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Published 12/1/2004

New Philosophy Shaping Child Care Center Practices at Owens

Owens Preschool Teacher and early childhood education graduate, Ami Saar demonstrates clay figure techniques with her Child Care Center students. One look in the Child Care Center on Owens Community College's Toledo-area Campus will tell you that it is not your ordinary preschool/daycare center. With beautiful curtains dressing the windows and astonishing pieces of art adorning the walls, the Child Care Center seems more like home - and that's the goal.

Owens' Child Care Center is one of a number of schools across the United States that has been inspired by the Reggio Emilia philosophy in Early Childhood Education. Named after a small town in Italy, the Emilia philosophy stresses reflection, practice and further reflection. The philosophy states that every child has the right to grow and learn in a favorable environment.

According to Deb Ciecka, Owens Chair of Early Childhood and Paraprofessional Education, education in the United States focuses on adults transmitting knowledge to children. "Under the Reggio Emilia philosophy, it is assumed that children come to school with skills and knowledge already learned," she said. "In such an educational environment, it is the teachers' responsibility to provide a comfortable and safe environment for knowledge to grow."

Ciecka, who recently had the opportunity to study the philosophy in Reggio Emilia, Italy, added, "The Reggio philosophy is really based on a belief and an image of the child as competent, caring and curious. Children are not empty vessels to be filled up by adult knowledge, but capable learners on their own, with rights - not just needs."

Creating such a learning-centered environment coincides with the Owens Community College Child Care Center's mission of providing quality child care for the children of employees, students and the surrounding communities. The program is devoted to enhancing the lives of children through developmentally appropriate curriculum, which focuses on the child first.

Sharon Libby, Owens Assistant Chair of Early Childhood and Paraprofessional Education, stated, "If we accept that children come to us knowing things, that children deserve respect and come with rights, we will get different results. Their approach is that children have a right to an education. It's a very subtle difference."

The difference may be subtle, however, the preschools in Reggio Emilia are regarded as one of the 10 best early childhood programs in the world, according to several national publications.

"In America, we understand that children learn by doing things, but we are focused on verbal and written learning," Libby said. "There, they allow children to express learning in as many different ways as possible. Visual arts are the basis of learning. Here, that's usually the first thing considered when eliminating areas of focus."

In an effort to increase the focus on visual arts and provide an environment for knowledge to grow, faculty members in Early Childhood and Paraprofessional Education at Owens have started on a journey toward teaching under the Emilia philosophy.

"The first thing we started doing was to address, with our own teachers, our image of the child," Libby said. "How you look at children impacts how you teach children."

Exploring the image of children is only the first step, however, in the Reggio Emilia philosophy. According to Libby, faculty members undergo deep reflection about their role and about what teaching means to them.

"It's a big challenge for teachers to address the image of a child," Libby stated. "You are confronting years of practice and have to think deeper than ever before."

In order for Owens' faculty members to fully embrace the Emilia philosophy, the Owens Child Care Center underwent a homey makeover.

"We owe these children the chance to be cared for in a homelike setting where they are encouraged to be the best they can be," Ciecka said. "It is their right, and we can do no less for them."

The Reggio Emilia philosophy is a very demanding philosophy for Owens' Early Childhood Education faculty members to follow. According to Libby, they must constantly be observing, recording, photographing and discussing their students with each other.

"It's a constant spiral of learning," Libby said. "We have started a new and exciting journey. Because of the Reggio Emilia philosophy, we are now focused on providing children with the right to express themselves through education."

Ciecka added, "By implementing this philosophy at the Child Care Lab, we give students the opportunity to see in practice what is being heralded as one of the world's best ways of teaching young children."

For more information about the College's Child Care Center on the Toledo-area Campus, call 1-800-GO-OWENS, Ext. 7271 or (567) 661-7271.

Owens Community College is the fastest-growing higher educational institution in Northwest Ohio with 29 consecutive semesters of enrollment increases. On the Toledo-area and Findlay-area campuses, Owens serves more than 44,000 credit and non-credit students, making it the number one choice for new college students. Owens is committed to providing small classes, personal attention and unmatched affordability. Owens Community College offers over 130 program areas in Agriculture, Business, Health, Public Service, Skilled Trades, and Industrial and Engineering Technologies. Owens students also can earn the first two years of a bachelor's degree with a smooth transfer to any area four-year college or university.


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