As we all know the arts, imaginative thought and poetic feeling are essential for individual and social happiness and well-being, from 0 to 99 years of age.
That is why Alchemilla has created a method and a series of tools which, through their encounter with the symbolic universe of art, enable even the smallest kids to describe the world as they see it. The mission of Alchemilla is to offer children expressive digital and physical experience that will allow them to make their voices heard and create opportunities for adults to listen to what they have to say.
Artoo is a rather unusual bear: he lives in the attic of a museum and he adores art. When he doesn’t understand a painting, he asks little kids for help. He knows they have a special sixth sense for discovering the hidden meaning of things.
Artoo is also an educational method: it starts from the children’s thoughts to create social impact and facilitate a greater involvement of the new generations in everyday life. This is also possible thanks to the functional use of digital and interactive tools.
Artoo is developed through various edutainment products: a digital platform for teachers that guides them into laboratory and training activities at school and in the museums; Artoo animated videos; an online free application and two books dedicated to Artoo and his friend Margherita.
What do kids do with Artoo? First of all, they are invited to say what they feel when they look at a painting, the audio content produced by the kids is then collected using multimedia in specific interface that is friendly for them and that enables their thoughts and experiences to be independently recorded, and ultimately to create a great collective story about art as seen through the eyes of children.
Starting from this initial moment of exploration, the kids are invited to create drawings based on what they saw in the artwork.
The children are the protagonists of the entire process on this journey: their voice, their artistic work, their creativity become the essential elements out of which content is constructed, content that is meaningful for adults, too.
Artoo and his helpers (teachers or parents) support the children all the way through this experience. The bear knows very well that since kids have no rigid conditioning or mental structures, they’re able to fully grasp art and help grownups discover it.
The method embodies key pedagogical principles:
- Shared discovery. Adults explore alongside children and become aware not only the adults have all the answers;
- Symbolic reflection. Art offers a rich universe to contemplate life’s deep themes;
- Active listening as foundation of meaningful relationships;
- Confidence in children’s capacity to shape the future;
- Empowerment of children’s voices impact on policy-makers and educators;
- Gentle digital technologies as a strategic tool for children’s empowerment.
And involves different actions:
- School are engaged in the involvement of the target audience;
- Educators and teachers integrate performative/visual arts and Artoo’s universe in school educational activities;
- Children visit the museum with their families and teachers.
The schools that adopt Artoo subscribe yearly to the online platform Artoo4education where teachers can find many different proposals for thematic workshops to do in their classes. The topics of these activity modules are art and specific painters, like in particular Kandinsky and Klee, but also relevant topics like sustainability or gender equality. Each of these modules can last 3 o 4 months as it includes many different workshops in a step by step approach to cover and complete the topic.
All this is supported by a powerful storytelling that will help teachers to be effective in engaging the little ones in the project. The teacher is actually the communication link between Artoo the bear and the children, in every respect: they receives the letters and the materials the bear sends them and help the little kids send him their voices. They assist Artoo, helping him introduce kids to art and draw on the imagery of art to offer the little ones a unique opportunity to express themselves, placing them at the centre of the workshops they are involved in.
The digital tools available to teachers are gentle because:
- they favour relaxed and non-compulsive use;
- they support active user participation;
- they promote group/family use rather than individual use;
- they allow kids to manage them independently and safely.
All this while presenting simply as fun tools, aesthetically refined and easy to use.
Alchemilla believes that schools, museum and families can work together to improve kids’ participation and facilitate their contact with arts and cultural heritage in a circular approach.
This is why Alchemilla collaborates with relevant Museum like the “Museo Teatrale alla Scala”.
In these cases, the project enhances children voices and insights into local heritage aiming to:
- enrich museums’ experience for both adults and children thanks to children’s point of view;
- empower children in shaping actively their community’s history, fostering a sense of ownership and connection;
- engage families less familiar with cultural activities, placing them at the core of the museum experience and heritage interpretation.
Artoo books and the free app for mobile and tablet can help families to repeat the Artoo workshop experience at home.
The comments and reflexions collected from the involved children can become audioguides to invite other children discover a Museum masterpieces, or the start point of a new adventure in Artoo books series, to spread kids’ precious contributions and adopt their point of view.
ELISA ROTA, graduated in pedagogy from the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart of Milan, expert in childhood and creativity, is responsible for external relations at Alchemilla. With Francesca Gentile founded Alchemilla, a cooperative and start up that since 2015 has been carrying out social innovation projects aimed at children and minors using performing arts and new digital technologies. Especially in contexts of social fragility, Alchemilla works in support of girls and boys to promote their right to be heard and their capacity for social action.
FRANCESCA GENTILE has a PhD in Theatre and Performance Studies. She collaborates with the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart coordinating research-action projects about performative practices in the processes of participation and community development with particular attention to childhood. She is founder of Alchemilla (alchemillalab.it), a non-profit social enterprise dealing with giving voice to the new generations through performative arts and digital tools. She is project leader of “Artoo – Art as told by children“.