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
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
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
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.