Free Will

Text by Charlene Chan & Thanussha Priyah
Photographs courtesy of Playeum & The Artground

Of the numerous aspects of a child’s wellbeing and development, one of the most contentious has been that of early education. From as far back as the early 20th century, several schools of thought have emerged, each prescribing alternatives that are equally relevant and influential. Though they overlap to varying degrees, many single out play—a natural instinct of children—as being fundamental to their development.

It is this element of play that has come to define a growing number of creative spaces for children. Loosely based on the Reggio Emilia philosophy, which prioritises an open-ended, exploratory and self-directed mode of learning, play becomes a medium of expression for children below the ages of 12. Rather than treating playing and learning as being on opposing ends of the same spectrum, they feed into each other, allowing children to gain an understanding of their world through interactions with their peers and material objects.

One such initiative in Singapore is The Artground, a play space with an emphasis on art. “Artmaking can be explored in a hundred, and a hundred more ways. There is no right and wrong in artmaking, only good and better,” explains director Luanne Poh. Throughout four designated play areas—The Ground Floor, an indoor exhibition space; Whitebox, a theatrical black box; Baby Stage, an alcove for younger babies and parents; and The Good Garden, an outdoor edible garden—children participate in hands-on activities and workshops that allow their innate curiosity to direct their own learning.

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and this is apparent in the community that The Artground has built for itself. To develop experiences for their young visitors, they conduct a year-long incubation programme to select, devise and test ideas with local artists, encouraging them to discover new ideas and ways of presenting through play. Parents are often welcome into the fray as well. “We find that this actually works to our advantage, because without policing by centre staff, parents continue to model best behaviours for their children…We accept that this space may not be suitable for everyone, although we are con dent that most children, given appropriate encouraging and prodding, will define the space themselves and build their own play. We recognise it is usually adults who need to be convinced because for children, playing comes naturally,” says Luanne.

Read more in The X Press N˚3.