Children Are Citizens: Children and Teachers Collaborating Across Washington, DC” is a professional development and curriculum project inspired by the practices of the world-renowned municipal preschools of Reggio Emilia, Italy. It is grounded in the belief that children are not just future or hypothetical citizens, but, instead, are citizens in their own right in the here and now, with the capacity to express their opinions and participate in the civic and cultural life of their city. The project aims to connect young children with the nation’s capital in meaningful, lasting ways.

As the world becomes increasingly connected and interdependent, knowledge of ourselves as individual learners and as members of a community becomes ever more important. People need to be able to listen to one another, to work together to identify and solve problems, and to acknowledge and respect diverse points of view. When children grow up in a culture and begin their schooling with support for thinking, feeling, and acting in groups, they are more likely to participate in and practice democracy as informed and caring citizens.

Begun by Project Zero early childhood researchers Mara Krechevsky and Ben Mardell and managed by the Professional Development Collaborative, this project organizes a series of monthly professional development seminars, provides consultations with the Project Zero researchers and local mentors, and facilitates collaborative meetings with colleagues on planning and enacting the emerging curriculum. Experienced Reggio practitioners serve as leaders of the seminar series and guide the participating teachers and mentors.

The project launches at the start of the school year. Throughout the fall the teachers listen to their students about what they find most interesting about DC. They organize ways to have young children explore the city, along the way learning that they are fascinated by things such as the Metro, the streetcar system, monuments, museums, Union Station, natural spaces, public art, and playgrounds.

During the winter, the teachers help the children research these sites of interest. They listen as children ask questions and theorize about these places. The children talk, write, draw, play, improvise, and create three-dimensional models about their ideas. Teachers, children, and parents take field trips to various sites around DC, while arts educators from partnering institutions come into the classrooms to deepen and enliven the children’s research. The monthly professional development seminars for the teachers introduce new ways to support children’s inquiry into the city. Children share their work, questions, and feedback across neighborhoods and across schools; in the process they became part of something bigger than themselves.

In the spring, the teachers and children synthesize their learning and create pages they contribute to a book about the project. The year culminates with a Family Day celebration and book launch at the National Gallery of Art. 

For the 2017 book, click here

For the 2018 book, click here

Children Are Citizens began with its first cohort of teachers in fall 2014, representing 20 classrooms and approximately 300 students. Members of that group included teachers and administrators from Sacred Heart School, School Within School at Goding (DCPS), Seaton Elementary School (DCPS), the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center, and Washington International School. Funding came from PNC’s Grow Up Great program, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and an individual donor.

In 2016-17, there were six participating sites, 17 classrooms and over 300 children involved in the second phase of the project: DC Bilingual Public Charter School, Sacred Heart School, Seaton Elementary School (DCPS), Elsie W. Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School, Sunshine Early Learning Center andJ.O. Wilson Elementary School (DCPS). Grants supporting the project came from Fight For Children and PNC’s Grow Up Great program.

In 2017-18, we involved seven sites featuring 25 classrooms and over 400 children. Van Ness Elementary School (DCPS) joined the group of sites that participated in 2016-17. Fight For Children supported the project that year.

The project is indebted to its cultural institution partners–DC Public Library, Imagination Stage, the National Building Museum, the National Gallery of Art, and the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum–who have provided invaluable STEAM-infused experiences for each of the participating classrooms.

The project has garnered national publicity in a variety of early childhood publications and was featured in The Atlantic online in 2015.

October 5-6, 2018, Washington International School hosted the first-ever Children Are Citizens: Civic Agency in the Early Years conference! 120 people, representing 33 traditional public, public charter, independent, religious, and higher education schools, attended the conference at WIS’s Primary School campus in Georgetown.