New preschool with an Italian approach

Shawn Hatt Cohen, owner of the newly opened preschool called The Garnet School plays with Kyson Bigelow, 4, at her downtown home on Tuesday.

Juneau’s newest preschool is the Garnet School, which uses a different structure than most. This school employs the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education.

The Reggio Emilia method strives to create a learning environment where young children enhance their constructive capabilities and learn to enhance their own thinking abilities. Garnet School proprietor Shawn Hatt Cohen describes this as coming from a social constructionism theory.

The idea is for children to learn in their own ways while expressing their own ideas and making connections with their environments. Cohen said it lets each child explore what works for them individually rather than using a cookie cutter teaching method. She described it as each child constructing their own knowledge while the teachers act as guides.

“It explores what will work best in an idea, like trying to build something and see what works,” she said.

The approach makes each school that uses it unique by a basis of who the kids and teachers are rather than a set curriculum.

It utilizes a large amount of the arts, such as drawing, watercolors, clay and music.

“Drawing is something that happens daily,” she said.

The approach started in the city of Reggio Emilia in Italy after World War II.

More information is at or at 321-5414.

Cohen said she isn’t aware of any other preschools in Juneau that use the Reggio Emilia approach.

Cohen has many years of experience working with Juneau’s children. She was a speech pathologist for the Juneau School District and Southeast Regional Resource Center.

She earned a master’s degree in early childhood special education from the University of Alaska Anchorage and her bachelor’s from Northern State University in Aberdeen, S.D., where she studied speech and language pathology

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or at


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