Lori Pickert on Art and Learning the Reggio Way

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Lori Pickert is the brains behind the children's art blog, Camp Creek Press, as well as the Inspiration Boards Blog. She is a homeschooling mama of two, a writer, a teacher, and a Reggio educational consultant.

JEAN: So first of all, can you tell us a bit about your background? How did you come to make art a priority and to teach it to your children and to other families?

LORI: In 2000 I started a Reggio-inspired private school for preschool students. It eventually grew to include a multiage K-3rd grade class as well. I was passionate about the Reggio approach to early childhood education. We had art studios for each class, incorporating art every day with long-term projects. Children used art to explore topics, ask questions, do research, and express ideas. Eventually I began working as an educational consultant, training over 100 teachers in my state in the Reggio approach and how to use long-term projects and authentic art to build a curriculum.

JEAN: How did you become interested in Reggio initially?

LORI: During the year before I opened my school, I focused on learning everything I could about early childhood education. I read everything–Dewey, Vygotsky, Piaget, Montessori, Erickson… Somewhere in that year of study, I picked up and read The Hundred Languages of Children. I was already focused on collaborative, project-based learning. The Reggio approach synthesized everything I believed and felt about what children need and deserve.

JEAN: I understand that you homeschool your two boys. How long have you been homeschooling and how did you make the decision to do so?

LORI: Our primary class was forced to close, and I started homeschooling my sons at that time, three years ago. My older son was 8; my younger son was 5. There was no question that we would homeschool. My private school continued to offer preschool and an after-school program, so for a couple of years we homeschooled-at-school. They had a library, art studio, room for music practice-it was great! Now we are homeschooling at home, and we like it even more, if that's possible. When I was running my school, one of the best comments I received was that it was "like homeschooling with other kids." We really do all the same things now that we did then-long-term projects, open-access art studio, etc.-except now we're at home, which is our favorite place to be.

JEAN: Can you give a few examples of the long-term art projects you did in your school? How about long-term art projects that your boys do now?

LORI: Rather than art projects, they are learning projects. Within those projects, the children explore and represent ideas using art. (In Reggio parlance, they use the many languages available to them-drawing, painting, sculpting, modeling, etc.) Our students did months-long projects on the ocean (comparing and contrasting with our local lakes and rivers), musical instruments, frogs, construction equipment, Shakespeare, and much more. Each "topic" is really just a starting point from which the children explode outward along different lines of inquiry. We had a preschool class where the children studied one project for an entire year, then came back after summer break and asked to continue! This year, my sons have done projects on birds, Greek mythology, geology, and cartooning. As they work on these projects, they read books, write books, interview experts, take field trips, and create representations of their learning in every art medium: drawing, painting, collage, clay sculpture, wire sculpture, model building, and so on.

JEAN: So this is how your family incorporates art into your homeschool day?

LORI: We have an art studio where we can all work together. The boys have been making art on almost a daily basis since they were toddlers. There is some art component to virtually everything we do-illustrating letters and books we write, making models and sculptures for projects. They create something every day. Even their free play incorporates making art. They build and make things every day-swords, costumes, buildings for action figures. Right now they are really into making stop-motion Lego Star Wars movies.

JEAN: Will you describe your art studio?

LORI: We have room for a drafting table, a two-sided easel, and another table for working on projects. We have lots of wonderful natural light and places to store heaps of materials. The floor is concrete, so we don't worry about spilling paint or anything else. Everything is accessible, so the boys can work independently.

JEAN: Can you also tell us about the weekly art class that you teach?

LORI: I teach an art class for homeschooled students once a week. The children range in age from 5 to 12. The lessons are available online here. I am really enjoying working with a large group of children again. We are exploring different media, focusing on lots of time for free exploration and open-ended projects. This spring and summer, we are working on nature journals.

JEAN: I don't know much about Reggio Emilia but would love to learn. Will you describe this educational philosophy briefly and also tell us how it has influenced your family and your approach to art?

LORI: The Reggio approach promotes an image of children as strong, resourceful, and capable of constructing their own knowledge. Teachers are researchers and co-learners, negotiating the curriculum with their students. Long-term projects and daily work in the art studio with high-quality art supplies leads to amazing, inspiring work by young children. One key idea is that children have "100 languages" with which they can learn about the world-these include all of the visual arts as well as singing, dancing, talking, storytelling, etc.-and it's our job to make sure they have access to all of those languages. ReChild is a wonderful free magazine, downloadable in PDF format, that explores the philosophy and some of the projects created in the Reggio Emilia schools.

