Wednesday, 26 July 2017

The BRIC - project conference...

In mid June I went to Gothenburg to listen to the participants of the BRIC - project...
you can read more about the project here - but basically it was a three year project where preschools in Sweden, UK and Italy collaborated on a project about children using and being in public spaces.


"Background
The BRIC Project last for 3 years, from 1st September 2014 to 31st August 2017. The project involves preschool teachers, young children and parents in exploring democratic engagement in public and civic spaces. The project is funded by the European Union and led by Professor Tim Waller at Anglia Ruskin University (UK) with Patti Benedetti Progettinfanzia (Italy) and Monica Hallborg Barnpedagogiskt Forum (Sweden). 
Aims and objectives
BRIC aims to achieve the following objectives: 1) An exchange of ‘good practice’ between preschool teachers in three countries (Italy, Sweden and the UK); 2) Systematic education and training around democratic engagement in public spaces; 3) The development of open educational resources and targeted activities to engage early childhood professionals, parents, the local community and key stakeholders, including local politicians and representatives from business."

So as you can see it is very much in tune with what I have been exploring in this blog the last four years... democracy, listening to the children and their rights in public spaces.

Tim Gill was the keynote speaker in the morning and professors Sonja Sheridan and Pia Williams were the keynote speakers in the afternoon. There was a morning workshop and afternoon workshop where we got the time to listen to some of the projects and enter dialogues and reflections in response to their experiences shared. There was also time to look at the boards of documentation created by the various projects in the three countries.
It did feel like they were squashing too much in one day... there was not really enough time for genuine deep reflections, but in a way conferences are often like this... I do hope though that there is a chance for the project to be continued to be reflected upon in the future and more publicly, so more educators, more adults in general, have the opportunity to explore the concept of children being public participants in society - and not just constitutionalised in various settings.

Tim Gill has a website called Rethinking Childhood - and you should really take the time to check it out (if you have not done so already) (The link is his name) - as he is passionate about children's rights in the public sphere, and how designing cities where children are welcomed as active participants is not only good for the children, but for the whole of society - as cities and towns that do this tend to have a public space that feels safer for everyone. 

My blog-page "Parks and Play in Stockholm" does not only include spaces that are specifically designed as play spaces for children, but also spaces that are designed for everyone including children - meaning these spaces are filled with play for all ages. Play-spaces does have a tendency to not only be filled with young children but also their parents... which means they are not always desirable for older children - so where do older children go, where do they get to play?

Back to the BRIC-project conference...
I found listening to the participants very interesting, but at the same time nothing really new was learned, except maybe for the fact that being out in public spaces is seen as a big deal, and that not all adults feel comfortable with all public spaces - and also there is still a huge amount of comparison... "we can't do that because we don't..." - which I found rather strange after thee years of sharing reflections...
I have been fortunate living and working with young children in Sweden, because I have been given a freedom to explore public spaces with them without the need to write risk assessments... further my experience since the start of 2013 has been working in a preschool without a play space of their own - so excursions have been something we simply had to do - we were thrust into the public sphere whether we wanted to be or not. We did not just keep to the play spaces, but have explored all of Stockholm - a whole six month project was dedicated to our local square... playing there, getting to know the people there, planning designs for the square, designs that connected to our own dreams, but also were inclusive for everyone that lived there (we interviewed parents (the children did this with us) as well as people who walked by and some of the people living in the retirement home located next to our preschool (and shared an entrance onto the square). 
I hauled out tables onto the square so that we could do activities there, I have hauled out activities... including lots of mud and utensils for International Mud day and also for National Preschool Day, where we encouraged others to join in our fun. etc etc etc
So in part these experiences that were being shared was nothing new, they were almost everyday experiences for me and the children I had worked with for the last 4 years... so the learning for me is that this is something special, something different, and apparently not all children are getting access to it.

