Page updated 24.4.2017

The school pupils’ climate change awareness is empowered through play and art – “it’s great to see them so inspired”

Pupils at the Pääskyvuori primary school, Turku, Finland are engaged with environmental issues in the international Green Actions project, which is being led by the Arts Academy, Turku University of Applied Sciences. In the project, learning happens by doing. Playing and art stimulate the pupils with environmental themes.

Original Finnish text and photos: Antti Hartikainen, English translation: Elli Sillanpää  

Students from the Arts Academy organized a three-day workshop for classes 2A and 2B from Pääskyvuori primary school, which is acting as the Green Actions laboratory for creative pedagogical development.

“We didn’t come here with prepared tasks. Yesterday we asked the kids to provide feedback and ideas. They wanted to play polar bear catch, so that’s what we did this morning”, says Jonna Junnila, who is studying to become a dance teacher.

The pupils were actively involved in co-designing the workshops through brainstorming and dialogue with the Green Actions Development / GAD group of Turku Arts Academy students.

“Some of them wanted more drawing and painting, whereas some wanted more creative movement possibilities. We thought that we could combine these and do both things in the same space. It worked well”, Jonna Halli, who is studying fine arts, described the formulation of the day’s programme.

The workshop days featured creative movement with Jevi the polar bear. The pupils also crafted polar bear necklaces and created comic books, where they could draw and write their own ideas.

In one specific movement experience, the pupils surrounded Jevi the polar bear, who tried to keep his balance on the ice. In this movement study, the children were reducing the edge and size of the iceberg, representing the Sun’s impact on global warming. Dance teacher student, Emma Keitilä, who played the Sun removed the children from the circle one by one by patting them on the back. Then one of the pupils went away from the circle and was quickly replaced by another to stop Jevi from falling in the ocean.

For the pupils the movement experience was full of kinetic energy and smiles, but left a deep and important understanding of global warming which is happening twice as fast in our Arctic region compared to the rest of the earth.

Four dance teacher students and two fine arts students led and mentored the pupils in the workshops. In the previous days, the programme has featured e.g. sorting trash, quizzes, and a “garbage objects” orchestra.

Positive feedback from the pupils

The Arts Academy students consider the Green Actions’ workshops overall structure successful, as they engaged the pupils in the co-design / development process regarding the pupils own ideas and desires related to environmental protection and awareness.

“I believe that through this creative interaction, the kids remember the issues better. For example, when we have asked for feedback, we have received lots of recycling tips”, fine arts student Miia Varis rejoices.

“Today a girl said that her family’s actions at their home were saving the polar bears. In my opinion, that means that they have understood the issues in a positive way”, Halli says.

The pupils from classes 2A and 2B at Pääskyvuori primary school, who participated in the project, were very enthusiastic about the hour-long workshops. Their joy also impacted the Arts Academy students.

“The best thing is that the kids give the feedback right away. It’s very rewarding when you establish a contact and trust with a child”, Halli says.

Varis agrees.

“It’s great to see the children so inspired. It also gives us a boost. You immediately have many ideas from the children with planning what to do.”

Teaching children teaches

Before this, fine arts students Halli and Varis had not participated in a project which included teaching children. Junnila studies dance pedagogy and for these workshop days the focus she has had on children and school dance themes were extremely valuable.

All three share an interest in teaching children. Halli and Varis, who study fine arts, joined the project to gain experience on working with children.

“As a dance teacher, working with children and youth is important. It’s exactly what we’ll be doing in the future when we are dance artist-teachers in Finland and elsewhere. This project provides a lot of material for that. I’ve learned a lot during the project, for example about making schedules with children”, Junnila says.

The Arts Academy students have also considered collaborating with students from different disciplines within the Turku University of Applied Sciences as an eye-opening experience, because they feel they learn different ways of working.

In addition to Halli, Varis, Junnila, and Keitilä, dance teacher students, Aliisa Peräniitty and Evgeny Kostyuko, who played the part of Jevi the polar bear, made major contributions to leading the workshops.

International cooperation

The project has been initiated by the Arts Academy at Turku University of Applied Sciences, and it is led by Senior Music Lecturer, David Yoken.

The pedagogical idea of the project is to combine arts and science and to teach children through kinetic and creative experiences. The project’s main focus on the environment is obviously timely.

“Global warming is having a devastating impact on our environment. We focus on this particular age group, because in ten years, these seven- and eight-year-olds will vote and be responsible members of our society at the last nanoseconds of our earth’s current trend in global environmental issues ”, Yoken emphasizes.

Green Actions is an international project which involves several circumpolar countries. There is a large cohort of universities, primary schools, NGOs and municipalities. And according to Yoken, the number is increasing.

“We have formal cooperation agreements with the University of Greenland, Sámi University of Applied Sciences in Kautokeino, Northern Norway, and primary schools from Greenland, Iceland, Denmark.  We have Memorandums of Understanding with University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and the Bering Strait School District in Alaska. We are shortly signing agreements in Nunavut and Yellowknife, Northern Canada.”

The cooperation includes students from different countries communicating online with each other. The sixth-grade’ English class from Pääskyvuori primary school in Turku is working with the Voice Thread digital platform with school children of the same age in the Bering Strait School District in Alaska. 

“They are having a knowledge exchange focused on local animal environmental adaptability to global warming”, says Yoken.

The project also includes competence exchange and cultural interaction.

“We are investigating diverse educational curricula in different contexts and countries. For example, we have important cooperation with Sámi University of Applied Sciences. In Green Actions we are very interested to research, engage, and include ‘local knowledge’, ‘traditional knowledge‘, ‘land based education’ and other approaches to environmental issues that are embedded in northern indigenous peoples’ lives. As a colleague of mine from Sámi University of Applied Sciences said ‘Well actually the environment is part of everything we do’”.

David wishes to thank the Pääskyvuori primary school: classroom teachers Katri Nirhamo, Eetu Jokinen, and Headmaster Erkki Rötkönen for all their support for making Green Actions happen, but mostly to their remarkable 2A and 2B pupils!