The Museu Blau is the first museum in Catalonia to have a Children’s Council that will act as an advisory team in matters concerning the space, content and activities of the Museum.
This new advisory body —made up of 16 primary-school fifth- and sixth-graders from the Els Porxos and Els Horts schools in the amenity’s own Sant Martí district— is to come into being next Saturday, 25 October, between 11am and 1pm. The inaugural event will be attended by Anna Omedes, director of the Museu de Ciències Naturlals de Barcelona (Natural Sciences Museum of Barcelona); Francesco Tonucci, pedagogue and internationally acclaimed researcher at the Psychology Institute of Italy’s National Research Council; and Ernesto Páramo, director of the Parque de las Ciencias de Granada (Granada’s Science Park Museum) and promoter of the world’s first children’s council in a museum.
Seeking children’s advice is an appropriate way for cities to respond to children’s rights, as set out in Article 12 of the United Nations 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child:
- States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.
- For this purpose, the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a representative or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law.
Children’s councils are an offshoot from the La città dei bambini (The City of Children) project promoted by Francesco Tonucci in the early 1990s, which put forward a new philosophy for governance in cities that takes children’s views into account as a means of ensuring inclusiveness for all. Children’s councils can work in towns and cities—in Catalonia 24 municipalities have them—and also in schools, hospitals, recreational centres, museums and any institution where there are a significant number of children. In all cases it is a matter of acknowledging children’s capacity to express their views, and their right to participate in decisions that concern them. Whether in a city, a hospital or a museum, the mission of the children’s councils is to collect the ideas, suggestions and complaints of the children and young people, and to incorporate any feasible initiatives into the functioning of the institutions.
The excellent experience gained through the Children’s Council of the Parque de las Ciencias de Granada, set up in 2004, has served as the benchmark for the Museu Blau‘s creation of its own council, which has further benefited from the training sessions and advice given by the pedagogue Francesco Tonucci.
In creating this new advisory body, the Museu Blau joins the La città dei bambini project with the aim of encouraging local children to participate in the decision-making and programming of the amenity.
Structure of the Museu Blau Children’s Council, and how it will work
- The council will be made up of children (equal numbers of boys and girls) from the Els Porxos and Els Horts schools in Barcelona’s Sant Martí district. Both schools are close to the Museu Blau, thereby facilitating any visits and meetings; in addition, this project is included in the proximity project which is being developed with the district of Sant Martí. Engaging the participation of two different schools ensures richer and more diverse experiences.
- The first children’s council will consist only of children from the higher stage of primary school (5th and 6th grade) for easier management. Initially, the council will have 16 members, although we do not rule out the possibility of increasing the number of council members or broadening the age range as the project develops.
- Council membership will be for a maximum of two years. Judging from the experience at the Parque de las Ciencias de Granada, it appears likely that the children may wish to continue their ties with the Museum, for which purpose an ex-councillors club, or a club of adolescents and young people could be set up so that the children can maintain their connection with the museum if they wish and not lose contact with it.
- Every effort will be made to ensure that the council members are from different backgrounds and socio-cultural levels, and that the physically handicapped are not excluded. Diversity will broaden our viewpoint.
How it will work
- The schools will be free to pick the members of the children’s council in whatever way they consider most appropriate. However, the Museum suggests choosing them randomly by a draw. If the boy or girl chosen does not want to be a council member, he or she is free to refuse. Being selected by a draw generates greater commitment and a feeling of responsibility in the child because they are aware that they owe the position to chance, that chance has made them a member of the council, and they must prove themselves up to the task.
- Council experience is, and should be, quite different from that of school. Council members are not obliged to take notes, or write essays, or give their opinion if they do not wish to.
- The councillors are not spokespersons for their schools or families but representatives of their own opinions. We could say they are experts in childhood and are chosen for that reason.
- The council members will receive notice of the meetings at their home, along with the minutes of the previous meeting and the agenda to be discussed at the next meeting. The schoolteachers will also receive notice of the meetings.
- The meetings should be held fairly frequently for the purpose of maintaining an active and effective work dynamic. The council’s work schedule will be laid out at the beginning of the school year, the meetings being grouped into a four-month period (for example, one meeting per month from October to January or from February to May). Each meeting will last for approximately one hour and will be held during school hours.
- The only adults who may attend the council meetings will be the catalyst and the secretary in charge of taking notes and drawing up the minutes. As promoter of the council, the Director of the Natural Sciences Museum of Barcelona may always attend, either at the request of the council or on his or her own initiative. The reason for restricting the presence of adults is to encourage a more spontaneous, natural and creative participation than is generally the case when adults are present.
- Decisions will not be taken by vote. The Children’s Council at the Museum will not be a representative council in the traditional sense, but a participatory council. Good, innovative ideas are few and far between, and when children vote democratically it always leads to the least imaginative, most commonplace, ordinary proposals being approved, that is, the ones most similar to what adults would do. So, the catalyst plays a key role in finding out what the children’s opinions really are.
- The possibility of setting up work groups within the council will be taken into account.
- The council may call extraordinary meetings should the members consider it necessary.
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