Coming through customs there was Katrien van Laere with a sign. I was very happy to see her, a totally unexpected thoughtfulness.
Dinner was in a brasserie in a restored old building with
Katrien, Jan Peeters
Dept of Social Welfare Services, University of Ghent
Jan Regaert, Cindy, Griet Vandenabeele and Demsey Freinetschool de Vlieger
Caroline Boundry, VBJK
Friday was visits to schools
Freinetscool de Vlieger. The Freinet kindergarten and elementary school was having a special parade competition. Children were to come to school on bikes and then invited to decorate themselves and their bikes with reflective gear with the theme of taking care of the environment. So one by one they biked through the crowds of cheering parents and teachers–some enjoyed this greatly and others were quite reluctant. One tiny boy veered off into the crowd. Later we heard the children cheering for Mina who had won the competition.
We watched on the periphery of a circle time I hope I will never forget. There were about 15 children of mixed ages from 2-6. The little ones were closer to the teacher and there were two boys drawing at a table in front. I never understood all about that, but one dressed in a space suit was the child of the day. The mood was very calm and the pace was slow. Children focused in and out, having conversations in pairs along the side. Only once did I see the teacher ask for a child to pay attention. They talked about the days and weather as usual and things the children had brought from home. One child had a bunch of glittery puffs in her hand. The teacher turned it into a math lesson, turning to the older children for discussions of finding the middle.
Then she asked Felix to sit on her knee. “I don’t usually ask a child of 5 to sit on my knee, but Felix is sad today. His grandmother died yesterday and so today he is sad.”. I had been told that euthanasia has become legal here which I was thankful to know as the teacher talked about all of this, how the grandmother had visited the classroom and how much she loved Felix and how she had become sick and was in a lot of pain. So now she had told the family she would die…….”Would you like the other children to ask questions, Felix? You can choose who should ask a question.”. One little girl talked about a chicken that had died and the teacher connected how sad she felt about the chicken to Felix’s sadness. Felix returned to his seat with great sadness on his face and then the teacher began to softly sing and engage the children in a song about feelings. There was much still to talk about and she had created with the children a safe place to do so when the children were ready.
There was a meeting with a few teachers so we could talk about the Freinet philosophy and their work with children. The point that really struck me was they use the words to define their work as “being WITH children.”
Lunch with Ankie Vandekerckhove, Children’s Rights expert, former Commissioner on children’s rights for Flanders, and Ellen Rutgeerts, who works with the magazine and Caroline and Jan.
The afternoon was a visit to a neighborhood school serving a diversity of immigrant families. Dienst Kinderopvang. It was a very light, welcoming facility, engaged staff and an inspired and committed director. Katrien Reynaert was very proud of the outdoor space in which they had created a story path hidden among the plants and trees. You began with a mouse and a worm and were drawn into a ritual of magic and play.
Later Jan had chosen a tiny Italian restaurant for dinner with Chris DeKimpe, a great friend from their hippie days during which they challenged policy and worked for change for children. The first Katrien says they and their group of peers are responsible for the quality of education in Flanders. She blew into the room with her long hair and expansive personality. It was such a great dinner, so much fun. We walked back to the hotel through the magical lights of the towers and the city at night.
Saturday late morning I met Jan and his wife Marianne who took me on a tour of the sites and architecture of this old and beautiful city, with turrets and towers everywhere you look. We had lunch at an outdoor cafe and later were joined by Katrien and her husband John. And then we talked and talked in wind and sunshine. Katrien and I took the boat ride down the canals. Goodbyes. I did a bit of walking and then sat at a cafe by the canal and enjoyed a beer and the view. The end. Flight in the morning.