Stepping Stones Children's Center: Reggio Emilia - Inspired, Emergent Curriculum, in Burlington, Vermont.
Photo by G (age 4)
The Kitchen Teacher and Emergent Curriculum: How it works
_Nurturing a culture of creativity requires not only paying
attention to the interests, curiosity and projects that grow between
children and their teachers but also paying attention to the ways we
structure our days to enable the possibility of inventive thinking and
creative adventures to emerge and catch fire.
we decided as a staff [many many years ago] that we wanted to take an
emergent approach to our learning with children, we also found that we
had to actively explore ways to transform from our traditionally
prescriptive style schedule (one directed by clocked transitions) to our
current open format. During this shift, we invented the role of the
transition teacher, who essentially acts as a steward or guide of our
daily program routines. We have organized ourselves so that full-time
teachers work four ten-hour days a week (7.30 a.m.-5.30 p.m.) and each
teacher has a set day when they are the transition teacher (also
lovingly known by the children as the kitchen teacher). Knowing who the
kitchen teacher is and who is teaching on the floor that day affects
how we in the learning community anticipate and organize our daily
course of action, in the same way that we would anticipate spending a
day with a particular friend. We don't so much reply on the clock to
tell us what to do but rather are motivated by the connections and
opportunities that arise.
__The transition teacher's focus is on greeting the families as they arrive, answering the phone, keeping track of special circumstances and medications, organizing snacks and lunch, and assisting children with self-care activities. It is a physically demanding job, yet one we find to be quite joyful because it is a teaching day of welcoming, taking time to talk with families, and preparing foods that we make with the children for our family-style meals. The transition teacher experiences a strong sense of purpose and satisfaction in caring for the community at large and for each teacher. This happens in the same way that choosing to participate in daily rituals, like cooking and setting the table for lunch, provides a feeling of caring and pride about contributing to the community for each child.
I am learning that the intentional informality and flexibility of our program over all these years corresponds well with how we live outside in the big world. For example, our morning (8.30-10.30 or so) and afternoon snacks (around 3.00 p.m. onward) are offered to children as they are hungry. Children convene around our kitchen table in small groups. Sometimes children like to dine alone, other times children cozy up and share their seats to make room for more friends, and sometimes they have to wait for a spot. Lunch is the only time in the day when we schedule everyone to sit together much like a family dinner. The conversations are lively. We reflect on al the things we did during the morning, we make plans about what we might like to do in the afternoon, we tell knock-knock jokes, or we relax with friends as well as with a few parents who pull up a stool to enjoy a piece of homemade bread before taking their child home after a half-day session.
___Because we do not set our day according to the clock, the transition teacher role is very important for a couple of reasons. This teacher sets a general rhythm to the day, not only through a unique welcome but through the ways he or she chooses to get the necessary chores done during the school day. Each teacher has her or his own personal style and rhythm and everyone (staff and children) balances with these differences. This method of engaging in our day and staying organized profoundly influences the culture of our school because it sets the tone for taking care of our basic needs in relationship with a person, rather than with a clock. In this way, I have discovered that children do not typically frame their organizational questions according to time (What time is project time? What time is free play? When will it be story time?). Instead, they tend to inquire about projects and people by asking questions and making plans (Who is the kitchen teacher today? I'd like to be a lunch helper. When Dana [the teacher] gets here, I'd like to ask her to do sewing. I'm feeling like doing take apart--can we do that now? Who wants to go outside?). This subtle shift in questioning enables the children to inspire, initiate, and create their day based on their developing repertoire of short- and long-term projects, shared interests, and curiosities with peers and teachers. The time the children spend engaging in their plan is uninterrupted by a clocked itinerary demanding quick closures when perhaps they are only just delving below the surface of their inquiry into a state of flow (Csikszentmihalyi 1990). We want to enable as much open time as possible to allow for the emergence of deep, meaningful, and memorable experiences.
(Rogers, Liz. “The Flexibility of Routines, Responses, and Teacher Roles.” The Unscripted Classroom: Emergent Curriculum in Action. St. Paul: Redleaf, 2011. 69-85. Print.)