Short story: Children's Village East (2021)
Here is the snippet from Børneby Østers PlayArt project in the fall of 2021. The snippet focuses on the changes that have taken place in the pedagogical practice and in the children's way of playing and being together. Spiced with small examples.
We have a new common language through dance
LegeKunst in Børneby Øster has provided many new and good experiences. We have gained a new common language in dance. It's evolving - now, for example, stop dancing has become part of everyday life. The children themselves take the initiative to stop dancing and play it both by themselves in the children's group - and sometimes also together with the adults. For example, there is a little girl who often says in the afternoon after fruit: "Okay, all those who want to join in stop dancing, they raise their hands now, and then I'm the one who controls it". Then she counts how many people have their hands up and continues: "Okay, we'll go into the small room next door, and I'll be the one controlling the music". She does it on her own initiative - and she knows she's allowed to - because a common language has been created through dance. It's accessible in a new way.
Another example - out on the playground, kids line up in position for stop dancing (in a square, well spaced out). And then they just start. The dance just happens. There is a new sense of community around the dance between adults and children.
In the special area, non-verbal communication has always been important because Børneby Øster also has many children who don't have a language. But it has been exciting to combine it with dance. Previously, we were very aware of using the face for non-verbal communication, but through dance we have added another layer - we have included the whole body. It's an important discovery.
And the kids see us (the adults) in new roles. There were a lot of laughs and a good sense of community in the fact that the children thought it was fun that the adults were also moving in crazy ways.
We have become PlayArt Friends
The elements from PlayArt live on in assembly and at other times when we get the chance to turn on the music and use some of the elements. And the children have seen each other in new ways through dance. In the special area, we can see that they have dared to hold hands and invite each other to dance together, even though they previously had difficulty finding each other.
A practice story from the special area:
We sit on the floor after the drinks break. Jon asks everyone to find a dance partner. Joan faces A, he smiles and nods and extends his hand towards Jon.
Jon asks if anyone wants to dance with him. Another child quickly says yes.
A turns towards Joan and shows with signs (TTT - Signs To Speak) that he would like to. Joan confirms with signs to A that he will dance with her, and A takes Joan's hand.
In the general area, the children have also come together in new relationships. A brief example is a day when the children walk back to the living room after attending PlayArt. On the way, the children walk and talk and say to the adults "We have become PlayArt friends".
The staff who have participated in PlayArt have also formed new relationships together. Both the PlayArt activities themselves, but also the reflection afterwards has been very meaningful.
A fresh look at children's skills
We've seen kids shine in new ways through dance. For example, in the "dance battle" (where the child dances for the other children standing around in a circle), the dancer/artist suggested that now you can dance as long as you want. It was amazing to see how they could move and afterwards we could tell the parents that their children had talent and interest in dance.
In the general area, the children have pushed some boundaries in relation to daring to stand up for themselves. It's rare that we have situations where they have to dare to stand up in front of the group. Here, there were some children who had been a little more reticent, who moved.
There was a boy who participated in LegeKunst six times before he dared to go into the center for the dance battle. Before the 6th time at LegeKunst, the boy watched one of Michael's (the researcher) videos where he noticed that he was sitting far away from the dance. He said: "I'm sitting way over there". The next time he moved closer and suddenly he was in the dance. The kids took some quantum leaps in terms of moving onto the dance floor and dancing in front of their peers. And we saw them move in completely new ways. The further we got in the process - the longer the children's dances in the dance battle became. So they grew both in boldness and in skills/dancing abilities.
There is one of the children in the general group who has sometimes been a bit scolded because he has very big arm movements and takes up a lot of space. But in dance, there is a space where you can have big arm movements and where you can take up space - and where he gets credit from both children and adults for being a good dancer. His self-esteem grows from that.
In the special group, we saw that the children were initially very attached to the adults and wanted to hold hands all the time - but the further they progressed, the freer they became. The children let go of the adults' hands and moved into the dance on their own. They danced by themselves, they danced with the artist - and they danced with each other.
The body is more involved
We see small signs that the body has become more involved in the pedagogical practice. For example, we have a girl right now in the special group. If she sits down, it takes two adults to get her up off the floor again. But we have found that if we play a "wiggle your butt" game while walking from A to B - and the adult also dances and sings - she is less likely to lie down on the floor. This has come after we've had PlayArt - that we use our bodies in this way. Now we all know that when this girl needs to get from A to B, we can use song and dance and it's easier - we no longer need two people to move her. We had started to consider using a lift to move her, but dancing is much more gentle on the child - and less resource-intensive for the adults.
In the general area, we see small signs that the children are orienting themselves more towards the adult - for example, when we are eating and the adult is guiding the children. We see small signs that the children have become more aware of following the adult. Perhaps this is because we have been working with the concept of "caravan leader" in the dance, where you orient yourself towards the person leading the dance.
The use of video
In the Play Art project, we have used a lot of video. Both from an adult perspective and from a child's perspective. It has made an impression on the adults - to see what happens in small micro-situations. We've dabbled in this in the special area. For example, the videos show children who normally have a very long latency period, but who quickly join in the playful activities.
Some children also had Go-Pro cameras strapped to their torsos. It was very interesting to see the dance from the children's perspective. We realized how much they look at our legs - and not at our face. This has made us think about how we can guide the children with our whole body - not just with mimicry and words. It was also interesting that some of the special needs children, where we are usually unsure how much they orient themselves to us - some of these children also had Go-Pro cameras on. And when we watched their movies afterwards, we could see that they actually orient themselves towards the person leading the dance or the person speaking. We wouldn't have noticed this if we hadn't used Go-Pro. It strengthened our knowledge of the children's perspective in a very concrete way. It will be exciting to take the use of video further in pedagogical practice.
Furthermore, the staff has become aware of the need for us to have a soundbox so that we can play loud enough in everyday life when we dance together. In addition, we have discovered that the kindergarten needs a subscription to a music service so that we have easy access to the music when an occasion for dancing arises in everyday life. We need to have the right set-up to be able to invite art into everyday life. And we're getting it.
Co-creation with the artist
There was a great respect for our respective professions between the artist and the educational staff. We created experiences together as we went along - and we shared the responsibility to make adjustments as we went along. For example, when we agreed that we would experiment with using very few words - and instead strengthen non-verbal communication in the dance. The artist agreed, and it was great. We tried it out in different groups, and the artist expressed that it was also educational for him. There was a lot of learning along the way - first we used a lot of words to instruct the dance. Then we agreed to try using very few words. And when we had to pick up on it, we could see that it worked really well for most special needs children to turn down the verbal and up the non-verbal. Except for the autism group - here we could see that they needed both verbal and non-verbal guidance. And then we adjusted again.
The most important thing is that we have shared experiences. We have gained even more tools to communicate with children who have no language or who speak a language other than Danish. We have gained new dance skills, but we have also gained an eye for the children's perspective and the children's initiative. We hope that this will grow in the future - that we will become even better at following the children's perspective in the coming years.