The number of international children’s books that can be used to deal with social-emotional themes, is scarce. That has to change, according to lecturers of the International Teacher Education for Primary Schools (ITEps) in Meppel. This is the only international teacher school in the world. First-year students of this progressive school are to create a children’s book that deals with a social theme in an accessible way. We talk to teacher Kirstin Botter and students Lily Godts and Merleau Schwieters about their experiences with the project.
Dealing with a social theme is important to the development of children, for they can learn to understand other nationalities and cultures. Examples are coping with the loss of a loved one and gender diversity. The children’s books project is based on the Design Based Education (DBE) concept, which means that the process is as important as the final result. Kirstin Botter: “Students are practice-orientated, are developing their own identity and are pushing their own boundaries when working on this project.” Merleau Schwieters agrees to this. “Especially the beginning of this project takes a lot of creativity and perseverance. We are free to develop ourselves with support of a coach and to further create the children’s book.” Students get to choose between several social themes. Lily Godts and her group chose to elaborate on ‘third culture kids’, these are children who spent an important part of their childhood in a culture other than that of their parents. “We want to make sure that children with constant temporary residence, will feel at home with children who are in the same boat as them.”
As a lecturer, Kirstin sees many things happening within the collaboration, as it will happen in their future career. This way, the students sometimes run into problems. “The group process is a challenge when you are obligated to create groups of four or five students. Luckily, the students solve their problems by focusing on the professional relationship.” Merleau thinks the collaboration has its pros and cons as well. “You are very dependent on the group you’re working in. This can undermine your own commitment. But more and better insights will also arise when you combine strengths.”
In the second semester, the first-year students will be having their internships at schools all around the world. After this internship, the students will have the chance to add some changes to the prototype of their book, based on their experiences during the internship. In that way, creating a children’s book was all about expanding boundaries, trial and error and to broaden horizons. Merleau: “Presenting the final book was a moment we were all very proud of.” Lily’s highlight of the project was getting to know the fellow students, as she thinks it adds more perspectives to the project. But they both experienced low points as well, like getting their project groups together and stressing about deadlines. Luckily Kirsten has some advice for everyone. “There will be moments when you just want to give up. But out of this frustration, creative ideas will grow - so embrace it!” Lily adds: “And it is important to adjust to different situations and to come up with creative solutions.”
All children’s books that are created will be given a spot in the library of NHL Stenden in Meppel, which leads to there being more children’s books with different social themes. But according to Kirstin, this project is important for more reasons. “Besides all the skills the students have developed, the written curricula can also be used by lecturers to tackle social themes.”