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Italy trek for preschool teacher explores culture, lessons

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June 16, 2010 - Judy Mauro Schwartz is bringing Italy to Ortonville. At least, as far as teaching strategies are concerned.

Schwartz, the teacher/director of Brandon Cooperative Preschool, went to Italy in late May.

"I used the trip for three reasons," Schwartz said. "I went partially for vacation, partially to see family, and partially for professional development."

Schwartz decided she wanted to get an Italian point of view on education, so she sought schools to observe.

"I didn't have any connections to schools in Italy," she said. "I just started hunting. Asking hotels or people on the street who were walking with children."

It worked.

Schwartz spent time in preschool classrooms at La Scuola dell'Infanzia de Santa Maria della Pieta in Sorrento, La Scuola de Materna Tomassa in Anacapri, and Elementere Caronova in Milan.

"I was very lucky they were so welcoming," Schwartz said.

She said there were some definite differences to be observed. Especially in regards to art.

"They focus on the child's identity more than we do here. They are very concerned with the child's contributions to the world and their self-expression," Schwartz said.

As far as self-expression is concerned, art is the most emphasized subject in Italian preschools.

"They don't write at all in preschool. They aren't as focused on pre-reading or writing or math," Schwartz said.

While Schwartz realized cultural differences make some of the classroom differences unadoptable to the United States, there are some things she would like to consider for her own classes.

"I would like to adopt their more structured art activities," Schwartz said. "I find that the incredibly open-ended assignments are more difficult for kids, because they don't know where to go with it."

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