The Hundred Languages of Children

Last April,  I attended a teacher training workshop through the Portland Children’s Museum called, “Nurturing the Creative Capacity of Children with Lella Gandini.”  It is part of the “Wonder of Learning” exhibit at the museum which is an exhibition of the infant-toddler centers and preschools of the Instituzione Municipality of Reggio Emilia in Italy.

The work and learning displayed by the children of Reggio Emilia was awe-inspiring.  Here is a description of the philosophy from Wikipedia.

“The Reggio Emilia Approach is an educational philosophy focused on preschool and primary education. It was started by Loris Malaguzzi and the parents of the villages around Reggio Emilia in Italy after World War II. The destruction from the war, parents believed, necessitated a new, quick approach to teaching their children. They felt that it is in the early years of development that children form who they are as individuals. This led to creation of a program based on the principles of respect, responsibility, and community through exploration and discovery in a supportive and enriching environment based on the interests of the children through a self-guided curriculum.”

And here is more from

“In Reggio Emilia they don’t lock their view on children, the pedagogue or the learning process. The world and its people are always changing and that’s why they are against set programs and methods. You can work Reggio Emilia-inspired. You cannot copy the way they work in Italy because you have to consider the people, the environment and culture.”

In Reggio Emilia they have a coined expression: “A child has a hundred languages”. They try to unite and develop all these languages; innovation, construction, fantasy, art, music, dance, building, writing, talking, signing, science, body and soul… The multiple languages are used to help children build knowledge and understand the world around them. The natural environment is incorporated as much as possible.”

Now you may be wondering, “What does this have to do with writing?”

For me, learning about this early childhood teaching approach is the first time when my “artist self” blended into my “teacher self” seamlessly.  When I am writing, I try to remember all of the senses in my scenes.  In Reggio-inspired teaching, one tries to nurture all of the senses in children.  “Joy” and “Wonder” are key components in these classrooms, and I always want to convey a sense of joy and wonder in my writing.

Young children in these classrooms use the arts to express themselves, and in Reggio classrooms, the use of symbolic languages is encouraged.  As it says in Wikipedia:

“As children proceed in an investigation, generating and testing their hypotheses, they are encouraged to depict their understanding through one of many symbolic languages, including drawing, sculpture, dramatic play, and writing. They work together toward the resolution of problems that arise.”

I absolutely love how the arts in these classrooms are so central to the children’s learning. Sometimes, with today’s cuts in librarians, art teachers, music teachers, etc…, the arts are becoming virtually non-existent in children’s lives.  And children really do have “a hundred languages” that they express themselves with.  One of my languages is my writing, and one of my goals is to help children find their own languages to express themselves, too.

Here is a poem from Loris Malaguzzi that describes these languages, and I will be shocked if it doesn’t touch your soul reading it.  I know it touched mine.  It is something we as writers for young people should always remember about children, since they are our primary audience.


The Hundred Languages of Children

This poem by the founder of the Reggio-Emilia approach beautifully conveys the important roles imagination and discovery play in early childhood learning. Much of Reggio-Emilia philosophy is based on protecting children from becoming subjected too early to institutionalized doctrines which often make learning a chore rather than an extension of natural curiosity.

The child is made of one hundred.
The child has
a hundred languages
a hundred hands
a hundred thoughts
a hundred ways of thinking
of playing, of speaking.

A hundred.

Always a hundred
ways of listening
of marveling, of loving
a hundred joys
for singing and understanding
a hundred worlds
to discover
a hundred worlds
to invent
a hundred worlds
to dream.

The child has
a hundred languages
(and a hundred hundred hundred more)
but they steal ninety-nine.
The school and the culture
separate the head from the body.
They tell the child:
to think without hands
to do without head
to listen and not to speak
to understand without joy
to love and to marvel
only at Easter and at Christmas.

They tell the child:
to discover the world already there
and of the hundred
they steal ninety-nine.

They tell the child:
that work and play
reality and fantasy
science and imagination
sky and earth
reason and dream
are things
that do not belong together.

And thus they tell the child
that the hundred is not there.
The child says:
No way. The hundred is there.

-Loris Malaguzzi
Founder of the Reggio Emilia Approach


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