The pedagogical strategies that Don Bosco developed with his companions have a few specific characteristics and accents. They characterize the way we work with children and teenagers now.
We believe in the power of a familiar atmosphere. This is why we choose to educate children with a strong connection to parents and a broader community. After all, parents are and will be the primary educators. We also trust in and give space to the dynamics of a peer group. We always take into account the social world and the environment of a child or teenager. A world-wide connection with an eye for the most vulnerable is made visible in concrete actions.
For Don Bosco, trust was a powerful pedagogical principle. We want to be present as a supportive entity as much as we can. Being present and supporting was the centre of Don Bosco’s preventative system. We value a child or teenager as they are and look for their individual strengths. By providing them with successes, we want to help them to further develop their resilience and self-confidence.
Like Don Bosco, we distinguish in our supportive approach two important aspects: open-heartedness and reason. This is why we approach kids with warm open-heartedness, we are tuned in to their environment and we listen to how they see things. This way, a basic trust is developed, which gives you authority and the tools to mean something for these children and teenagers. At the same time, we are not afraid to put up boundaries. We are “reasonable” in what we expect from our youths.
Connections with people grow from a connection to God. It was that simple to Don Bosco. He wanted to be something who looked out for children and guided them as they grew as humans. Today, the religious dimension is no longer an obvious part of education, rather, it is a challenge. Educating with religion as a base is not a bundle of cut-and-dried answers that you provide a child with. Instead, the questions lead the way and open up the path to growth. When we accompany children - and definitely our youth leaders - on that path, we consciously choose for bringing them closer to God. An evening speech at the end of a camp day can improve connection to each other and to God. It makes it possible to experience a God who is nearby, who accompanies people on their paths and who stays with them in difficult times and beautiful moments.
A PEDAGOGY OF GROWTH
Grass does not grow by pulling it, but by watering its roots, giving it warmth and offering it protection. A safe growing space needs structure and boundaries, but also leaves space for challenges and own interpretation. We teach our children and teenagers how to handle the many influences that are directed their way. We take into account their growth and offer them a chance to explore and develop it in a personal way. We are aware of the vulnerability, but also of the many possibilities of youth and we act accordingly. We offer youths concrete chances to blossom, to engage and to take on responsibility.
A PEDAGOGY OF JOY AND PLAY
Of course, playing and a playful approach are key concepts at our summer camp. They offer powerful chances to grow and learn. Play is not confined to explicit moments of play, but is integrated in the entire summer camp. We do not limit our role as youth leader, head youth leader or summer camp director to keeping an eye on the children from the sidelines. We want to be actively involved and participate in activities as much as possible. We try to have a playful approach and handle situations with humour. This promotes a warm environment and often provides release. Playing expresses a zest for life. For Don Bosco, that was an indication of the pedagogic environment. Joy is more than enjoying activities or making everything enjoyable; it has a deeper meaning. Don Bosco considered it a gift from God and a sign of His presence.
A PEDAGOGY OF HOPE
Step by step, kids grow into adults, with ups and downs. Sometimes, however, children are only able to take a few steps or we see how they swerve from the path or get stuck. Education implies patiently and unshakably being present for children and walking the path of graduality. We install into them this perspective of hope as they build their own lives. Children have a right to a basic trust in their existence, to the feeling of being “carried”, across all barriers.