What is it like to lead 7 workshops for primary school students? Challenging. Especially for your vocal cords.
It’s 8:00 a.m. and the last stragglers are rushing into the classroom. At an elementary school in a small village near the Říp mountain, there is no central bell ringing across the school. Instead, the beginning of class is signaled by a bell in the headmistress’s fingers. She calls it an analog bell.
“Good morning children. As you must have noticed, today we don’t have a classic lesson, but there is a Project Day that awaits you and will be led by our colleagues from the Participation Factory…”
The school in Mnetěš with a direct view of the most famous Czech mountain is one of the seven primary schools in the Central Bohemian and Ústí Regions where we implemented the Project Day. The topic – The Future of the Landscape – was not chosen by chance. These are municipalities that are affected not only by the problematic D8 highway, but in the future they will also be affected by planned transportation and other constructions. And even though it may not seem like it yet, somewhere in the distance a red light is signaling that the landscape is in danger.
But why drag children into all this?
Education in the field of nature and landscape protection is now a part of school curriculums. The Future of the Landscape Project Day, implemented as part of the Open Government project, represents a step forward in this regard. It aims to involve children directly in a dialogue about the future of our landscape and the need to protect not only what is economically valuable, but also what we love. We believe that in addition to counting and grammar, children should also learn to express their opinion, participate and be an active citizen. In practice, it is a form of informal education, where with the help of an interactive presentation and activities, we want to arouse in children an interest in their surroundings and what is happening in it.
What are the children’s favorite places in their surroundings? A playground, a field behind their house, a forest, Mount Říp, and even a shopping center. The activities showed us what the children consider important in the landscape, which places have the most like for them, and what they value the most in their surroundings. At the same time, the children were guided in a playful way to think about what threatens the landscape and what they themselves can do to protect it.
Children identified the biggest threats to our landscape
The Project day also included a participatory method of voting and prioritization, during which the children together determined the biggest threats that, according to them, affect our landscape. The voting turned out a little differently at each school. However, such topics as war, wildfires, tornadoes, garbage, factories, and dangerous chemicals appeared across all schools. Some of the results are connected with recent events in our country and in the world, which were and still are omnipresent in the media. So it is not surprising that they also affect children. It is also obvious that the children chose those threats that they themselves can understand and intellectually comprehend.
The activity showed us the interesting fact that schoolchildren are aware of recent disasters in the Czech Republic (tornado in Moravia, fire in Hřensko, pollution in Bečva river) and events in the world (war in Ukraine), including their possible effects on their landscape. They understand that there are threats that they cannot face alone. However, they learned that even small steps are enough to make our landscape a little healthier.
From children to active citizens
However, it does not end with the education of children. Through the children, interest in our landscape and its future also reaches their parents. Excited children come home, and there their parents also get exposed to the topic of civic participation and the possibility of directly influencing events in their towns. Therefore, Project days are only the beginning of the journey of increasing civic activism. Part of the international Open Government project, which is implemented for municipalities by the town of Zdiby and Koridor D8 until 2024, are other activities aimed mainly at increasing the quality, openness, and transparency of public administration, improving communication with its citizens and involving the public in planning and decision-making processes.
Are you thinking about involving citizens in planning processes in your municipality? Do you want to start with participation and need to consult? Get in touch with us at email@example.com!