Art, science, and early childhood education and care (ECEC) are closely intertwined in the international Beyond the Verbal project, which promotes the participation, inclusion and engagement of children and looks for means to support sustainable learning. “The connection between creativity and participation is a resource that has not yet been used much in Finland,” states PhD, University Teacher Tiina Lämsä.
“Art is not isolated from life. It is an opportunity and means to process a wide variety of things, meanings and values from perspectives that we might not consider without art guiding us. It is experiential, story-based and empowering”, says Samuli Heimonen, a visual artist and art teacher from Jyväskylä.
He is preparing workshops for early years education groups to be provided in Canberra, Australia, at the end of 2022, together with a local visual artist and a project designer, Dr Naomi Zouwer. And teacher at the Open University, Dr Tiina Lämsä, is the scientist in charge of the study. Her main role is to observe and investigate what the artists do and accomplish. In addition to research data, the art-based action research project will result in an exhibition of the artifacts the children create in the workshops.
The Beyond the Verbal study aims at defining sustainable learning, as well as the means of enhancing it, through art, creativity and service design. Early childhood is an ideal period to develop various skills that are also valued in working life, such as imagination, compassion, interaction, curiosity, creativity, and independent yet collaborative thinking. Sustainable learning and education seek to strengthen these skills.
“Sustainable learning is a lifelong opportunity to promote one’s own wellbeing, as well as the wellbeing of others and the environment, through learning. It is a collaborative effort – but simultaneously essential for the individual”, Lämsä says.
Play, creativity and children’s ideas at the heart of sustainable learning
According to Naomi Zouwer, the research deepens our knowledge and understanding of how children’s positive behaviour with each other can be strengthened through a predesigned process:
“Art processes and techniques help children build and develop their critical and creative thinking skills which are essential for learning. Sometimes art can quite quickly, and lastingly, empower children with confidence, to express themselves, and forge their own ideas and sense of identity.”
How does play promote sustainable learning?
- Play is the cradle of imagination and artistic expression.
- Through play we learn to take care of ourselves, each other and our environment, as well as learning the principles of a sustainable life together.
- The feeling of being engaged in meaningful activities contributes to learning motivation.
- Through play we can learn to understand that we are interdependent: when we cooperate towards positive goals, we learn to create a culture of socially sustainable learning.
- Learning through play also provides opportunities to prevent social exclusion and negative behaviours such as bullying and violence.
“When we feel accepted and loved, we also learn compassion for others. Play and creativity are important for the development of values and help us reflect on moral choices. That is how our culture evolves through play and creativity along new generations”, Lämsä says.
Heimonen continues: “Art is a channel for processing and regulating emotions. At best, they are learned through personal experiences, safely and supported. I believe that the means of art can be used to prevent bullying as well as to handle related themes with children.”
An intercultural project for new ways of thinking
“In Australia,” says Zouwer, “visual arts plays a strong role in children becoming effective communicators. We follow Australian Early Years Learning Framework where literacy in the early years includes a range of modes of communication including music, movement, dance, story telling, visual arts, media and drama, as well as talking, reading and writing.”
An international perspective detaches the researchers and artists from the Finnish context and enables the exploration of outlooks emerging from diverse cultural backgrounds.
In Australia, ECEC is built around three principal themes: “Being, Belonging and Becoming”. In addition, it is important to highlight compassionate and sensitive encounters in the school culture. From a Finnish perspective it seems that art has a stronger role in Australia than it does in Finnish ECEC.
From familiarisation to thirst for knowledge and collaboration
To promote the role of art, we need to recognise its benefits and find methods suitable for everyday ECEC practices. Therefore, the Beyond the Verbal project aims at developing a realisable action model.
“Trust is the foundation of success,” Heimonen explains. “When working with children, collaboration through artistic means begins by making the participants familiar with and interested in the subject. Little by little, the idea of art as well as group interaction grow deeper. This means reaching genuine thirst for knowledge as well as development through individual and joint activities.”
The Beyond the Verbal project is financed by the Central Fund of the Finnish Cultural Foundation, the Emil Aaltonen Foundation & the JYU Department of Education.
Interested in Finnish education? Please stay tuned: The Education in Finland MOOCs will open in spring 2022 – The courses are free of charge and open to everyone.
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