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Tiles with style

Pre-school learning imported from Italy is changing the face of early years education, writes Gerald Haigh

It's not difficult to see why primary heads are increasingly welcoming artists into their schools. Marian Davies, head of Moor Green infants in Birmingham, echoes the views of many colleagues. "When I came here as head six years ago we were completely buried in numeracy and literacy, and we were seeing the arts dwindling," she says. "I felt sad."

Then - and this, too, was a common experience - she had a confidence boost from a good inspection report. "I felt once I had that we could push the boat out."

So, when Birmingham Creative Partnerships came along, she welcomed it as yet another ingredient in a rich mix of arts and creative activities that characterises the work in her school. Among the Moor Green projects is "Reggio into Early Years", where artist Lorna Rose has brought the approach pioneered in the northern Italian town.

Reggio, a child-centred, creative approach to early years development has been gathering momentum in the UK for some years. Many teachers have made pilgrimages to the Italian province where it all began. It is a philosophy very much in line with the latest thinking on creativity, and is a feature of a number of Creative Partnerships projects.

Over two terms, Lorna Rose made weekly visits to the reception classes of four primary and special schools.

At Moor Green, the children had been given clay tiles on which they had built up imaginative little scenes, using rolled and moulded shapes. The next step was to add colour, with paints, and children who wanted to could make up stories based on their tiles.

There is a significant professional development aspect to this work. Lorna Rose documents all of her work carefully with photographs and notes, and with examples of children's work, both for her own records and for the schools she works with. She also discusses each session with the teachers in advance. (It is a commonly reported characteristic of Creative Partnership projects that teachers who have grown up within the limitations of the national curriculum and the numeracy and literacy strategies are often helped to discover different ways forward, and to see the effects in improved verbal and social skills.) The finished tiles were a delight to see and to talk to their makers about.

"Those are snakes coming out of their holes," a little boy explained.

"That's the sun, here are some snakes that have already come out." He paused... "That's it, really."

Experiencing Reggio Emilia: Implications for Pre-school Provision, edited by Lesley Abbott and Cathy Nutbrown, Open University Press, pound;16.99.

(A summary of the book on gives a concise introduction to the Reggio Emilia approach)

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