Would the Ministry of Education approve?

Having done a few tours with parents showing them our STEM room and discussing our approach to children's learning, both Julie and I have had parents ask us to explain the term “Reggio Emilia” as the Centre’s approach to education.

I usually ask before offering an explanation, “what are your expectations?”

Most parents decide to choose Tinkergarden because we offer child-centered programs and they have been experiencing firsthand how much their children love being in our programs. Which I think is really the most important thing you want your child to get out of their early education— a love of learning.

Coming into our STEM room and seeing the children interact with the objects from nature as well as the element placed to spark exploration and creativity, known to be a big part of the Reggio Emilia approach, really cements in the minds of the parents we see, that there are great benefits to be derived from this approach to learning. Here we will explain the theories behind our teaching philosophy. I’m hoping that this will help you to decide whether Tinkergarden is a good fit for your child.

At the Tinkergarden STEM Discovery Centre, there are no traces of rote learning, handwriting exercises or memorization– rather we see children immersed in discovering information through all their senses, and from multiple angles – scientifically, artistically, musically, etc.

How does the Reggio method of teaching work when adopted by schools here in Trinidad and Tobago? How do children learn skills without direct instruction and how do we know it is a wise choice in a competitive Primary school enrollment environment like ours?

Well behind the Reggio Approach are strong educational theories, practices and methods. In the Ministry of Education’s National Early Childhood Care and Education Curriculum Guide http://moe.edu.tt/Docs/Policies/ECCE/DRAFT_NATIONAL_CURRICULUM_GUIDE.pdf it reveals; “Exposure to the Reggio Emilia Approach assisted us in gaining a new conceptualization of the role of adults, key organizational features of the physical environment and on enduring social relationships with family and community” So yes the Ministry of education does approve of the Reggio Approach in Early Childhood education!

Here are a few principles of Reggio Emilia


At the very core of the Reggio Approach is the concept of wonder. Wonder as an act that begins the process of learning and wonder as an integral quality within all children. Reggio educators view children as natural scientists; driven by curiosity, with tremendous observational skills and an ability to form strong theories about the world around them. They consider a child’s creative expression (especially in preliterate stages), as his way of communicating what he understands about the world around him.

How this is put into action:

When a child asks our Aunties a question about why the sky is blue, rather than answering the question, they join the child in the act of wondering.

Child: Why is the sky blue?

Aunty: Hmmmmm, great question. I’m not sure, why do you think it’s blue?

The child will no doubt give a theory or an idea and her response gives the teacher insight into how that child thinks.

Aunty: Those are very strong ideas (and she files that away to return to later). What else do you notice about the sky? Is it all one color of blue? Do you see anything else?

Child: No, it’s darker there and lighter there. It has clouds and look –– that cloud looks like a shark, and those over there look like popcorn.

Aunty: I see that too. Let’s draw the sky, or write a book about your ideas of the sky.

This is the beginning of learning in a child-led curriculum. A child wonders, and then leads the adult through her observations into the topic.


We believe that when children share their wonder with other children, their parents or us, they engage in a richer and deeper learning process. Collaboration increases the children’s commitment to the topic and multiplies the learning opportunities by encompassing many points of view. In class, when this type of group wonder is guided by Aunties who use provocations and questioning rather than demonstrations or explaining, children will almost always be able to connect to the topic.

How this is put into action:

Using our example of the sky, Aunty sees that child’s questions and ideas as full of potential. She might ask the child to draw a picture illustrating her theories. Then great importance is placed on the next step in the process— sharing this picture and the child’s thoughts with the class. The conversation that it sparks would add more questions, facts and theories to the conversation, adding to the group’s knowledge base about all things related to the sky, and leading to more questions.


Collaborative wonder and the sharing of ideas plants the seeds for the class curriculum at Tinkergarden. During this first full-group discussion of the sky, a classmate might share her knowledge of planets or the moon (leading to a study of planets and stars), while another child might want to work on making a picture book about cloud animals (an opportunity for art and literacy development). It’s important to note, at no time would an Aunty intervene in a discussion with children to weed out the truth from fiction, or give answers. Instead, she would extend and compile the ideas to be presented back to the group for theory development. In this way, she act as guides supporting children as they build their own knowledge.

How this is put into action:

Supportive discussion techniques are encouraged through the use of language like, “I think,” or “I disagree” rather than discounting what someone knows might not be a “correct” theory. This is how curriculum is co-constructed (another progressive buzz word). The ideas are generated by the children, but given structure and purpose by the teachers. Teachers are continually asking the children to reflect on their old theories as they are faced with new information, feeding into the formulation of new theories.


In traditional schools, children are judged by their success using verbal and written forms of expression above all others, in part because test taking depends on these skills. At Tinkergarden being a Reggio - inspired centre all forms of expression are valued equally.

How this is put into action:

Our children begin to learn there are multiple ways to express an idea— whether it be visual, verbal, written or through movement and music. Through the use of multiple mediums, they develop expressive competence. As the children grow, the hope is that drawing a picture to express an idea will always be an option and ability.


Throughout the learning process, our Aunties document the children’s experience through photographs, note-taking, video, and through artifacts the children make themselves. It is compiled and shared with the focus on process, rather than product.

How this is put into action:

For instance, when you walk into our classroom there is a wall of self-portraits which will include photos of the children working with notes on how each child approached the task, what they said while they worked and the interactions between the children during the exercise.

This type of displayed documentation serves multiple purposes. It is a visual and written invitation to others (parents, teachers etc.) to really understand the children’s learning process. It gives children, their parents and Aunties a shared language and understanding. It gives voice to children’s thoughts, and communicates their experiences as members of the first group they belong to outside of family. It is a tool for our Aunties to reflect on the thoughts and actions of the children, to really take the time to listen and understand their words and actions, informing next steps, and developing provocations, which will illicit new interests or questioning (allowing them to continually take the lead).

But perhaps most importantly, documentation illustrates to children that their work and ideas have great value. As they see their own process of learning, they begin to understand how ideas connect and form a bigger picture, and how they change and grow as they continue to engage and invest in the process.

In a more traditional system, it’s the opposite— they take away the child’s role in developing the direction of their education. Instead of using their curiosity, they are telling them at every age, through predetermined curriculum, what they should be wondering about at every stage of their growth. Again in the traditional schools, rather than embedding literacy and math instruction within their interests, they disconnect them, creating boring and difficult exercises for skill acquisition without capitalizing on the motivation that joy and curiosity naturally provide.

The guiding belief for the Reggio Approach is that children’s ideas are worthy of deep consideration.

Enrollment for the September term has begun; we encourage small groups in our programs so space is limited. Our Infant and Toddler Discovery program is structured for only 6 babies and toddlers, while our preschool Discovery program enrolls 10 children. Come in and see us to discuss your options.

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