This project is an experiment. No one knows if we, who speak different languages and live in different countries, will be able to discuss crucial questions like: What is beauty? What is wealth? What is art? What is citizenship? But we want to try!
A4kids labs are located in different towns and in different countries. Each lab is consist of a group of 5 to 15 kids aged from 7 to 18 years old. Each laboratory has its own mediator—a person who organizes meetings, maintains their laboratory’s web page on the A4Kids website, helps to distribute materials for the workshop, and develops and asks questions of our experts. Labs are linked to each other because they want to communicate, share ideas, make friends, and help each other out.
A4kids provides the mediators of laboratories with working materials (books, printed pages, public art projects, or lectures), as well as recommendations about how the workshops could be run. But the final decisions are made by each lab itself.
1. Printed materials
Classes at A4kids are based on printed materials—books with folded pages, tablecloths, posters, packs of cards, and more. Depending on the topic, we offer to mediators PDF files for printing. Pages are usually black and white with one additional color. Ideally each laboratory should have access to a color printer. Kids will write and draw, comment, and think together on these printed pages.
Each topic is designed for the cycle of workshops. The pages of the book are filled in gradually, 1-2 pages per session. The number of copies corresponds to the number of children in the group x 2, so each child can make two versions of his or her pages. Some children will slowly finish one page, carefully working through the details. They will hardly have enough time to finish one sheet during the workshop, while others will want to work on their page with a friend or a group of kids, and some children will have time to draw 2-3 different versions. We believe two copies per child will be enough.
2. Drawing materials
For drawing on printed pages, we recommend using black markers with a thin tip to draw and write comments. These pens always look beautiful on the pages because the background already includes an additional color. We suggest that you should, if possible, buy a lot of black markers and distribute them to kids along with the printed copies of pages.
Often kids like to add bright colors to their work, so it would be good to provide them with colored crayons, pencils, and pens—those who are interested can use these and start colouring.
3. Preparation of the room
The workshops of A4kids are oriented towards communication and interaction between participants. It is great if each A4kids lab could have a big table, which could be surrounded by chairs. If not, move the tables together so that participants can see each other. Put printed materials on the tables. Workshops by A4kids are always fun, and we advise allowing kids to move freely around the room.
Water or juice, cups, cookies, and fruits on a separate table can help to create a relaxed atmosphere. Children should be instructed that there is a table for work and a table for snacks. Things from one table should not be put on the other. Pens and crayons should not mix with cookies. Juice should not be spilled on the pages; after all, this might make the author of the page very sad. If someone is tired, bored, or hungry, he or she can always sit at the table with cookies and juice, and this is very much ok.
The workshop lasts 1-2 hours. If the children in the group are under 12 years old, it is worthwhile to arrange a break so that the children can have a snack, drink, chat, or go to the toilet.
During the workshop, the mediator shows the children photos from other A4kids labs and videos from other countries, and arranges Skype interviews with experts. Because the group is small, a simple laptop is enough to make a Skype call, but if a lab has a screen that can display the image at a larger size, the online chat with fellows from other A4kids labs or with anthropologists from other countries will look even more impressive.
4. The Mediator’s Speech
The workshop begins with a mediator’s introduction speech. In the first pages of the planned book, the mediators will find texts on the topic, stories, facts, questions related to the theme. These can be described during the introductory speech.
The mediator does not need any in-depth knowledge of the material. His or her task is to provoke the interest of the children in the topic, to ask questions alongside the children, which will later be answered by the expert. The mediator is not a teacher or authority figure but a curious person, a “curiosity leader” who will show the children how wonder and inquisitiveness lead to research, and research to invention. This is an adventure that a mediator should make together with the kids. If a child asks a question, the mediator does not answer it but offers a response that will lead to new questions.
The mediator does not tell a child that he or she is mistaken since the mediator is not an expert and does not know the answers. However, the mediator can question the correctness of the judgment and help formulate questions to an expert.
5. Work with book pages
Books have an internal logic and often should be filled out in order.
For example, the book “My Country” begins with a child writing her or his name, then coming up with a name for their country, and then drawing a map.
However, the specific page order of the book is the personal choice of its new author, the child participant in a laboratory. Some children need more time to enter the project; once they find their own entry point they will start to create. If there is such a child in a group, the mediator may want to find this child a special entry point. One time we were working on the topic of “Citizenship.” One boy, a participant, was angry and refused to draw or even talk during the whole first day of the workshop. At some point, the mediator offered him a page, saying “Think about how you will punish criminals in your country. Will there be any criminals? Will there be any prisons?” The boy suddenly became remarkably interested, drew several versions of possible prisons at once, described what, in his country, would be considered a crime, and, having found his “entry point”, began to draw and write with even greater enthusiasm than the other children. Moreover, other laboratory participants also wanted to make a page about prisons—some in support, and some in opposition to the ideas suggested by the first boy.
