Once upon a time, in the small town of Reggio Emilia, a group of parents came together to discuss how to teach their youngest children.
It was not a fairy-tale moment. The town had been ravaged by World War II, and the citizens of the village were still reeling from the aftermath of the war. But they were steadfast in their commitment to creating a better world for the village’s children. And they knew that a growing, young spirit yearns for expression through art, music, and movement.
Together, parents, educators (particularly educational expert Loris Malaguzzi), and the children themselves joined efforts. Together, they began to heal. And together, they established a community school for young children that gave birth to a poignant yet ever-so-clear set of principles about learning.
Similar to a resilient bloom emerging through rubble, the transformative approach to early childhood education grew. Over the decades it spread beyond Italy, beyond Europe, to locations throughout the world.
One of those locations is Preschool of the Arts in Madison, Wisconsin. Established in 1975, the school began adopting the Reggio Emilia approach in 1995. For decades it has remained dedicated to facilitating child-focused exploration, creativity, and collaboration in some of the youngest learners in the city of Madison.
When you walk the halls of Preschool of the Arts, you immediately begin to sense how unique it is as an early childhood environment. But the Reggio Emilia approach is still not well-known in the United States. In the process of communicating with prospective new families, faculty members, supporters, and partners, school administrators and board members realized that they needed a video that would help explain exactly what made Preschool of the Arts unique. At this point, they contacted Focal Flame to create a video.
Stacy Mitchell, executive director, said, “Preschool of the Arts had the privilege of collaborating with Focal Flame on our most recent short film for our website and for promotional materials. When we discussed our mutual vision for this project, I was struck by how receptive the Focal Flame team was to subtle shifts and they made it a point to not only know our school and our philosophy of working with children, they understood the depth of what we wanted to convey.”
The project began with intake discussions between Preschool of the Arts administrators and Focal Flame co-founder and lead videographer Clint Thayer. Co-founder and writer Robyn Perrin drafted a treatment and narrative script, and Clint mapped out the creative imagery required for the project. Josh Zytkiewicz, operations manager, meticulously planned out logistics of interview and B-roll footage shoots, and provided skilled lighting assistance during shoots.
The Focal Flame crew was entranced with the setting provided by Preschool of the Arts classrooms, art and music studios, and hallways adorned with student artwork. Clint said, “This space is a treasure cove of beautiful things, from the childrens’ art to the well-designed spaces indoors and out. I see something new and fascinating every time I walk through the doors and I had a hard time packing up.”
But the delight that the crew held for the school didn’t interfere with teaching. Stacy said, “Filming was easy and [the crew] was respectful to our time and our constraints. Clint and his team expertly set up and filmed with minimal impact to our school day. The team was able to pull from the testimonial filming and the classroom filming the very essence of our beliefs about children.”
She admitted to being moved to tears of joy when viewing the first draft. “Everything I knew in my heart about our school was depicted with beauty, great skill and impeccable quality. The result showed that Focal Flame was skilled in listening to our needs and giving voice and powerful imagery to our work with children and families.”
The stars of the production were the children themselves. Inquisitive, creative, and spontaneous, they surrounded the video production crew at each session with eager questions and expressed great curiosity about the equipment. But once their questions were satisfied, they shifted back to the moments at hand: a painting. A stack of wooden blocks. A conversation with a friend. A full-throated singing session.
The video included the perspectives of others key to the Preschool of the Arts community: teachers, parents, and leadership. Even the narrator, professional voice actor Sam Miller, is a Preschool of the Arts teacher.
Stacy concluded, “It’s easy to make a whole-hearted recommendation for Focal Flame, but to see their work will give meaning and credence to my words. I’m honored to have shared this experience with Focal Flame and I hope it is merely the beginning of a long-standing collaboration.”
We couldn’t agree more - and we strongly recommend learning more about Preschool of the Arts, which holds regular community outreach sessions for mini-tours, coffee, and conversation about the school and its unique approach. Learn more at preschoolofthearts.com.