How to Make Learning About the Child: Telling their Stories

Reggio at Home - Telling their own stories  An Everyday Story“We have to believe that the child is a bearer and constructor of his own intelligence. If we are ready to accept this, then we will modify many of our relations with him.” ~ Loris Malaguzzi 

When I was teaching high school, learning was fast. Each new course started and eight weeks later it was finished. In that time, students read, watched, researched, questioned, problem-solved and at the end either took a test or presented a completed research project. Then we would say goodbye to that topic and move onto another. Very fast learning.

The more I am reading and learning and the more I see Jack as he moves through his days, I have come to realise that learning is slow, learning should be slow. There is no rush to learn to read and write, no rush to learn everything about our solar system during this ‘school term’ before moving on to another topic.

Learning should be about the child telling their stories. Loris Malaguzzi (the founder of the Reggio Emilia Approach) described children’s learning as ‘long stories’; really long – usually over the course of weeks, months or years. Deeply rooted in child-led inquiry, the child steers the course with the adult giving the gentlest of touches to provide materials and meaningful experiences to help support the child in their pursuit of understanding.

 ” I would also say [about the child] that this anxiety, this passion for searching in some way clearly mobilises everything, the whole person, the whole child… The child is a born researcher” ~ Malaguzzi

When we put aside our preconceived ideas of which knowledge is important as well as what sequence that knowledge should be presented, learning becomes about the child; they have a ‘passion for searching‘ which when we clear our own minds (rid ourselves of our own anxieties and expectations around learning) clearly guides us, showing us the way forward.

Outdoor art basket  An Everyday Story

So how do we do this?

How do we allow our children to tell their stories? How do we support them as they engage in deep inquiry over an extended period of time?

Well first up, shall I be so brash to say that I don’t think the topic matters; space isn’t more meaningful or useful than fairies. Dinosaurs or transport vehicles aren’t more important than tea parties and dressing dolls. What matters is that we support our child’s curiosities, their interests and their passions. When we do this, our children ‘become the bearer and constructor of his own intelligence.

When we work with our children, respecting their interests and providing materials and connected meaningful experiences, the child is driven forth by their passions. Learning occurs in abundance.

When we decide the topic for our child, learning will probably still occur but unless the child has a natural interest towards that topic already, I’ve found that learning feels off-balance; with more input from my side and less drive to know from Jack’s.

When we believe that children are capable of, and indeed what to construct, their own learning, when we trust that their interests are worthy of pursuing more deeply, we are teaching them the true joy of learning. We learn to fulfill a need, a desire to know and understand, we teach them that every interest is an opportunity to read more, learn more, dig deeper, express themselves in an ever-evolving number of ways and with more and more skill and complexity.

So do you have a plan, a list of topics you would like to introduce to your child? I challenge you to put that aside for the moment and instead simply watch your child. What clues are they giving you about what they would like to pursue more deeply? Try not to dismiss an interest because you think it might not be worthy of pursuing.

Then maybe take a field-trip to spark more questions, or present an activity which will encourage your child to engage and represent their learning. You could try:

Then you are on your way. Watch and listen to your child’s questions, jot them down, they will help you to support your child. Take it slowly, enjoy the journey as your child becomes more and more skilled at telling their own stories.


Here’s a short video of Loris Malaguzzi talking about children constructing their own knowledge.

7 Replies to “How to Make Learning About the Child: Telling their Stories”

  1. I agree whole-heartedly! I’ve found when I try to introduce subjects for investigation (which I think will be of interest), it’s much harder to engage my children than if I’m led by their interests. I love the concept that children become the bearers and constructors of their own intelligence. It becomes a matter of trusting and supporting children’s natural curiosity and interests. Thank you so much for this post which you’ve written so inspirationally!

    1. Thank you Susan. I think we can all get bamboozled sometimes with the sheer volume of ideas and activities out there but more often than not when I step right back and really pay attention to what interests them, the simplest activities – drawing, painting, small world – will engage them far more deeply.

  2. Oh, what a beautifully written post. Almost everything a child is interested in is worthy. Learning is so much more meaningful when it belongs to them. Thank you for this beautiful and inspiring blog.

    1. Thank you Rachel 🙂 There is just so much to learn, isn’t there? So much wonder and beauty in the world and when we let our children lead the way, we have the profound experience of seeing things anew through our children’s eyes.

  3. I love this, Kate. I still struggle to find what interests Lucy. Maybe I am overlooking something as I see it as not worth pursuing as you say. Time for another look 🙂

    1. I sometimes feel that way with Sarah. Jack’s interests are so clear – possibly because he seems to focus on one particular area or subject and that dominates all his play. Sarah is a little trickier. With Lucy, what does she do when she is playing independently? What stories does she make up? What toys does she return to? Which books does she really enjoy? Sarah would tip all her shoes off her shoe rack and turn it into a BBQ. She’d then sit all her toys around ready for something to eat. So I moved all the play food and bowls and things into her room. She now happily creates elaborate picnics all over her bedroom floor 🙂

  4. I love this. So wonderfully written. We have lived by this throughout Otto’s little life- learning comes much more easily if it is child lead. Interest is there, wonder, and awe. And every child is different, we are learning as Atlas is beginning to communicate more and show interest in certain things.

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