The Hundred Languages

The Hundred Languages

This poem was written by Loris Malaguzzi, founder and once director of the preschools and infant-toddler centers of the Municipality of Reggio Emilia, Italy. The work of the adults and children of those centers has inspired educators’ work worldwide for decades. The “One Hundred Languages” is at the core of their approach to learning. It is an idea that we have integrated into our work with children at Little Owl School.

What is the Hundred Languages of Children?

When I read the part of Malaguzzi’s poem, where he says, “the Child is made of One Hundred” and “the Child has one hundred languages,” I understand the statement he is making about the Child’s learning process and the many possible ways children think, learn and create. Life unfolds in innumerable ways, and the Child has many ways to explore it, understand it, and express their understanding.

When Malaguzzi says, “they steal ninety-nine,” I think about the ways that society can put limits on how children learn; it views the Child as not competent or capable. When “they” steal ninety-nine, they take away the vibrant energy involved in the Child’s learning process. Curiosity, which is necessary for discovery and innovation, is shut off. The children are robbed of the joy that follows learning.

Children thrive when given space and time to work with various open-ended materials. Such materials include paper, paint, clay, wire, blocks, mud, sand, water, and so much more. We open the door to the Child’s potential by facilitating their opportunities to work with tools like scissors, screwdrivers, wire cutters, saws, and hammers. We help them expand their thinking by interacting with them through storytelling, poetry, and song.

Every creative experience presents a problem to be solved. When children “play” around with materials, they begin to discover their potential and limitations. When children build their knowledge about materials and learn how they work, they learn to become resourceful; and know and understand themselves. There is no more valuable knowledge to possess than to know yourself.

Here is another thought about the Hundred Languages, to live means to learn. I like to think of life as a mountain with many paths to the top. Each individual is on their path. When it comes to helping children learn and develop, I like to think of something else that Malaguzzi once said, “Our task, regarding creativity, is to help children climb their mountains, as high as possible. No one can do more.”

Adults must reconnect to the “Hundred” in themselves to help children realize their full potential and climb to the top of their mountain. They must realize that they are also made of One Hundred. We are all endowed with the potential to connect with the world, explore it, know it, and understand it. Nature gives us a Hundred ways of learning, but it must be nurtured. How? By cultivating an environment that continually presents Children and Adults with the opportunities to wonder, create, explore, and discover. It is only in this environment that we can, without question, know and experience “the Hundred is there.”

Written by Darryl Redick, Little Owl School, Director of Program Teaching and Learning

Exploring the Hundred Languages (2020)

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