A conversation between Anna* and Jenny**
* A preschool teacher
**J artist and art educator from the Preschool Torget.
J- How did you work with Beyond Verbal in your daily work?
A - I have a feeling that I have become more aware of children's identity-creating processes and that I plan activities more systematically based on the children's need of having a lot of space to express themselves, both physically and intellectually. An activity must contain several aesthetic expressions, e.g. play, some kind of creative outlet, movement, etc. In addition, democratic elements where the child has the opportunity to choose independently and also where they are allowed to think and to ask themselves; what is possible? How would I like it to be? These are also the questions I ask myself while planning the activity and even more in my pedagogical profession as a whole. I work more purposefully to make the work process the way I want it to be than I did before.
J - It's interesting to bring in all the types of expressions; play, creation, movement and democratic processes in the activities. I think I also tried to do that, by creating a special place in the preschool studio. For a number of weeks I scheduled our time so that we could focus only on one of the workshops in Beyond Verbal, which was followed by a period of another workshop. The workshop material was placed in the room, and the documentation of the workshops was successively put up on the wall, as a documentation, after each session. All children at the preschool had the chance to participate more than once in each session, and they could observe what the other children had done. They had the opportunity to repeatedly reflect upon the process.
By giving the project so much time and space, the content and methods of the workshops were developed by the participants. This meant that the workshops and the creation could be formulated and shaped over time by those who participated. The children and pedagogues could be inspired by each other and try out many characters, expressions, games and different ways of using the body in relation to space and each other. In several workshops, I used the inspirational images of others, as sources of inspiration and starting points for the children. This gave us completely different starting points, than the images we usually see in the work with children. The creative process started right away and the children wanted to try out themselves. Imitation itself is part of the making of identity and can be a way to explore new ways of being and acting.
I also performed the workshops with adult participants.The goal for me was to lead the participants out of their comfort zone, to let them be able to do as the children - try new things and cross boundaries. This also applied to myself, in both settings. It helps a lot to try it out before you implement it with children. In other contexts - if you are not confident in the creation itself - you instead, of exploring together, arrange situations where you, yourself feel safe. This often becomes a controlled creative process. For example; that everyone should create a similar fish based on a specific color, a printed template and with some pearls to glue on and pre-purchased eyes... In controlled creation there is a lot of knowledge to acquire - mostly “how to”, but in the more open process there is even more knowledge and experiential thinking to gain - learning through.
Anna, can you describe how you worked with Beyond Verbal in a practical way?
A - I have mixed all the workshops and picked useful parts from them for several activities. I introduced Beyond Verbal in other everyday activities, such as the role-playing corner and costumes. The ongoing self-portrait project we have had throughout the school year is a variant of Beyond Verbal. The children photographed and drew each other and changed their looks with face paint, painting themselves and each other, creating characters. My initial thought was that we take pictures at the beginning of the semester for all children who need pictures for their shelves in the hall, like you have done before Jenny, and that it would be an introduction to the Workshop Individual.
In the beginning I thought that we would do the workshops one after the other in the order they are presented. Instead, I am more confident in following the children, what they are interested in and what they are playing at the moment. It has become clearer to me that everything we do starts processes in the children and they do not end just because I want to start with another workshop. The children are in different parts of that process at any given time and I can return to things we have done before and deepen them or introduce new elements needed to challenge some children.
Workshop Society has become a fantastic tool for getting outside the yard in a new way then walking to the park or the forest. In addition, the children had to control and decide where in our local area we would take a seat. We worked on a project where we take place by building mobile houses in different shapes and materials. In the work with the Workshop Society, we started moving around the houses after asking the children: Where do you want to move? Where are we going to live? Based on the children's answers, we moved around and eventually ended up on the moon. Workshop Society became a tool for us to move forward in the project.
BV is linked to the parts of the Swedish curriculum that deal with democracy, influence and norms and values.
The game in the Workshop Team became a more complete activity. In that I used the rainbow game that we educators made during the process of the Beyond Verbal project. It was still a super interesting experience that was similar to what we had done with the self-portrait. The children created characters from toilet rolls. Often the character became themselves or someone in their family, but with superhero qualities. The characters also created conversations about emotions. Depending on how a character's appearance developed during the game, it could be an angry dad. I look forward to developing a game with the kids. Maybe a game based on our houses and where we move.
In what way is BV useful to you?
By having tried workshops and that I have received a lot of inspiration from the project's lectures and various study visits, I feel more confident in using more aesthetic expressions in my teaching.
I have more and more come to the realization that I know how I want to work, how my practice should be. I want to be based in the children's play and have them with me by using what they are interested in right now and what they are playing right now. The processes of BV is close to how the children think and their processes in terms of changing their appearance and becoming a fantasy character. This is what happens in children's play all the time. They use what is available in the environment to build characters and play worlds. If the material is decoded and unstructured, more space is given for the children's own imagination and creativity to take place. Children may still often play stereotypical superheroes or gendered characters, but what we can see is that they are developing and transforming. The children change and add properties and change the characters' appearance according to the material and what abilities the character needs when playing. Elsa may need a big button on her stomach so that she can make herself invisible.
In general, I think that BV gives more possibilities for the children to be involved and influence the activities that I plan. By using different ways of expression they put themselves at the center of their education and they get to explore different sides of themselves.
