As education is one of DMB’s missions, I had the chance to speak to Robin Giang, who brings art to the forefront of developing education. Ms. Giang’s organization, CosmoKids, is using arts, creativity, and expression to make an impact on education. At its root, Giang admits that her education philosophy is therapy, but in order for other’s who hear about her work at CosmoKids for the first time, the system is more appropriately stated as expressive education.
There’s a lot of chatter about education and art and design in the upper levels of the education system, particularly for teens, but what about younger children? What about children before they start formal schooling? Many children in China go to a pre-school in preparation for ‘school’ or first grade, but the curriculum in these programs are geared towards education in a very bookish way of viewing education, and we’re all aware that critics say that this not only takes away from a child’s play experiences, in addition to education in a social context.
Giang states that she had a business background, and after doing so much business work, she realized that everything she was working on had to do with people, similarly, people are also central to many design philosophies. “I did business development and consulting, it was solving problems all related to people.” Giang’s experience in working with people led her to a path where she’s using expression through the arts and other forms of therapy to work with children. With young children, before they attend school or even pre-school. Having done a lot of volunteer work with children and teens in the past, Giang never thought she’d be making a career out of it, but her passion for education led her to start CosmoKids.
She emphasizes the importance of the designed space at CosmoKids and how it influences not only the children, but how receptive adults are to this space. “How does design contribute and improve your life? I love being in a space that’s therapeutic. I did most of the design based on what I know and what I wanted to create: environmentally friendly, non-toxic, and ‘Zen’. Not yoga, studio, or spa. And got some feedback from friends. The space feels energetic and Zen to kids and at the same time brings out the child qualities in adults again.” What Giang refers to as Zen, in this case, is very focused on a ‘Zen’ playspace for kids with inviting colors that encourage expression and exploration.
Giang describes her curriculum: “The main curriculums now are arts and crafts, music and sound, storytelling and role play. We basically use all of that as a way to help kids express themselves. Just express. Through that expression they can help create their self-identity of who they really are and build self-esteem. Sometimes kids do not express enough and sometimes when they do, it’s expressed in a way that’s not affective. All of a sudden, extremes like “give me that toy!” or non-verbal expression of pushing and grabbing of things which actually mean “I want to play with you” instead, they just push to get attention. Kids are mean to each other, seemingly mean because they can’t comprehend [their actions].” The curriculum at CosmoKids teaches children to empathize and sympathize with others, while expressing themselves through the means of arts and/or storytelling, which are elements that designers are not only familiar with, but also feel vital in the work that we do.