.
I started working as a Reggio inspired Atelierista at an Early Childhood Center in the San Fernando Valley almost two years ago. I am in no way an expert on this subject. I can only share with you what I’ve learned and how I’ve applied my learning to our own studio. If you want advice from Reggio experts, I would recommend reading the following books that are filled with helpful information on the subject. I also love the blog An Everyday Story, which has a ton of great information on the Reggio Emelia Approach to Learning.
and my favorite teaching book
Below I will share the Reggio basics as I see them. I don’t want to minimize the philosophy in anyway. I have a deep respect for the Reggio Approach to Learning. I am also aware I am not an expert. My intention here is to offer some basic knowledge of the Reggio approach as I understand it, and to share my experience in a Reggio inspired art studio.
1. Children use A Hundred Languages to express themselves. Words, symbols, sounds, music, art, etc. It is through those languages we learn about our children and what is important to them.
2. Children learn through interacting with their peers. (Social Constructivism)
3. The environment is the third teacher – The teacher, parent and classroom are all teachers in a Reggio environment. The atelier, or art studio, plays an especially important role in enhancing and guiding the community.
5. Documentation acts a reflective learning tool to guide teachers and students. I’m sorry I don’t have any great examples of documentation at the moment. I’ll try to grab some in the future and get them in here.
Now let’s get to my role, the role of a Reggio Inspired Atelierista/Art Teacher. Note *I keep mentioning the term “Reggio Inspired” because I do not work at a true Reggio school. We have adapted Reggio principals to fit within our own community. We call our atelier “the art studio.” It is a designated room where students come to create, explore and experience themselves through art. It is a beautiful space brimming with natural light, creativity and curiosity. When children, and adults alike enter the space, they often take a deep breath and feel a moving energy that is difficult to describe in written words. It’s pretty magical.
Our school of almost 70 students has designated days for different age groups. Each age group comes to the art studio twice a week. Students are invited to come to the studio on their day. Some students will choose to go, some will not. That’s ok. For those students who don’t often choose to go, we find ways to encourage them, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Most students, however, yearn to visit the art studio. They are able to stay for an extended period of time, sometimes up to an hour. When our school was smaller, they were invited to stay as long as they wanted, which often meant an hour and a half, to two hours. That was truly special. Now with more students, I’d say they stay for about 30-45 minutes at a time. Some trickle out earlier, while some stay longer.
It took me a minute to figure out a system for our art studio that would work for all the children that visit. After some trial and error, here is what we came up with.
2. In addition to the three stations that are all accessible to the children, we have a tinkering table equipped with a tinker tray, tape, glue, scissors and paper. We do a lot of collage work with Tinker Trays. You can read more about Tinker Trays here.
3. A bucket with water sits in the same area everyday for washing our brushes. The kids “dance, dance, dance, and clean, clean, clean,” their brushes in the water and place them back in the jar they came from. (I combined a cleaning song I made up with one that Rachelle at Tinkerlab told me about. I recommend simple cleaning songs for kids. They really help get the job done!)
4. We have a filing system of art portfolios sitting on the floor accessible to the students. Children can file their work as they go, along with teachers and parent/grandparent volunteers. They can also explore their work as desired. You can see how to make the art portfolios here. These have been a bit of a game changer. I can’t take credit for those amazing little name tags on the side. That’s the handiwork of my teaching partner. She’s totally brilliant when it comes to organization.
5. Our ribbon Wall – We actually don’t have the ribbon wall anymore because I foolishly took it down and need to put it back up. It was awesome and I’m not really sure why I took it down. The students could come over and cut whatever ribbon they needed for all kinds of different projects and ideas. Standing and pulling the ribbon offered the perfect amount of tension for cutting practice. This wall was very successful. Note to self – If it ain’t broke…
I think it’s important to mention that not everything goes as planned, by any stretch, in the art studio. Part of being a reggio teacher is to be okay with unexpected directions that benefit the group or individual. The picture below is an example of the “Teacher’s Plan” vs the “Child’s Plan.” Instead of engaging in an observational drawing process, this student wanted to practice cutting so she could make a long braid for her hair with the ribbons. How could I deny that request?
There are many many ways to run an art studio. These are some of the practices that I have found to really work. I’d love to hear what works for you in the comments below. Overall, I think it’s a good idea to remain consistent, keep things in the same place, role with the punches and take your time.
Most of all, working as an art teacher in a reggio inspired art studio is about listening, being patient, and caring about children and what they have to offer. It’s not about reinventing the wheel, or telling anyone what to do. It’s about guiding and strengthening and offering a safe space to explore and grow. Each child is honored for who they are and how they share who they are with the world.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this. If you are interested in learning more, I am available for hourly consultation. Please email me for rates. If you’d like to learn more about this particular school, please email me as well. I’d love to hear from you. xo Meri Cherry
ps If you’re interested in my all time favorite art supply list, here it is.