J - I also feel that I have been very inspired in my work when I started implementing the workshops - it has been the most important part, to start doing and not just think that I should do. A lot happens in the meeting with the children, the materials, the rooms and the public spaces that clearly show how norms determine both our way of creating, the way we look at ourselves, our movements and movement patterns. That through doing, a point of view or perspective is developed in the teaching that partly stretches my own perceptions and also my own perceptions of the participants - in what I perceive is a playful and permissive way. This can even be seen happening to those who participate after a while.
After several implementations, and because I have the opportunity to stay in several different contexts (also outside the preschool), I have been able to implement these approaches in my professional life and have taken parts from, and mixed different workshops and through it created new ones - they all have a starting point in a norm-creative way of working. BV has also been useful to increase my understanding of and to develop my own view of other people, groups and places. Through the project, I saw a lot of my own prejudices, often arising from very small everyday situations, which I otherwise would not have discovered. It could be as small as how I looked at the children's interests, family constellations, how I seldom really dared to first see and then test my own norms, to how I and we moved together in the public space and how we used the language and language confusion (many of the children had not yet started speaking or had several different languages to keep track of), or all of it together.
Through the project, my way of asking the children questions changed from complex language images that complicates identity building, group affiliation and discussions. I finally came up with the best question to ask - What are you thinking about now? Instead of a directed question like - What are you now? What kind of material is that? Questions that are much more difficult to answer as it requires a larger vocabulary than to answer a more open question like: What are you thinking about now? Then you can choose to focus on words that are already in your head together with what you have created.
It also became clear how the concrete workshops' created new conditions for the interplay between people, play, language and creation.
A difficulty I encountered was when I wanted what we had created in the workshops to migrate to the departments of the preschool. In the departments it was hard to mix e.g. raw materials and objects created during the workshops with purchased material and pedagogically planned settings where a certain type of play would be played. This new material, which did not belong to any particular theme or game, created a movement or energy in the room that was not always appreciated. Eventually this object was removed - material that actually could offer a greater freedom to play and combine games and settings… a freer way to play where the children's imagination controls more than with (the prefabricated) toys. Had that situation been dealt with in a better way, I think that this material would have contributed much more than was the case now.
For you who work in a department - how have these new games, toys, materials from the workshops been implemented in the department?
A - In our project for this school year, we have worked with robots and astronauts in different ways. An important part that I wanted to realise was that the project would be immersed into the children's play environments so that they could reflect and develop the project through play. The project would not just be something that we did two mornings a week in an teacher-led activity. We had captured the children's interests in a children's program with robots that they were playing in preschool. We could challenge them with different activities based on their interests and introduce elements that influenced their play. Through their play, we got new input to the project. In the children's play environment, the children created large robots and space rockets, but also robot costumes and astronaut costumes inspired by BV. We created the suits from recycled materials. Most often materials that came into the preschool with supply deliveries; bubble wrap and various packaging materials. And tape of course. An important part of playing was to prepare your character and get into character by taping into a costume. The conversations in that moment revolve around who you are going to be when the playing begins and what character traits you have. These materials were available in the children's play environment and changed the environment when the play changed or depending on how the children used the materials.
J - When we have talked about the implementation, I perceive that for both you and me it is about small nuances or rather a shift in perspective in the meeting with the children. Can you describe the small shifts and what they do for the group or the workplace?
A - I think my view of teaching has changed. Teaching can be giving the children experiences, creating meaning and to marvel together. I think it is so important to be part of such processes, both for oneself and for what happens in the group. What happens to the group in processes where everyone shares or shows different parts of themselves, I think is reflected in the climate both in the children's group and in the work team. I think I can feel a greater acceptance, stronger community and belonging. I believe that even if there are only small shifts, BV can change the way we communicate and influence us to communicate about other things than before, personal experiences and our different perspectives. It makes us talk about norms and that starts a process where it is possible for norms to change or make not them, loosen up and not feel so vital.
These activities are also activities that are suitable for all children. I never need to make any adjustments for a child with special needs for them to be able to participate.
J - This is an interesting reflection - that the activity itself is so open, permissive and interesting for the children that no adjustments need to be made. That the arrangements themselves are inclusive. I also experienced in several of my implementation workshops that all children could find something to do and if I repeated the workshop several times, the children themselves could build on their previous experience. This strengthens the children's own ability to act and to take a creative process further. This happens automatically when they are playing. Maybe the game workshops required a little more from some of the children than from the others. In that workshop the children focused on many things outside the main concept, like counting and rolling dice, for example. I also think that so much comes down to an approach that is built into Beyond Verbal. It is not the result in itself that is most interesting - rather how we get there and what the process has entailed. What I have been able to see in the implementation of Beyond Verbal individual was that the children found different ways to show their identity, play with different materials and express feelings, conditions and characters through the selected materials. They read materials both when picking what to use and then what it could mean when using it to create a character.
J - How have you combined BV with the rest of the business?
A - Now I think that BV is something that should go on all the time. Something that can go in and out of other activities and our school year project. It is perfect to start a school year with different BV elements to see where they take us and in which direction the children's interests revolves around .
J - How has the aesthetic - the artistic process - helped the process forward? The children's language, to gather around something created, to challenge oneself, not to create using a template or according to right or wrong.
A - There is something about the process that feels safe, both for pedagogues and for the children, because it is the same every time. Or it is possible to use the same starting point every time. In materials that the children are familiar with. It also holds a magnifying glass on how children's imagination and their desire to explore functions. It is a fantastic process because it allows children to be creative and the result can be different every time the children want it to be. It is exciting to find the right material for the children. What will make a child let go and let loose. Find the material that becomes the child's expression and language.
Often in preschool the children are supposed to create using a template. This is also useful. To be able to think freely and be creative in a different ways.