Recognise your feelings, understand and name your emotions, learn about literature, history, creative writing or even biology. Is this all possible at a museum? Of course. This was discussed by almost 100 teachers from all over Lithuania, who attended an educational conference organised by MO Museum “Children of the 21st Century at the Museum: Opportunities and Benefits of Non-formal Education”.
At a conference, which was specifically aimed at the teachers’ community, the representatives of MO Museum, together with educators and psychologists, discussed various kinds of educational activities introduced and implemented at MO Museum during its first year. Bringing together the community of over 250 schools, the Museum aims to be their partner in offering meaningful exhibition content that is not only meant to exploit key competencies of the 21st century but also to develop generic skills by adjusting this content to various subjects of the formal school programme. Teachers were also able to try out different MO educational activities themselves and find out what children of different ages actually experience and learn during these activities.
MO Museum defines three main areas of educational activities: visual thinking, emotional intelligence and integrated lessons when the Museum content is related to school subjects: literature, history, foreign languages, creative writing or even biology. The development of these educational trends was also related to the idea of breaking the stereotype that visiting an art museum should be the prerogative of art lessons alone. As educators at MO note, children certainly enjoy a different kind of lessons and activities at the Museum. They are openly talking about emotions, and sometimes, to their teachers’ surprise, even link school-based knowledge to other contexts.
“When we prepare educational programmes at MO Museum, we set strategic goals, taking into account the needs of children and young people to acquire the competencies that are necessary for the 21st century. It seems important to us to provide opportunities for children to learn outside school – to experience things in a different environment and context. During the first year, we saw how strongly this affects children. Through our activities, we strive to make the Museum a great place for people to grow,” says Milda Ivanauskienė, Director at MO Museum.
Psychologist: Visual art is great starting point for talking about emotions
The innovative and highly successful educational programme at MO Museum – the Emotional Intelligence Training Programme – was designed and developed with the support of the psychologists from the Children Support Centre. During the sessions, children are being taught to recognise their thoughts and feelings and to understand how they affect their emotions and behaviour.
“Self-awareness, empathy and the ability to look at the situation from another person’s point of view are the skills that are important to children‘s development as well as to their emotional and psychological health. We have to admit that our formal education system is still focused on developing intellectual abilities, with little regard to feelings and emotional well-being. This is essential regarding both, the interpersonal relationships and the general ability to adapt to different situations or the society,” says Aušra Kurienė, psychologist and psychotherapist, co-founder and Director of the Children Support Centre.
MO Museum runs several different programmes aimed at the development of emotional intelligence of both primary school pupils as well as secondary school pupils who are about to graduate from school. The initial theme of the ability to understand and properly express one’s feelings later proceedes with that of one’s interpersonal relationships; in addition, creative ways of resolving conflict are sought.
The new programme launched this fall at MO Museum is based on mindfulness training practices. It is a tool for children and adolescents to help recognise, control and regulate their impulsivity and stress levels. Research has revealed that the constant use of mindfulness practices reduces the level of anxiety and depression in children and adolescents and allows for better quality sleep.
As Kurienė adds, visual art is a great starting point to start talking about emotions. “By talking about what kinds of feelings a certain work of art evokes, we move on to common relationships among people. It is interesting to hear children talk about emotions and their inner states. It is important to them, so it is necessary to find a way and conditions for them to speak. A museum is a great place for that,” Kurienė adds.
Methods and practices widely adopted abroad
At MO Museum, children are invited to look at works of art without any preconception or prejudice. During these educational activities, there is often a sense of surprise at how differently each person sees the same piece – it is a great exercise not only to ground and express one’s opinion but also to accept another person, his or her point of view, to have a constructive discussion.
“Many educational activities at MO Museum are based on the method of the visual thinking strategy. It was developed at the MoMA Museum in New York and is currently used worldwide. Yet, this is a very novel method applied in museum education, so it is wonderful that it is flourishing at MO Museum,” says Karen Vanhercke, Educator at MO Museum and the Art and History Museum in Brussels.
Vanhercke adds that starting from the objective factors that characterise a certain piece, such as colour, shape or material, it is possible to move on to various interpretations of the artwork offered by the pupils themselves. “This provides them not only the opportunity but also the courage to relate their observations or insights to the artwork,” she notes.