Theory and Practice

In the early 1980s I occupied myself with devising and realizing experimental art projects and with investigating the various possibilities for exhibitions. As a follow-up, in 1981, I started organizing art exhibitions for children each month a new exhibition of plastic arts, especially made for children.
Exhibiting art for children is quite different from doing the same for adults who tend to consume in a more passive way. Children are much more open and want to really experience what is offered.
In those days, exhibitions of plastic arts for children were highly unusual and a truly world-wide demand for that kind of exhibition developed quite rapidly. This demand came predominantly from the world of education, in which people wanted to combine exhibitions with activities that would bring children some additional understanding.
Coincidentally, at some time in the past, I studied didactics a study that I used especially for developing written materials on mind games (like chess). In the latter, I spent quite some time with the typical phenomenon of players who study a lot, make no mistakes in exercises, but seem to have forgotten, in a real game, all they had learned. This kept my mind very busy, because the fact that you exercise something does not necessarily imply that you are capable of applying the acquired knowledge.
For this reason, educational projects in which children learn to count "on the go," do not always result in them becoming better at counting. Learning is much more complex than exercising something you aren't good at.
It was that combination of devising new ways of exhibiting art, exercises for mind game players and instructive activities accompanying exhibitions for children in essence the symbiosis of different activities that led to the development of education (+) projects.
"Learn through play"- when you have fun in what you do and when your curiosity is triggered, you sort of ask to be given the chance to "learn" all kinds of things. Especially for children, under those circumstances "learning" is not a bothersome task. In contrast, it becomes a great adventure. We can gratefully and intensively utilize this naturally present eagerness to learn.
The nice thing is that we can do so at different levels. For instance, you can instruct children in practical skills and at the same time teach them how to develop socially. Also, by offering a variety of less common activities, you can help children discover their hidden talents. It is even possible to simultaneously stimulate and/or develop a number of relatively abstract skills, which children will need in inter alia language and math instruction.
This is what happens in education(+) projects.

Here, I would like to give some explanation of the difference between an educational project, an education(+) project, and a course.
In practice, almost all activities in which children "learn" something are called "educational." In my opinion this represents a devaluation of the concept of "educational." You can, for example, have children make a candle, crochet a flowerpot or paint a pretty frame, and they will, of course, learn something in the process, but the activities bear a resemblance to blank cartridges, as they are unrelated to one another from an educational point of view. An example in the area of language makes this point in a somewhat exaggerated way even more clear: to instruct children in foreign languages we tell them to memorize and correctly pronounce three words in French, six in English, two in German, and one each in Frisian and Turkish. Once they are capable of rattling off these words without mistake they have indeed learned something, but to what extent is this knowledge useful? It doesn't allow them to conduct a conversation or use it in any other meaningful way.
Using those same words, you can also do something very different, by showing the children the relationship between the words, how those very different words sometimes originated - or are used - in a similar fashion.
In this way, the learning of those few words functions as a platform onto which a very complex educational program can be built. This educational, added value all but decreases the fun and excitement of the activities. In contrast, the activities are geared toward extending the pleasures of play and discovery to all children, also the slower ones in the group. I will explain this further in various practical examples and in a more structural way in part 2 of the Handbook.
Because everything in which "something" is "learned" is called "educational," I would like to introduce some differentiation by coining the term "education(+) projects" to those projects that have been developed from the perspective of a learning methodology (what I mean by this you will read in the Handbook.). The question remains, then, of what the difference is with a course. Educational and education(+) projects are not aimed at the transfer of specialist knowledge. For children who wish to learn to draw, to dance or practice carpentry, dedicated learning programs, i.e., courses, exist. Educational and education(+) projects are, however, aimed at developing (general) skills that can be drawn upon in various situations. Such skills can be those needed for learning mathematics or language, but also those that promote social behavior or those that enable children to discover their self.
For participants in a course or in an educational program the big difference is that in case of a course it is clear what will be learned. It is a finalized entity that is usually closed off with a test and a diploma. In an educational project, and certainly in an education(+) project, the learning target proper is often different from the theme the participating children start out with.

Let's take an example in which children have trouble counting. In that case an educational project might consist of a series of activities involving counting. Such projects may be conceived by virtually anybody and are usually of little educational value. Moreover, children who are not good at counting very often don't like taking part in such projects, no matter how nicely the actual counting is packaged.
If you want to develop a good education(+) project, you will first have to find out why the children are not good at counting. The result of that investigation may be that they lack certain skills that are important for counting. In a next step a project is devised, targeted at exercising those specific skills. It may very well be that no counting is included in this entire project because the desired, specific skills may also be exercised or learned in a different, more efficient and/or more pleasant way.

Of course educational projects, just like courses, have a subject or a theme. During the project the intention is, of course, to make that subject or theme accessible by way of activities. In general, however, the subject (or theme) is a broad one, with activities that link up well with other (school) activities. Making the subject accessible represents in a way the educational top layer, very concrete and clearly set out for the participants. This layer is, however, a mere envelope for the education itself. Education(+) projects need to be synergistic to a large extent. Every part of them has been the subject of extensive thought and all parts together are utilized to obtain the intended result. See the main text for further detail.
Devising and developing education (+) projects is not easy, but certainly fascinating.

Education(+) projects
An educational project as the expression says consists of two components: the project component and the educational component.
We define the project component as a series of logically connected but individually autonomous - activities.
We define the educational component as the property of the project that delineates a specific learning objective.
In the Handbook. we will discuss both aspects. In the first part we will deal with education. In the second part we will talk about the development of projects and, in the third part, about their execution.

Roby Bellemans.

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