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Philosophy and Curriculum


The Fishback Center for Early Childhood Education's philosophy is grounded in social constructivism and inquiry-based learning. Children are capable, competent and able to build their knowledge through exploration and social interaction.

Relationships with caring and responsive teachers are not only children’s rights, but are crucial to their growth, learning and development. These relationships help children to nurture their curiosity, to develop questions and to hypothesize about possible connections so that they may make meaning of their world.

The Fishback Center for Early Childhood Education sees parents as the children’s first teachers. Teachers and college students are seen as their second teachers and the environment of learning as their third teacher. Special consideration is given to the materials that are chosen for the children’s opportunities for learning and how teachers construct the spaces where children will play, learn and interact with their peers and adults in the center.

In 2001, the teaching teams of the Fishback Center for ECE began to study the work of teachers in Reggio Emilia, Italy. The schools in Reggio Emilia are world renowned and their practices have been considered to influence best practices in the field of early childhood education.

What is the Reggio Emilia Approach?

Over the last 30 years or so, Reggio Emilia has been a reference point for those who want to reflect on and seriously discuss the educational reality of their own communities. Therefore, on one level, the Reggio Emilia approach is about teaching and learning in our own communities. The focus is on human relationships and human agency in learning and development. Thus, it challenges the more traditional view of the child-adult relationship as being unidirectional and looks instead at children and adults in a process of mutual and reciprocal relationship (Rinaldi, 2006).

What does it mean to be Reggio-inspired?

We say we are inspired by the principles of the Reggio Emilia approach. This means that we have entered into a dialogue with the ideals and principles of the Reggio Emilia approach; but we have no intentions to be like or copy the Reggio Emilia approach. To be inspired by Reggio is about educating young children in our community, in Brookings, South Dakota. The lab school, and all who teach and learn with young children within it, is a "place of encounter and dialogue."

This dialogue is about:

  • Embracing children as sources of their own learning and development;
  • Viewing learning as a negotiated process among children and between adults and children;
  • Understanding that education takes place through relationships;
  • Making visible learning processes and relationships. We make inferences about what children are learning through documentation. Because relationships often do not leave traces, we must make these visible. What is essential often escapes our view. "Some of the really important things cannot be measured – that is why we document, to bring to life what usually escapes our eyes and to help teachers discover what is involved in children’s learning processes." (Sergio Spaggiari, 2000);
  • Working together in making our school/programs learning communities for adults as well as children;
  • Thinking in new ways about sharing in children's early education and development.

Listening is a pedagogy.

We listen to the children, to parents, to our colleagues and to our own thinking as an important part of what it means to educate. To listen means:

  • To legitimate the other (their theories, questions, point of view).
  • To be open to others (differences) and what they have to say.
  • To give value and respect.
  • To be open to change.

ECE Majors' Explanations of the Fishback Center Philosophy

Focused on Social Constructivism and Inquiry-based Learning, we believe children are competent and capable learners in the fact that they are able to do things for themselves. We emphasize the importance between parents, teachers, children and campus. The parents are a heavy influence as a primary teacher in the children's lives. Overall our value is that children learn through play and learning is fun! - John, Aleshia and Marie

Our program's philosophy is based around children being capable, competent individuals. They construct their knowledge through play, experiences and inquiry. We strive to create a safe environment through meaningful relationships between children, teachers and family members. These principles are all grounded in communication. - Nicole, Lexie, Emma, Mallory, Kati, and Amanda

Children construct their knowledge immersed in a social context. This social setting includes teachers, peers, parents and other adults. We try to help children answer their own questions so the curriculum is meaningful to them. Communication with children, family members and teachers is crucial and builds trusting relationships. We need to remain open to suggestions and to see others' perspectives. – Paula, Laura, Bobbi, Laura and Karapan


We believe that what we plan and do at the Fishback Center should be based on social constructivism and inquiry-based practices.

What does Social Constructivism mean?

Social Constructivism is the philosophical belief that all knowledge and the means for acquiring knowledge are constructed in interaction with others in a context. We believe that learning is an active process. Children build relationships with each other and with objects as they learn. Children learn through social process of constructing relationships among and between objects, events, and people through interaction with others in ways that modify their perspectives.

What does it mean to be Inquiry-based?

Children are innately curious. They are competent, capable learners who need to find out in order to understand. Curiosity is demonstrated through questioning that is open-ended and investigative, and through inquiry designed to find out something not known, but perhaps anticipated or hypothesized. We believe teaching and learning is an inquiry process.

Children's questions and their ability to make meaning of their world is the basis for our school's curriculum. They work together in small groups, large groups and also individually to manipulate, problem-solve and interact in order to make connections.