A mediator always begins by trying to draw one or two children in the group into the conversation, those who can lead and inspire others. If the mediator can find the potential viral power in the words and drawings of these first kids and show to them how the ideas can be built on and varied, he or she will be able to energize the group. It is really valuable to nourish the conditions in which “spreading a meme” or sharing ideas can start to develop.
A “meme” is an idea that people quote, play with, twist, or invent their own versions of. Usually, one of the participants starts the meme. This is not necessarily a child, it could be the mediator of the laboratory or a child from another laboratory with whom they talk on Skype.
For example, one girl drew a school for her country. She came up with the idea that before entering the school, the children would go through a giant wardrobe and would be allowed to exchange their clothes for carnival costumes. Then, no one would recognize the child in their school. It will be hard to grade these kids or ask them for homework. The dressed-up students can choose their own interests at school. They can stage performances or improve their pronunciation of French texts. As soon as this meme appeared in the group, the children began to draw their own versions of what could happen to the students before they enter the school building. Someone came up with a portable zoo: in front of the entrance, children choose an animal that they will take care of and spend the entire day with. Someone came up with a library where students can pick up a book or a movie, or listen to music that “organizes the student’s school day around itself.” And someone imagined schools where the police stand at the entrance, where children are searched like at the airport and their documents are checked.
The birth of a meme is the most desirable situation for a mediator. Do not be afraid of repetition and imitation; kids always add something new to the original idea while retelling somebody else’s story.
The last quarter of the workshop is a preparation for the exhibition. The mediator helps children to hang their creations on the walls, asks questions, makes notes about the kids’ ideas and work, and documents the exposition by taking pictures or videos.
It is very important to give children the confidence that something important happened in the laboratory. The adults of the project should refer to the children not as students but as fellow creators and colleagues on research projects. Children need to understand that their time is not wasted and their works really do matter.
Usually, children will draw so much, and their drawings will be so genuine, that it is very pleasant and interesting to show and to reflect on the results of their work even after the first session.
During the session, the mediator tries to document what is happening. It is interesting to keep track of how the children’s ideas are born and developed. Usually, kids are happy that they and their works are being filmed and documented. Kids willingly comment on what are they doing. It is a sign that they are doing meaningful and worthy things.
As a result of the workshop, the mediator prepares a report for the webpage of the laboratory. The report is made in the group’s native language and is translated by readers of other laboratories using Google Translate.
The report consists of photographs, descriptions of ideas, references, the most vivid and sparkling moments. The report mentions the names of children who invented this or that concept. The report includes questions that arose during the discussions and describes the context in which the questions appeared. The mediator can share the difficulties that emerged during the workshop, and express his or her personal impressions.
The report will be public—it will help other Labs in the preparation of their workshops. Kids from other Labs may also want to see the report. The drawings, memes, writings may inspire them.
On the basis of reports, children from different laboratories will prepare questions for each other.
But the experts are also very important: an anthropologist or an artist will be looking at the report. It is on the basis of the report that the expert will try to understand how to relate to the group. The expert will answer questions that are formulated in the reports.
8. Contact with the expert
The conversation with the expert could be at the end of the module when many questions are already thought out, pages have been filled, inventions and discoveries have been made. The expert will be able to see on the webpages of the Lab what went on during the workshops.
Questions formulated by the mediator are given to an expert in the different formats: as an interview or Skype conversation, as a list of questions sent via email, or on the lab webpage.
If an expert comes to the class in person, the group can have a discussion after asking questions that the children have prepared. If the children get confused or shy, the mediator will help them explain what they meant.
9. Contacts with other laboratories
Children love to communicate and are interested in learning about each other’s lives. It is very important for laboratories to create conditions for international communication. Children want to know a variety of things about each other—not just in relation to the projects, but also the most ordinary matters of everyday life: how children in another country have breakfast, what time they go to bed, what games they play, what songs they sing, what they learn in their lessons at school, how they are punished (if at all), they go on vacation. There are many questions that will help children to feel how much they have in common.
At least one workshop in the module should be devoted to contacts with other laboratories. Since some laboratories are too far away in space and time, mediators can arrange a video or photo shoot showing all the kids in the group and their works, posing questions and placing it all on the laboratory page, and then translating the subtitles into English. Kids can also take a look at the pages of other laboratories and come up with questions or inquiries for their fellows from different countries. After the relationship has been established, students can write messages to each other, exchange email addresses, and so on.
If the laboratory is in the same time zone, you can arrange a Skype call and start a direct conversation (either through an interpreter or simply with the help of gestures and pictures).
10. Results of the work
Everything that is done during laboratories is really important for the A4kids project. Much of this will go into published versions of books that will be based on laboratories’ working materials. In addition to the publication of the books, we plan to hold art exhibitions, trips for children to visit each other, the creation of common public art projects, and much more.