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What role do the Hundred Languages play in 4th and 5th grade?

The following poem has helped me shape and deepen my understanding of
teaching practices inspired by the early childhood centers in Reggio Emilia,
Italy.  It also helps to keep me humble
in my understanding that while the children I work with have (at least) these
hundred languages, I may not, and it is my job to keep offering materials and
languages for children to explore, and even more, it is my job to keep my eyes,
ears and heart open to see and hear languages that haven’t been named yet, that
might exist for only one child in my classroom, but that are necessary for that
child to communicate and make meaning of his or her world. 

The Hundred Languages

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

but they steal ninety-nine.
The school and the culture
separate the head from the

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

They tell the child:
to discover the world already

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 early childhood centers in Reggio Emilia, Italy


languages, once you start to collect them, get to know them, and learn how to
access them, are extremely powerful.  They
allow the children in our classrooms to communicate and explore their
thinking.  They offer entry points into
the work that might not otherwise exist. 
They invite collaboration.  They
affect us emotionally, letting us relax and tune in to what we are doing.  And, one of my favorite things about teaching
through multiple languages, they allow for translation, moving from one
language to another, to clarify, stretch and challenge thinking and ideas.

Some of the
languages we have been using so far (that I know of!) in Opal 4 include drama, dramatic
play, drawing (contour line drawing, observational drawing, blackline drawing),
singing, clay, masking tape, printmaking, watercolors, loose parts collage,
writing/reading/text, maps and globes, math, blocks, and PE games. 

This week I
got to see how offering many opportunities to explore an idea through different
languages affected the children, the community and the work we are doing in
Opal 4.

Our project
work this year is inspired first by the fifth grade social studies strand, US
history from 1492 to 1786.  Our starting
point, the story of the Mayflower and the encounter between the English
Separatists and the Wampanoag Indians in 1620, was inspired by a student in our
class.  He spent part of the summer in
Massachusetts and went to visit Plimoth Plantation while he was there, and
eagerly shared images and stories from his time there.

To invite
the children into playful inquiry with this story, we decided to split the
class into the two groups – half of them are English Separatists (bound for the
Mayflower journey) and half of them are Wampanoag Indians in the year 1619.  Then, we invited them create the starting
places, the settings, of their stories.

These places are Leiden, Holland (where the Separatists lived for
a few years while England was hostile toward their practices) and Wampanoag
Territory (which we now call the southeastern corner of the state of

We are using some of the hundred languages to create these places
in our classroom, in the Arboretum, and in our imaginations. 


Locate your places on the globe. 
What do you notice?  What are you


Take an imaginary trip from Portland, Oregon to Plymouth,
Massachusetts and then across the Atlantic Ocean to Leiden, Holland.  How far away is each of these places?  How did people travel in 1620? 


Looking at images of our places and sketching what we see.  What was the landscape like in these places
in 1619?


How will you work with your group to plan the landscape you want to have on your wall? 

SR:  We made a basic plan.

MG:  I don’t know if I agree with all of it.

SR:  We should have a longhouse and trees.  We thought we should have medium huts.

KG:  How do you know we have medium huts?

MG:  You guys haven’t done enough research.

SK:  I went home and did research.

SR:  I think it should be near a bay.

IM:  Well we were thinking we’d need some sort of
bay with mud, trees and a longhouse.

KG:  I think there would only be one longhouse
because it’s so big.

DE:  We made a well so they could get water.  These guys have a canoe.  We need a toolshed for weapons.

SK:  I’m not sure they had wells.

DE:  Here’s mountains.

KG:  According to Levia, Massachusetts is pretty

LH:  So we thought back here is where the bay
should be, on kind of flat ground.  Then
a forest and crops closest to the longhouse and wetus.  There is also like how SR and SK drew it, a
main fire.

MG:  But in the wetus you also have your own
[fire].  When I looked it up it said they
build out of red cedar.

QS:  In this book there is a picture of an inside
support and it’s a big pole.

SR:  Okay, maybe we should try to mix all of these
ideas together.

SK:  Not yet. 
We need to do more research.


How will you work with your group to plan the landscape you want to
have on your wall? 

OD:  There will be lots of houses really close to
each other and an Indian slave in Leiden.

RD:  That will happen after we come back.  AB, are we going to come back?

MM:  If you look at the pictures there are lots of
canals and old cities.

AB:  I think we need a canal and a few boats.  Over here more countryside and over here more

HG:  We should do a second layer under it with a

VR:  I think we should have more city because on
the maps there is a lot more city.

NT:  I don’t think it should be that modern.

MM:  It’s not modern.

MB:  Let’s listen to her whole idea first.

NT:  The shops are really close together and
corner shops.

RD:  Like in San Francisco, there is no space in

NT:  But they’d have corners.

AB:  Like one building with different shapes cut

RD:  Like a strip mall.

AB:  Yeah.

HG:  Each would have their own chimney and stuff.

MB:  Wait, EL had an idea to share too. (MB
follows EL and brings him back)

EL:  I think that we should have – don’t ask me
how to make it – I was thinking cottages out here and a castle like that.

AB:  The castle is a church.




How will you all work together to tape the landscapes on the walls
with blue painters' tape?


What research do you need to do to fill in details about your


How will written texts help us get mental images of our places?




Can we find a place in the arboretum where we can imagine our

And then this invitation, that allowed the children to communicate, using drawing, what they were seeing in their imaginations:

How can we capture what we see in our imaginations about the
places we found in the Arboretum by drawing maps?


This drawing is of the natural places with the names of the landscape elements written on top.


This drawing artfully combines the natural elements and the manmade structures this girl sees in her imagination.


This drawing shows only the manmade structures that live in this boy's imagination.


and this drawing is an abstract illustration of where the ideas of each element exist in space.

What a gift for me to see these varied representations of the same place through four different sets of eyes!  And how amazing to see how similarly laid out each map is – the children have such a strong shared understanding of the places they are creating in their shared imagination.  

And now, these bold landscapes are coming to life in our classroom:


Wampanoag Territory, circa 1619


Leiden, Holland, circa 1619

November 02, 2013

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