Interview: International trainings provide inspiration in the EDUCAS Project
The EDUCAS project aims to create child- and family-friendly learning spaces within early childhood education and care centers. As part of the project, three international trainings are planned – one in Italy, one in Belgium, one in Lithuania.
During these trainings researchers, directors and teachers/practitioners from the centers involved in the project meet and have the chance to exchange and learn together. Two have taken place since 2019 with the third planned for the fall of 2020. These participants are also taking apart in continuous professional development throughout the course of the project.
Having attended two out of three international trainings, several participants have been interviewed from each country. Below, is the experience of Dovilè Simovice from Lithuania.
For the past six years, Dovilè has worked as a teacher coordinator, the last three in one of the private kindergartens her organization runs in Kaunas, Lithuania. The EDUCAS project trainings and continuous professional development path (CDP) have provided her with new knowledge on ECEC and has given her the chance to visit other education centers in Belgium and Italy, an experience she has later shared with the approximately 50 practitioners who work in her organization, Vaikystès Sodas.
Did the EDUCAS trainings help you in reflecting on your practice? If yes, how?
Yes, they did. When we got to know other kindergartens in Italy and Belgium, it allowed us to understand better how we are working with our kids. For instance, we realized that we are already committed to "Educare" because our children - aged one to six years- help each other very much and the older ones take care of the youngest. It also helped us to reflect on how we relate with the parents, and in order to improve this, we decided to build an Educas tent outdoor where parents can share with us the places they like the most about our kindergarten. Our education centers are different from others in the country in the sense in which we have groups with around 16 children when the regular size is usually 24 children, and in each group, we have teachers and teachers' assistants. Our structure is also something we reflected on during the training. I myself, I coordinate a group of 21 teachers.
“I found it a very inspiring experience from which I have learnt a lot.”
Did these activities help you in changing (or planning to change) your practice, in relation to "spaces" and "educare"? If yes, in which way?
After our trips to Italy and Belgium, we gave a presentation to all the teachers showing them the main features of the schools we visited: the beautiful gardens they all had and how clean and organized the school in Italy is. The teachers were very enthusiastic about changing the spaces and they all found it very interesting. The first thing we did was cleaning all the shelves from toys and other stuff we don't use anymore. Then we also changed from bright colors to calm ones, as we had learnt in Italy how this atmosphere helps to calm the children down. Outside, we have created a small garden with second-hand material brought by the parents. Together we have built it from scratch and now the children can play and learn a lot from it.
Is there an added value in sharing training activities with colleagues from your own country and colleagues from different countries? If yes, which one(s)?
The way kindergartens and schools are organized are different per country: in Italy, there is more attention to aesthetics, to cleanliness, we are more chaotic. In Belgium, they have an open space we don't have here. However, we, the teachers, we felt very much alike. It was the first time I visited schools in Italy and Belgium and I found it a very inspiring experience from which I have learnt a lot.
Is there anything you "discovered" about your practice thanks to these training sessions?
As I mentioned before, we discovered we were on a good track when it comes to the close relationship we have with the parents and the bonds the children from different ages have among each other. That Educare side we are already implementing well. We also have good coordination among the teachers, since the organization counts with three teacher coordinators in Vilnius and one, me, in this location in Kaunas.
Which main challenge did you experience in these training sessions (if any)?
The main challenge could be the government requirements each country has for the layout of its education centers, which might differ from one another. For instance, we loved the large gardens the Italian and the Belgian schools had, but that is something we will not be able to implement here because of safety issues. The same holds for the farm animals: the school in Gent had some of them and that is absolutely great for the children, but unfortunately, it is an idea we cannot think of for our centers in Lithuania.