Freedom with guidance, under pressure

Project author:

Project summary:

An auto-ethnographic exploration of my learning about freedom with guidance under pressure

Introduction

Introduction

This research focuses on:

  • investigating my own actions, thoughts and feelings  as an NGO staff member in Greece, while organising and facilitating non-formal educational pop up activities for children that visit a park
  • the ways that this particular activity respected children’s rights and allowed the young participants to experience freedom with guidance.

Context

A public arts workshop facilitated by me in Antonis Tritsis Park, central Athens, on June 17th 2022.  The children who took part were random groups and individuals, either accompanied by their own staff or unaccompanied.

I was asked to deliver a one off activity at a park in Athens, using materials that we already had and at the same time creating something as an outcome that could be captured in a photo, seen and understood by the founders. Expecting to facilitate around 100 children for 3 hours the goal was to be able to have an activity that would be fast and easy and use as few materials as possible (since materials in Greek NGO’s are limited) and at the same time incorporate nature or natural elements in the making.

At that time making prints from leaves seemed a good idea since leaves were in abundance in the park and could be a very open ended material and we had facilitated a similar activity that had gone well in the past.

The activity was planned as follows:

In a busy area at the park a co-worker and I created a small area with children tables and chairs to facilitate up to 8 childen every 10 minutes. Every child that was interested to participate was greeted by my co-worker and as a first step was asked to wander in the park and find a leaf that seemed interesting and was advised to take/cut only one leaf. Then the child would come to the table where I was located and I would encourage them to notice the shape and the veins of the leaf, run their finger across the vanes to understand the down and the upper parts and the texture. Together we would choose which side would be best to be painted with colour and to be used as a printing canvas. Then they would apply colour on the leaf’s veins using sponges that were soaked into the colours, or on the outer part colouring the negative space around the leaf.

"I fear that I wasn't able to think clearly at the moment and put the children' needs first and allow something new to unravel"

Findings

To this day what puzzles me was how I handled the “attack” on the limited materials from the youngsters and the volunteers of the following group. The first children that approached were a group of unaccompanied minors with mixed ages (5-15 years old) and ethnicities (Syrian, Afgan, Ukrainian, Congolese) from an NGO that were there with their facilitators and cultural mediators. Along with them there were some young European volunteers. They have come to the park early especially for this activity thinking that this was a big activity that will keep the group busy for long and that it only targeted their group.

As we were setting up the space to welcome everyone the young children (5-8 years old) (mostly with a middle east background and limited Greek or English language) would start to take stuff out of the supplies boxes without asking. This is totally normal and along with the language barrier we tried to explain to them to show a little patience and we would start in a bit. We asked them to go bring leaves that they find nice and would like to use for our activity. In the meantime the volunteers – in an attempt to make the older children show interest and ease youngsters that were still impatient – asked if they would take materials and hand them around. The children with an African background and the newly arrived Ukrainian refugee children even with no translator or cultural mediator would understand and hold back or ask to participate. When more children came and we had to switch the participants, since new children wanted to play, the volunteers and the previous group again started to take supplies from the box that was next to me, when there simply weren’t enough to be used in this way.

I felt that I wasn’t in control of the situation and that it was chaos that looked bad and felt bad. I didn’t mind how the children were taking supplies from the box but I felt really bad when the volunteers did it and I was frustrated  with the facilitators of the NGO that didn’t help at all.

Thinking back to it, on the one hand I had to do a job that was carefully planned, had limited resources, needed to facilitate around 100 children  as well as to have an outcome for the founders to see, but on the other hand the participants wanted something different and perhaps their need was different. I fear that I wasn’t able to think clearly at the moment and put the children’ needs first and allow something new to unravel and be there to guide a safe exploration.

I was holding on to the limited materials and to the outcome, I had planned an activity that served more the materials and my anxieties. I realise that I was also holding on to my culture’s behaviour and to an idealised participant of a child with a parent. Also going back to the creation of the activity, I now understand that it was not an open-ended activity in the first place and I had no plan B. Moreover I had created an activity with a limited cultural point of view.

Conclusion

If I was able to do it again and take into account more consciously children’s rights I wouldn’t necessarily change the activity but I would change my role in it. It was too facilitator-centred where it could have been more child-led and evolving. The reason why I wouldn’t have changed the activity is because in my line of work I don’t always  get to choose what the activity will be or what the materials are or the ideal time or scenario or in other cases I need to deliver a specific outcome. Also it’s an activity that for the majority of the Greek community can be safe but at the same time will engage both the parent and the child and make nature a bit less fearful.

From the Froebelian point of you I have analysed my behaviour  under the “freedom with guidance” principle and I want to incorporate it more in my practice. I need to be more conscious of my role and be less dictating the path that the participants want to explore, allowing them freedom in their choice. Having said that, I would also add that– since materials are limited – I will try to make sure they are not in the way of exploration but just a tool.

Research implications

To be completed

Practitioner enquiry

To be completed

Leadership learning

To be completed

Author and role

To be completed

Comments from other network members

What did you appreciate about this research? What forward-looking questions did it raise for you?

  1. Magdalena Mazurek-Figiel
    Magdalena Mazurek-Figiel
    17 Mar 2024 at 8:43 pm

    That was a rather insightful analysis of your project. It was open and honest and you didn’t try to make it all jolly when it was simply overwhelming and out of control. I think we need to experience the extreme and chaos to realise what harmony and a peaceful flow in an activity. You had control and lack of it, anticipated freedom turned into a whirlwind of chaos. Well done for delivering a creative activity to so many children! I think I would panic, haha. This project shows how important is to find common ways of communication and how a cultural diversity can be challenging when there is no mutual understanding, because even the language of creative expressions differs from person to person.


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