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Communal Learning
Communal learning implies the open exchange of information in a spontaneous way. Most often communal learning happens when an environment is structured for play — many different kinds of play: art, interactive museum exhibits, physical games (baseball, soccer) etc. The excitement of discovery, of the unexpected results of new knowledge, stimulates the learning curve, which increases for the participating child. Exchange happens when children collaborate together on a project. Communal learning is a learning process which includes the sharing of information among a group of learners. This learning can happen in many different settings, like art studios and children’s museums. It is not restricted to school rooms. Many alternative learning environments offer the opportunity for communal learning experiences by allowing the children to play together.

fingerpaintingThe Berkeley Child Art Studio was an alternative learning environment that offered learners the opportunity of being a “team”. During the art making process knowledge was shared among the children involved, and support was given by the group to the individual roll players, such as drawers and painters. It was a process by which children agreed to collaborate together on a project like a mural and then set about deciding together what the subject matter should be, who would be in charge of which drawings, what tools to use, and where to paint. It required decision making as a group, which in turn required orderly discussions where decisions could be made in a logical and participatory manner. It was the opposite of competition. Communal learning is shared by all members of the group.

The process of communal learning was not restricted to older children. Toddlers also participated in group learning experiences. One example is finger painting, where all the children are gathered around a table, their hands sometimes touching as they spread the colored finger paint. Here the learning was more direct and playful as the toddlers watch each other make handprints, or mix colors and interact.

What characterizes communal learning is the shared sense of support, rather than tasks done in isolation where competition is stressed by favoring one drawing or painting over another, or holding up examples to copy . Cooperation encourages the children to reason, thereby developing logic skills, and discussion is required developing the verbal abilities, as well, of a specialized language in art.


Four year olds from the University of California Child Study Center mixing fingerpaint at the Berkeley Child Art Studio.