MiNDFOOD: Five minutes with Katja Keene-Fabig

Recently, Bear Park’s atelierista Katja Keene-Fabig had the pleasure of being interviewed by MiNDFOOD magazine! They were curious to know more about her role as an art educator. For those who have always wanted to know more about this profession, we hope the following Q&A helps to de-mystify the profession a little.

In your own words, define the role of atelierista:
The role is very dynamic. It involves drawing on a broad knowledge of visual communication to enrich the child’s learning. The atelierista works with other teachers in a collaborative setting – we are responsible for bringing awareness to the ‘interconnectedness’ of things. Sometimes, we will focus on the intricate details of a subject or idea, and extend the learning through the use of creative materials and forms of technology. We celebrate the arts, but always with bigger picture learning in mind.

The atelierista is also present to support and inspire other teachers in the centre.

Portrait of Katja Keene-Fabig, Bear Park atelierista

Why is the role an important part of the Reggio approach?
The atelier serves two functions. First, it provides a place for children to become masters of expressive techniques, such as painting, drawing and working with clay. These are some of the many languages that a child can draw on to communicate with. Working with different materials allows children to see the world from new perspectives, while being gently challenged and provoked.

Second, the atelierista can document first hand how children are devising new paths to communication. It is my job to provide a richness in material, so that every child can learn and build knowledge in a way that works for them.

What are some of the projects you do to introduce new concepts to the kids?
Often, what happens in the atelier is an evolution of what is already taking place within the wider classroom. An atelierista uses his or her creative lens to enhance the child’s learnings further. Sometimes, we will introduce a material or way of communicating an idea because we know that the the children are not as confident with it. For example, I recently used wire as a medium to develop new skills and extend existing ones.

Other times, we’ll use technology in our learning, because I can see that it is the best way for the children to be able to express their ideas. One of our recent projects, named ‘Butterflyness’ used digital image projections with a group of toddlers. The group became completely immersed within the actual movement of the projected butterflies. Through this activity, they could experience the possibility of flight.

Jot down some of the key philosophies of the role?

* Sustainability

* Imagination

* Engaging sensorial participation

* Multimodal literacy

* Visual Communication

How does this style of learning benefit the children?
As teachers, this style of learning means that we can connect more fully with a child’s world, and see or understand what they themselves see. This in turn benefits the children – with understanding comes empathy, and learning environments that are better tailored to interests or needs.

Most importantly, the atelier allows children to feel a sense of empowerment. Not all children are verbally competent, but through other creative mediums they can make their voices heard.

This type of learning supports brain development – children are encouraged to reflect on their ideas, self-critique and so on. It introduces young children to the idea of working with others towards a goal or focus.

How does a child’s interaction with nature affect them on a physical, emotional and intellectual level?
Through their encounters with nature, the children build a holistic curiosity, which allows them to develop theories and ideas about the living world.

They start to form respectful relationships with and towards nature through experiencing different ways of cause and effect. For example, what happens if the plant has no water and no friends or when the tree loses its leaves. Does it feel lonely?

When children are immersed in nature, they are free to explore and enjoy small details, unexpected beauty and put all the senses to use.

What are some of the ways you help your kids connect and care for the environment?
Most essentially, it’s about letting children have the opportunity to be out there experiencing the outdoors – wind, rain, hail or sun.

We teach the children about the Maori values for mother earth. Kaitiakitanga (guardianship) is a focus. Concepts of recycling and repurposing materials are another important part of Bear Park’s own philosophy. Children are taught to give objects a new lease on life. For example, plastic drink tops that would otherwise end up in landfill and made into building blocks for making and constructing.

Tell us about some of the results you are noticing with your kids as a result:
Children become more respectful and patient with nature – more empathetic with the creatures that inhabit it. They are also noticeably more in tune with seasonal changes, the shift in temperatures, colours, sounds etc.

Interested in learning more about the Reggio Emilia approach? Reggio Children organisation has a short and sweet description of what the ‘atelier’ is, along with many other online resources. Click here to explore.

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