I would probably never have known about Pistoia’s renowned public preschools if I didn’t have a daughter who attended them. Over these past five years of her education I’ve been able to meet some of the delegations and educators from schools around the world who come to Pistoia to learn about its schools and educational approaches. Talking to them has always been interesting for me to hear about the differences between public preschool education where they live and here in Italy. The Italian International School, La Scuola, in San Francisco, California, my home state, is one example of a prestigious American school who from the beginning drew much of its inspiration from Pistoia and Reggio Emilia public schools as Italian role models. It is a private school, however, and I remember how one educator from a California delegation in Sausalito once told me that there they have to fight for quality public preschools. There is a recent article here (in Italian) by the Il Tirreno newspaper about educators from the US, Spain and Denmark visiting Pistoia last spring, and an interesting academic article here (in English) about a Pistoia preschool visit published by the University of Nebraska.

With my five year old daughter in her last year of Scuola Materna this is her fifth year of attending preschools here, with one year prior to that where I was able to take her to the city sponsored parent-child play space, the “Spazio Piccolissimi,” for children from birth to one year old three times a week and for three hours each time. For me this experience was a saving grace for that first year as a new mother, and will be the focus of separate post because it was much more than a parent-child play space and an example of how a city government can support new parenthood with its resources.

For anyone unfamiliar with the Italian Early Childhood/Pre-Elementary education system, the actual preschools in Italy mean two years of Asilo Nido (the nest) which is typically from 6 months old, and in some cases from one year as was the case with my daughter’s school. All of the students stay with the same teachers and classmates for the two years of the Nido while they then continue on with three more years at the Scuola Materna where they have a new set of teachers and new classmates with whom they create strong bonds before being ready to begin the Scuola Elementare, elementary school and entrance right into First Grade.

A current project that my daughter’s class from the Scuola Materna “Il Castello” (The Castle) is working on is about the medieval fortress as well as castles as its main themes. They are setting out on their yellow school bus and heading out weekly on field trips to different art spaces and areas around Pistoia to become little “explorers” and “warriors” (the esploratori and guerrieri).



Keri Smith, Rule #2 in How To Be An Explorer of The World



Keri Smith’s late night insomia scribbling before writing her book, “How To Be An Explorer Of The World.”



It was a special occasion for me as a mother of one of these child explorers to be able to come along and take photos for the morning and document the beginning of their adventure on their first field trip for the project. Another one of the class parents, art historian Martina Meloni, who works in the Pre-School Education department of Pistoia, developed the itinerary and led the excursion that day with the help of the class teachers. For me, being a guide who often works with children and families who are travelling – and who I typically only see for a few hours – this experience observing my daughter’s class project out on the fortress fascinated me as I listened to the children’s reactions and responses to various questions Martina or their teachers asked them. I was able to see up close what particular details about this immense medieval fortress captured their imaginations.

As soon as we arrived the children were given the heavy fortress key by the gate keeper to pass it around and hold it. He treated them to a surprise climb through a secret little door before we left after they had done a series of educational activities including a walking game of measurements, learning about the old horse stables and prison spaces, as well as an historical lesson in the fortress’s old chapel.

What is stunning about Pistoia’s Fortezza Santa Barbara is the spectacular mountain view just beyond the city. You could see the snow covered mountains waiting for the skiers and snow explorers on that recent chilly but sunny February day.

As the next months proceed the class will continue with their fortress project. At the end of the school year the class will host an exhibition displaying the student’s artwork as well as their observations and thoughts about fortress and castle life at one time.

For more of the historical background of the Fortezza Santa Barbara by Martina Meloni, as well as some beautiful photos of the grounds, see this article in Naturart.




This is number 12 on the list above by Keri Smith and certainly one rule to live by for all of us!



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