Cosmokidz in Romania—a new and exciting experience
Carmen Gabriela Greab and Iuliana Gabriela Georgescu
In the past 5 years of our work with youngsters in Romania, we were guided by the principles of democracy and deliberation, which we experienced through our work with the Kettering Foundation. More recently, our focus moved towards younger groups of children, mainly after hearing the interesting CosmoKidz results that Kim Pearce presented in an International Workshop held in Dayton. We realised that our work with adolescents could be enhanced if children were exposed to deliberative practices at a younger age. Since we did not work directly with this age group, our approach was to identify kindergarten or primary school teachers in Romania that could use CosmoKidz in their classrooms.
We used Cosmokidz in Romania for the first time from 2016 to 2017. In this first stage we experimented with this new teaching practice and collected data on its effectiveness in developing socio-emotional skills in young kids. We were particularly interested in using Cosmokidz in different settings to see the possible different effect on young children. We selected three institutions: two public institutions in a large city and a small private institution, based in a small city in Romania. Since these institutions had different approaches and rules, we had to adapt and contextualize the use of the Cosmokidz kit.
We first used Cosmokidz in a neighbourhood public kindergarten, called “Albinuta” (Little Bee), with more than 400 children enrolled every year. This kindergarten is located in Cluj-Napoca, one of the biggest cities in Romania, and with a very rapid and constant increase in economic development. One teacher, Prof. Rodica Vais, started to use the Cosmokidz kit weekly, while the other four teachers in this kindergarten, used only some of the topics, based on the needs identified in their classroom. The teachers decided when to introduce the cards. They worked a lot in finding ways to make children engage in the deliberation. Sometimes children deliberated on the topics in smaller groups, while other times the topics were addressed in the entire group. In order to make children more comfortable and engaged, some teachers used children songs, short poems or stories to introduce a topic. Children were invited to think of a personal experience related to the discussed topic, so that they felt close to the topic and also to create a space of trust—crucial in a deliberative setting.
We also used the Cosmokidz kit with the first graders from Ion Creanga school, a public neighbourhood school, in Cluj-Napoca. The five topics selected for discussions (Making New friends, Exploring Loving Behaviours, Helping Others, Getting Angry, Making Quiet Time) were of high interest to students and their teacher. They identified those topics as being part of their everyday life in school. Some of the students even mentioned that they need help to solve some problems they face in these areas. For each of the topics, the teacher used CosmoKidz materials and some additional ones, such as little stories, videos, songs or poems.
In addition, we used Cosmokidz in a private school in Targu-Mures, as an optional course on personal development for 5-7-year-old students. The optional course started in November 2016 and had a total of 30 meetings. During these meetings, kids were introduced to various learning activities, including deliberations, through CosmoKidz cards. During these forums, children were asked to answer some questions and engage in deliberation about issues that might concern them. To create a space for deliberation, all these activities were done either in a circle on pillows or chairs, or in small round table groups. This way, children were encouraged to freely express themselves without any feelings of authority.
One of the most important gains of this experience was the fact that children had the opportunity to openly discuss topics important to them, but rarely included in the topics discussed at school. Through these discussions, they had a chance to better know each other. One student once said: “Now I can be a friend of T. I never liked him before because he is mean and he is upsetting everybody in our class. But now I know him better. I know what he is going through and I know what he believes about different things.”
More importantly, children learned to express their thoughts and feelings in a more effective way: “she learned how to communicate effectively and now she has started to be patient and to speak slowly so we can understand her […] she is more patient, and she is not shouting anymore. I was just talking with my husband last night that something is going on since we didn’t hear her shouting for some time now”. (Parent) Another parent was surprised to see that after being exposed to these activities, her child managed to find a way of communicating through drawings: “Whenever she wants to tell us something and she doesn’t know how to tell us, she takes a piece of paper and draws something and after that she comes to me or her father and explains the drawing”. (Parent)
These are only some of the most visible effects that Cosmokidz had on the engaged students. That is why we are now in the process of expanding the experiment, through convincing more teachers to use the cards in their daily activities.