Children’s mini college aligned to Italian pre-school model |

Children’s mini college aligned to Italian pre-school model

Niki Delson
High Country RSVP
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox Post Independent file photo

What do you think the city of Glenwood Springs imports from a prosperous town located in the hills of northern Italy? A culinary expert might guess that our best chefs import the famous vintage balsalmic vinegars, parmesan cheese and Lambrusco wine from this town called “Reggio” by its inhabitants.

A few educators and perhaps some parents know the unique import is for children – an approach to early childhood learning where all children are honored, respected for their potential, their capabilities and their humanity.

The Reggio Emilia philosophy of early childhood education has its origins in a 16th Century municipality in northern Italy that carries its name. Loris Malaguzzi and the parents of the surrounding villages created the preschool curriculum in 1945.

World War II and the fascist dictatorship had ended. There was a “desire to bring change and create a new, more just world, free from oppression.” (

The municipal schools in Reggio Emilia serve as a model for progressive early childhood centers throughout the world. The model focuses on a child’s competencies rather than the child’s deficiencies, and asserts that all children possess multiple intelligences, and multiple modes of communication and expression.

It has been hailed as one of the 10 best model schools in the world (Newsweek 1991). The children’s mini college (deliberately spelled without capital letters) in Glenwood Springs uses this approach as the foundation for its early childhood education program.

“We know that parents are the primary educators of preschoolers, and we are here to support them and get the children socially and emotionally ready for their primary years of school,” says Joan Chovanec, executive director and teacher for the school. Parents are viewed as partners, advocates for their children and collaborators with the staff.

Chovanec, also the parent of a mini college graduate, said, “The three R’s form the basic premise of the school – respect for self, others and the environment.”

These fundamentals are the foundation that helps staff build a child-centered community for children ages 3 to 6, encouraging them to explore and discover their world in a safe and supportive environment.

Children’s mini college is a part day preschool that offers four-hour classes two to five mornings per week or three afternoons per week.

The open design of the physical space enables children to investigate different mediums at their own pace, while teachers guide and provide opportunities for the children to practice new skills.

By the age of 2, toddler’s brains are as active as an adult’s brain, and by age 31⁄2 the toddler brain is two and a half times more active than adult brains. The pre-school environment may look over-stimulating to an adult, but during the pre-school years, children’s brains are absorbing information at a phenomenal rate.

Children’s mini college accommodates this stunning capacity to soak up new information by organizing the physical space to provide areas where children can engage in imaginary play, focus on scientific endeavors, use creative art materials, look at books, practice woodworking and building, listen to and play musical instruments and enjoy quiet time.

“We consider the classroom to be another teacher,” said Chovanec.

Children learn many new and practical skills at this age. For example, children have to learn the concept of sequencing: what comes first, what comes next, what comes last. During the winter, children will often put on their mittens before they attempt to put on their snow boots and snowsuit. Trial and error, along with teacher encouragement, help the child master this skill.

Through their play, children learn to share, take turns, resolve conflicts and negotiate with other children. These are among the important social and emotional skills that are part of the curriculum.

Colorado Mountain College makes a generous commitment to early childhood education in its support of the children’s mini college. This preschool has educated more than 1,100 children since the facility opened in 1978.

To learn more about the mini college, visit during the open house from 4-6 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 15.

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