JEAN: What books have most influenced your family as artists and as homeschoolers?

LORI: The Hundred Languages of Children and Authentic Childhood have probably done the most to form my opinions on learning through projects and authentic art. As a homeschooling parent, John Holt's books as well as Ivan Illich's Deschooling Society  have had the greatest influence.

JEAN: What are some of your sons' favorite art activities? How about for your art class?

LORI: My sons work enthusiastically with every media from charcoal to clay to scratch art. Drawing and painting is such a normal part of their day, I don't even think they notice it as art per se. They communicate naturally by drawing, making, and building.

One of their favorite activities is building sculptures and models from recycled materials. They've never seen a problem they can't solve with enough masking tape and cardboard.

I can't speak for the children in my class, but my favorite activity is to take them out in the world to draw-at the museum, at the park, etc.

JEAN:  People have so many different reasons for blogging. Can you tell us why you blog? And how did you decide on Camp Creek Press as your blog name?

LORI: I have been spending this year working on book projects, and my blog is a casual writing side project that helps keep my brain limber. Camp Creek Press is named for the creek that wraps around two sides of our country property. In general, I blog to meet people with similar interests and share some of the things I'm passionate about. I've made some incredible friends through Flickr and the blog world. It's also a great writing exercise and keeps me focused on my many projects.

JEAN: I see that Camp Creek Press is subtitled Books and Curriculum for the Artful Child. How do you define an artful child? How does one inspire and encourage a child to be artful?

LORI: My studio teacher and I co-wrote a book that will be published in the next year about authentic art for children. An artful child, to me, is one who is fluent in the languages of drawing, painting, building, and sculpting-a child who can use art to ask questions and express ideas.

One way you can encourage a child to develop these abilities is to make art a normal part of your everyday life-sketching together as a family, making art materials easily accessible for everyday use, making things yourselves rather than purchasing them. Rather than being a "special" thing that you do, make art a normal part of how you interact with the world.

JEAN: I get so much inspiration from interviewing interesting people and realize that others do too. Can you tell us about your Inspiration Boards Blog and perhaps about the inspiration you yourself get from interviewing others?

LORI: I am inspired by creative people who are actively pursuing their passions. It doesn't matter whether the person is a painter, a photographer, a chef, or a landscape architect-if someone is passionately engaged in creating something meaningful to them, I want to know about what inspires them. Everyone has interests, but not everyone gets off the sofa and really pursues what they love. I want to talk to people who are actively engaged in that pursuit. The Inspiration Boards Blog is yet another one of my side projects-interviewing these creative people and sharing their thoughts on inspiration with others. It grew out of my Inspiration Boards Flickr group, which is also a wonderful source of inspiration, with over 1,800 inspiration boards and more uploaded every day. I recently posted my interview with the fantastic Maira Kalman, one of my biggest personal inspirations, and I'll soon be posting interviews with Amy Butler, Denyse Schmidt, and Lotta Jansdotter.

JEAN: Finally, how on earth do you find the time and space for yourself and your writing, especially when you homeschool and teach a class? This is something I'm grappling with right now. I'm interested in homeschooling, but also find myself wishing for more time to myself and for my writing.

LORI: I love to work; other than hanging out with my family, I would rather work than do anything else. So I don't do much TV watching or housework or working out (I do none of that, actually). Homeschooling really lightens our load. There's no commute, no homework, no inflexible schedule ruling our lives. We have so much extra time during the day for playing, for reading, for talking. My children are older (8 and 11), so they are busy during the day with their own projects, and at this point they do almost all of their learning independently. So I have plenty of time to work and write. Just not quite enough time to clean the house. ;^)

JEAN: Is there anything else you would like to add?

LORI: Thank you for interviewing me! :^)

JEAN: Thank YOU Lori! I'm off to read some books about the Reggio approach to education. Sounds like it might be right up my alley…

If you would like to learn more about Lori Pickert and her blogs, you can visit Camp Creek Press or the Inspiration Boards Blog.

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  1. says

    What a great interview. I have been reading camp creek press for a few days now and am loving it. Reggio is such an amazing educational approach.

