Sunday, 10 August 2014

Malaguzzi's Three Children

The following text is taken from the book "Boken om pedagogerna" under redaktion av Anna Forsell (2008) (5th edition)

Malaguzzi's three children.

In his lectures Malaguzzi used to always take up his view of children and knowledge by presenting three simple images of the child and pitching them against each other (Loris Malaguzzi, lecture May 1992)

1. The sleeping and poor child - an empty container
     The first image is a child that learns by remembering what has been said and then reproducing this knowledge. One views the child like a lump of clay that needs to be formed. One talks to the child like a blank piece of paper, a "tabula rasa" or an empty container that others need to eventually fill with knowledge. The child has no virtue of its own. It is poor and passive, it sleeps. It is a child that you do not listen to and do not enter a dialogue with. Knowledge can be injected into the sleeping child by the adult that knows and can.

2. The awake but poor child - that is steered
    The second image is a child that learns by understanding. This child has resources, but it is about the adult stimulating the child so that it has the oportunity to grow. This is an awake, but passive child, that doesn't yet walk on their own legs. The child has no responisbility for thir own knowledge, but is steered by others. This image of the child requires that the adult pedagogues are always very active. It also means that the child remains poor, because they are not using all of their own resources.

3. The rich child - with both power and resources of its own.
    The third child is a child that wants to grow, learn and know. It is a child that can create its own knowledge. It is a child with inherent power, a child with a hundred languages - a rich child. This child also needs an adult, but not an adult that will protect or act as a guard, but an adult that can contruct the world together with. Since a child cannot manage to contruct everything by themself they need an adult who can listen and see - an adult with big ears and big eyes, and adult to enter dialogues with, an adult who can challenge thoughts and that exceed limits together with.
(Gunilla Dahlberg and Gunnar Åsén)

So the question is, which child do you see? Which teacher are you? Because for each image of the child there is an image of the teacher...

1. The teacher that is choosing the content of the curriculum. the teacher who feeds the the child with "necessary" knowledge. The teacher who forgets to listen to what the children already know. The teacher with no time to listen to the children.
2. The teacher who sets out a whole load of provocations, but is still very controlling of the information the children are supposed to learn. The teacher who is creative and aware of the children's ability but is protecting them from risky play where much knowledge is gained, does not allow children to argue and solve their own quarrels. A teacher who has a clear image of the learning journey, probably the exact same route as taken with other groups of children over the years. A teacher that forgets to question themselves about what they are doing.
3.The teacher that listens and observes the children, learning about what the children already know, and are interested in... and creating situations for deepening their understanding, for challenging their thoughts. A teacher that continuously questions what they are doing and why. A teacher that does not know the path of their learning journey without the input of the children. A Journey that will look different each year as the children will see different desitinations on the learning map, or different routes to familiar destinations... The teacher has the the knowledge of map-reading and can therefore be the guide in this learning journey, teaching the children how to map-read themselves as they go - to see their learning... A teacher that allows the children to make their own mistakes as part of their learning process - including risky play (play with the risk of failing, risk of minor hurts - scraped knees etc)... a teacher that works towards not being needed by enabling the children...

Hmmm, I could go on about the image of the teacher, and how I see it... but for now I will leave it here. If you have more ideas of the image of the teacher, I would appreciate it if you left a comment, so that I could get a post together with an Image of the Teacher from collected thoughts around the world.


  1. There is a clear difference emerging between child-centred and child-led programmes. This is an interesting development and, I believe new in our field. We need to talk about this in creating an image of the teacher that will most likely benefit the child.

    1. I agree, but it's not clear to me how you are defining "child-centred" and "child-led", and how it relates to Malaguzzi's model.

  2. I believe there is room in every learning environment for young children for teacher-directed activities and experiences and child-led experiences. A teacher that observes and listens to children will hopefully then adapt and create experiences for children that compliments and enhances the learning experience. This is not an easy task however the teacher that believes in the process of discovery, exploration, experimentation and self-discovery and that children are full of their own ideas and capable of critical thinking, will be "successful".

  3. I believe that blending the interests of the adult in a classroom is certainly a wonderful resource to be tapped into when enriching any child's environment. Being mindful of the reception on the part of the child and giving the moment over to the child can help an adult focus on the what interests emerge from these encounters and help to initiate reflective practices when working with children.

  4. I generally say, "I walk beside, in front of, and in back of the child", thus describing all of the ways in which we inspire, guide, follow and support."