There is one experience that has troubled me - it did then, and it has continued to trouble me... it was when one of the participants said with envy that the educators in Gothenburg were so fortunate because they could explore the amazing rail station with the children and they were not able to because the station where they lived was not as nice.
I argued the case somewhat during the session, as the initial response had been the station was not as nice... I felt that children would have seen the beauty and the fascination of the station anyway... the reason was then changed to the educators did not feel safe enough as the station was on a main road and also there was building going on... safety is important I agree.
BUT I still keep coming back to this... this town in the UK has some absolutely amazing historical buildings in it, courtyards, places of learning and bridges... all of these would be of equal value to the station in Gothenburg, if not even more relevant... 
the problem of comparing is that we are sometimes limited by this comparison and forget that it is supposed to be inspiration... so the children in Gothenburg got to see a station, and the statue there and a project arose from that... the children in this UK town could have got a great buzz from the renovation of the station (but the educators deemed this not safe enough) - but there are MANY other buildings and statues that could have been explored... for me all those bridges - the metaphor of a bridge - the idea of bridging the gap between children's rights in the public space and the reality of children in public spaces - would have been so interesting to explore...
just googling online I see there are three sculpture trails in this town - and checking these out there are some amazing sculptures - including ones designed for interaction that would be an absolute dream to work with as an educator.
And there are 30 something bridges... not all suitable to walk on with preschoolers... but many are - and very many different designs (including covered bridges)...

We enough amazing things for any educator in Sweden to feel envious of!!
It comes back to context... learning in your own context, with the resources available to you and the culture you find yourself in... not trying to emulate what someone else is doing, but to find your own journey, your own relevance... and to find help the children find their voice in their own context.



Again there is admiration for the participants... they have pushed themselves out of their comfort zone - all of them commented on this. I AM comfortable exploring the public sphere with young children, and maybe this is why I can see further in the sense of possibilities... when we are nervous we are seeing the risks more, the dangers more, it is first when we feel safe and comfortable that we can see the possibilities and the potentials. This is the same for children's learning... when they are not feeling safe it is hard to focus on the learning.. but when they are safe then more energy can be spent on play and exploring and thus learning. As Malaguzzi said "Nothing without joy" - if we are nervous, afraid and worried then it is so much harder to be joyful... and I think this is important for children and educators...

and the only way to feel safe with exploring the outdoors... whether it be playspaces, forest/nature or other public shared spaces (indoors and outdoors) is by getting out there together with the children and experiencing it, learning about these spaces and getting comfortable with them... to then explore them even more.

As I commented at the conference in both workshops... I was told all of my preschool career that it was not possible to take the youngest children out on excursions, and if done, they should not be done often or far...
well, working in a preschool without a yard/pay-space of our own has shown that the youngest children can go out every day on excursions, for it to be filled with joy and meaningfulness... for there to be play and learning, and to be a part of society right from the start, not hidden away in an early years setting. These youngest children are fully competent - it is us adults that maybe are not... and maybe it is us that have to re-learn this competence? And re-learn what children are competent of...
I am not saying that all children can do all things... we need to be aware of the young children's needs - that they differ from those of older children - that maybe sometimes walking 10meters is all that is needed and to stop by a puddle and splash and discover the joys of water... 
basically we need to listen.. to the children - and we will know how to explore the villages, towns and cities where we live... and then we need to communicate this competence and the rights of children to other adults who have closed their ears to the voices of children.
We also need to keep on inspiring each other to be brave and to explore public spaces with children. To take the time to observe and listen to how children see their own town... and to also observe how others react to the children being there... what is the dialogue that we need to take up?
The BRIC-project has been an important step in exploring all of this... and I really hope that it continues to inspire those who participated in the project, in the conference and also others that get to hear about it in the future...


I have started a facebook group... for those of you that have facebook... with the idea that we can share inspiration about children and public spaces there... projects that we have done, projects we want to do... lessons we have learned, experiences we need support with...
it is a closed group, but all are welcome to become members... the group is specifically for those interested in children using public spaces, being an active participant in society and exploring children's rights and a democratic approach to play and learning where the child's voice is an equal.
The group you can find... Children and Public Spaces

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