Books, Stories, and the Imagination at "The Nursery Rhyme": A Qualitative Case Study of a Preschool Learning Environment in Pistoia, Italy

By Edwards, Carolyn Pope; Cline, Keely et al. | Journal of Research in Childhood Education, January-March 2014 | Go to article overview

Books, Stories, and the Imagination at "The Nursery Rhyme": A Qualitative Case Study of a Preschool Learning Environment in Pistoia, Italy


Edwards, Carolyn Pope, Cline, Keely, Gandini, Lella, Giacomelli, Alga, Giovannini, Donatella, Galardini, Annalia, Journal of Research in Childhood Education


The progressive educational systems of some regions of Italy are becoming increasingly recognized by educators and researchers seeking insight into diverse educational approaches from the international community. This article represents a case study of Filastrocca ("Nursery Rhyme"), a preschool in the Tuscan city of Pistoia. Filastrocca proclaims a special mission related to books, storytelling, and the imagination and appears to offer a unique environment that supports children's active and enthusiastic engagement in complex literacy discussions and activities. This article provides a detailed description of the learning environment for language and literacy at the preschool, presents an analysis of issues/themes, and offers assertions and reflections. There is an emphasis on exploring what kinds of opportunities related to books, storytelling, and the imagination support and encourage young children and their families, and in examining how the learning environment reflects the mission of the school in fostering early childhood language and literacy.

Keywords: early childhood education, preschool literacy, environmental, family participation, literacy activities

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What is the place of imagination in education? The word imagination does not appear in the government's list of "Goals 2000," nor does it turn up on lists of behavioral objectives or educational outcomes. There is no imagination curriculum or pedagogy of the imagination in our schools. Yet if, as the poet Wallace Stevens wrote, "the imagination is the power of the mind over the possibilities of things," then to neglect the imagination is also to impoverish children's worlds and to narrow their hopes. (Herbert Kohl, as cited in Rodari, 1996, p. ix)

Filastrocca is a welcoming school that pays attention and listens to the children and seeks to promote their well-being and independence. We place trust in the children in order to gain their trust, establish an atmosphere full of respect and affection, and foster a harmonious development. Thoughts become affection; without affection there is no thought. The familiar relationships established among the children and their sharing of experiences foster a common group life that is affectionate and relaxed. (Alga Giacomelli, as quoted in Edwards & Gandini, 2008, p. 3)

In recent decades, educators and researchers have become increasingly interested in exploring diverse educational approaches by seeking insight from the international community, including from the progressive educational systems of some regions of Italy. The interest in Italian approaches has focused heavily on the infant--toddler centers and preschools of Reggio Emilia, in the northern Italian region of Emilia Romagna (e.g., Edwards, Gandini, & Forman, 2012), but increasingly there is interest in educational practices in other cities where Italian educators, public officials, parents, and general citizens have worked together to build systems of high-quality, public services to support and serve young children and their families. The cities of Modena, Parma, Bologna, Milan, San Miniato, Trento, and Pistoia are among the cities of northern and central Italy that have earned particular recognition for their energetic efforts and success stories (e.g., Corsaro & Molinari, 2005; Gandini & Edwards, 2001; New, 2003; New, Mardell, & Robinson, 2005; Picchio, Giovannini, Mayer, & Musatti, 2012). Although Reggio Emilia continues to receive the highest level of international recognition, the other localities are also acknowledged sites of important leadership and experimentation.

For example, the central Italian city of Pistoia, in the region of Tuscany, has put forward a strong concept regarding the responsibility of public administration to create ways and means to enhance family participation in educational services. Pistoia has pioneered a system of diverse services and resources to reach out across the generations and segments of the city and communicate children's needs and a positive view of childhood. …

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