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When Covid came along the educational world dramatically shifted online.
As ever, schools rose to the challenge to ensure learning continued and pupils were supported as well as possible during this time. There’s no doubt that the education profession has shown nothing but flexibility and innovation in its quest for some semblance of normality for pupils.
However, we’re now back in the classrooms and working towards a new normal; one in which creativity and the arts mustn’t be forgotten.
As we work together to support pupils whose gaps in learning have increased, coupled with those who will always need our extra support and care, the role of creativity is essential to the recovery of our curriculum and, importantly, the social development of our pupils.
The same way we wrestled with the challenges of remote learning and the need to ensure we maintained academic continuity for our pupils, we now need to address areas of personal developments – and creativity is key.
As adults we’ve become familiar with and used to the restrictions on our daily lives. We can rationalise; use technology to escape; communicate with our peers in order to discuss our feelings and moods.
However, it’s vital that we consider the experiences of primary-age pupils. How might the world seem at the moment to them? How might it have felt not to have seen loved ones and to be constantly faced with images and language in the media focusing on the impact of the pandemic?
For our youngest children, the confusion caused by trying to comprehend such enormous concepts is staggering.
The creative arts enable communication and expression. They allow a safe space for children to explore and express their emotions, while knowing that the outcome won’t be judged.
By removing the idea of right and wrong, correct and incorrect, art becomes an activity without failure; one which brings success without risk.
Understandably, arts may slip down the list of priorities when you’re trying to close gaps in learning in prime areas like phonics, numeracy, literacy and, importantly, making sure that this cohort of Y6 pupils are prepared for the rigour of secondary education.
Having said that though, by utilising certain aspects of creative arts, we can help pupils to approach these academic challenges with a sense of calm and give them strategies to support their own wellbeing and mental health.
Drama is a great tool to use in classrooms. It creates opportunities for roleplay and hot seating, which help to develop empathy. Taking on an acting role while you’re teaching supports whole-class engagement and can have a huge impact on the team dynamic of a class.
Allowing children to speak through or on behalf of a character helps them to consider other people’s feelings, share their own emotions and, importantly, work with other pupils in a safe space.
Furthermore, linking drama to creative writing allows children to write about the experiences of others; experiences which may seem even more memorable at the moment due to the fact that children’s lives have been so curtailed by national restrictions during the pandemic.
Dance and movement can also be really important. Allowing children to respond freely to music gives them an opportunity to explore their creativity. Listening to a piece of instrumental music and discussing the feelings and atmosphere it evokes can lead to some very powerful work.
Encourage groups of pupils to create a piece of movement to either accompany the music or, for older pupils, work with the tonal qualities of the piece to create work that is born from the atmosphere it creates.
Again, it’s not about right or wrong; it’s simply an opportunity for children to work together to explore their feelings and develop teamwork, collaboration and communication skills.
You might feel that you’re ‘not very musical.’ It’s a fear that worries many teachers. However, not being able to play an instrument isn’t a concern when you’re exploring the wider forms and structures of music.
Listening to music and responding in a range of forms develops creative thinking and, again, supports children in being able to explain and present their work. Clapping, stamping, clicking and humming should all take their place centre-stage in your post-pandemic orchestra.
Whatever you do, providing opportunities for expression across all year groups enables pupils to develop skills that will, no doubt, support them in school, but also in their future lives. As the great bard said, “All the world’s a stage”.
Dan Edwards is principal of a large primary school in Leicester. Read his blog at leadinginthenow.org and follow him on Twitter at @danedwards_77.
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