  2. says

    So fun to learn more about Lori, my long-lost sister;^).
    Her site has been a great inspiration for our little boys (check out her posts on art supplies and setting up a kid-friendly space).
    Her description of home-school— “no inflexible schedule ruling our lives” — sounds so delightful!

  3. says

    Thanks for another great interview. I have heard of Camp Creek Press, but now I will definitely be following it more closely. And I’ll definitely be researching the Reggio stuff fto see if it will fit in with what we’re doing.

  4. says

    Another great interview. Lori, I have been drawn to the Reggio approach for quite awhile thanks for the great book suggestions and for your inspiring Camp Creek blog.

  5. says

    Thank you so much for a wonderful interview with Lori. She is an amazing person who shares so much of the talents of others, it is nice (and very deserving) to have the light shined in her direction this time. Where Lori is concerned I am a fan, a reader, a friend, and a learner – not necissarily in that order. She is a treasure; everything she’s involved with is a gem.

  6. egana says

    interviews are tricky beasts…
    it is difficult to know what questions to ask to help the heart and soul of the person shine through AND convey those essential pieces of practical informaton as well…
    Congratulations on an excellent interview!

  7. threesneakybugs says

    I finally found some time to sit down and thoroughly read this post. My children go to an in-home preschool which uses the Reggio approach. By in-home I mean it’s like a little preschool only it’s in the home of the teacher. She mostly concentrates on 3-5 yr olds but will take one sibling infant and one sibling toddler at a time as well. This means even my 11 month old is getting the benefits of a preschool. I really adore my children’s teacher. I couldn’t do half as good of a job as her. Once we placed my son in her care (about a year ago) he really started to flourish. I love that she picks up on his interest and the whole group will do projects based on something he said. I love that he comes home with information that I have to verify because I’m not as well versed on the topic. I also love that art is so integrated into her approach.
    Thank you for the interview with Lori. I’ve been reading her blog on and off for while but this gave me a greater incite in to her as well as into the Reggio approach.
    Now with all of my obvious free time I’m going to squeeze in reading some of the books mentioned as well as ReChild.

  8. Eileen says

    Hi Lori,
    What a wonderful interview! Thank you for the information. I have been doing some research on Reggio, homeschooling and other philosophies. I currently am a special education teacher in the public school system. For the most part I love my job; however, there are MANY things I don’t agree with. I have a almost 3 year old and 8 month old. I am reseraching my alternatives for them when it comes to education and I have a question for you. Everything I am reading seems to be art based, what if a child isn’t much into art? My daughter for example will paint, color, playdough, etc.f or about 10 minutes tops, but when it comes to running outside, dribbling a ball, or playing on a playground I can’t get her in! I guess I am wondering how she would fit into such models? Thank Eileen

  9. says

    hi, eileen – and thank you!
    while many people focus on the visual arts aspect of the Reggio approach, the hundred languages actually embrace kinesthetic learners – children *do* learn in different ways and can engage with a subject and express their knowledge by building, dancing, performing skits, dramatic play, and in many other active ways.
    and while the visual arts (e.g., drawing, painting, collage) are important, an active child might be more engaged with building models, sculpting clay, creating large-scale dramatic play structures (e.g., child-size vehicles, buildings, rooms), etc.
    the idea isn’t to try to funnel a child toward visual arts, but rather give them a whole smorgasbord of choices – books about buildings and bridges and other structures *with* a fantastic array of blocks and other building materials, a great dress-up trunk *with* a stage to dance and perform on, an art studio with a quiet nook to draw in *and* an array of exciting things to build and scupt with. and when a child shows a particular interest, paying attention and providing them with what they need to take the work further.
    if you are interested in the Reggio approach specifically, if you delve a little deeper you will find wonderful garden- and park-centered projects to read about.
    since you already know your child has a strong desire to be outside, you can meet her halfway and provide her with tools for learning outdoors – magnifying glass, binoculars, bug box, field guides, sandbox, outdoor building materials (rocks, shells, pinecones, etc.), a work area outdoors (perhaps a small table), scarves for running and dancing, a garden… we set up easels outdoors with pencils, oil pastels, and paint so that children can paint and play and draw and play – and there are so many exciting things to learn about outside!
    good luck, and feel free to contact me if you have other questions!