I believe the atelier’s evolution, together with that of Reggio Emilia pedagogy, stems above all from the birth and diffusion of observation and documentation of learning processes. I will attempt to give an account of this journey from the inside, that is to say from the viewpoint of the atelieristas and teachers who transformed what was initially individual attention and personal documentation into strategies for observing and documenting that could be communicated and diffused to others in order to broaden the range and variety of interpretative points of view. The 1970s and 1980s were years of research and invention in new ways of teaching, a different kind of school and a different role for the atelier than that of tradition; at that time a subject called ‘art education’ existed but only in middle schools for children aged 10-13 years. We put together an exhibition called The Hundred Languages of Children, first shown in Reggio Emilia, then first taken abroad to the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm in 1981 and on a second occasion after further work in 1986. This illustrates our idea of the role of ateliers in education. As I have said before, the projects presented in the exhibition were divided into chapters decided by adults. We and the children moved freely through these without predefined programmes; we made notes of children’s words but not recordings so they were undoubtedly rather approximate but interesting nevertheless; photographs already constituted an important part of communicating contexts and atmospheres. Large groups of children were undisputed protagonists but due to the large number of children present at any one time, it was not possible to completely track processes, partly because attention could become distracted in this wider context. Our main interest was to illustrate the extraordinary, beautiful and intelligent things children knew how to do and sweep away (or so we hoped) the widespread work circulating in early childhood services at the time, where mostly teachers’ minds and hands were central and children had a marginal role, which led to the same stereotyped products for all. Even though this way of documenting gave a rather general view of children, it led to a much greater sense of respect for them and a desire to know
them better, and our attention and interest was confirmed in neurological research and its discussions of neurons and synapses in movement and brains being shaped in different ways. The 1990s saw much detailed investigative work and close attention to working with small groups of children, which could only be done because we had two teachers working simultaneously, and for this we had to modify our organization of the school day and environments. As I have already discussed in Chapter 7 on Environments, we created small spaces called mini-ateliers adjacent to the classrooms after research we had done on environments, and these allowed us to divide children into smaller groups and offer proposals, materials and equipment in new and different ways. In those years, we worked hard on organizing our environments, especially in a school like Diana, which had very small spaces made more numerous over time through small and inexpensive miracles of invention.