I am a teacher musician. Teacher by day (well, and night….and weekends), musician, um, the same. I know I’m one of the lucky ones – I have a stable job and in times of a global pandemic (thanks, 2020) that’s something for which I need to be grateful. I’m so happy to have the children back, to be actually teaching, even though life in school looks very different. But without in-person assemblies, there’s no singing practice, no piano playing, no live performances, no choir. Access to musical instruments is impossible unless you want to use the school’s cleaning budget in sanitising the instruments after use. So how do we bring music into schools again? How do we encourage, foster, develop a love for creativity at a time when the arts are being all but forgotten?
Expressive Arts is my passion – I love teaching every area of learning (except IT…me and technology have our own issues which we’re working through) but Expressive Arts and Languages have my heart. With the constantly trending #SaveTheArts all over social media, it is so important that we spark this passion in creativity from a young age, before all children are encouraged to ‘Rethink, reskill, reboot’ themselves into financial careers, science careers, the business sector. Because while all of these areas in society have their place, without ‘creatives’, the world would be a much darker and less inspiring place to live. In fact, reflecting on my Literacy lessons alone this week, I have used the skills of authors, illustrators, songwriters, musicians, videographers, sound editors, costume designers, actors, animators. I teach Maths through song and dance, science through art, health and wellbeing through rap. Without my background in music and the arts, I wouldn’t have the creative spark that means I’m the worst kind of teacher geek that loves lesson planning (I know…I’m sorry) because I get to design a curriculum that will excite and inspire. So how do we promote the arts in a world where adults are forbidden from singing, orchestras have shut down, resources cannot be shared and collaboration has to take place within the confines of social distancing. Here’s what I’ve been up to:
Our project this term is ‘Making a Splash!’ The children wanted to learn about sea creatures and we thought it might be a nice chance to look at the oceans around the world, encompassing pollution and looking at our place in the wider world. Plus, I have year 2 so they loved the idea of, you know, actually getting wet and making a splash by jumping in muddy puddles (that Peppa has a lot to answer for…) We decided as a school to use the first two weeks of the Autumn Term, however to focus on emotions and how we felt about coming back to school and seeing our friends again. This also allowed us chance to explain carefully about the need to stay in our class bubbles, one to the toilet at a time, one way systems, etc. We also got to explain the ‘vampire sneeze’:
And oh, the hand washing. I swear, the first week back, by the time we came in from morning break, and 30 children washed their hands, it was time to start hand washing for lunchtime! Anyway, we made use of ‘Inside Out’, the Pixar film, as a way of exploring emotions. This was fantastic for our Literacy, as it lent itself readily to describing what brings us joy and what makes us sad. We created our own ‘worry jars’ to fill with things that concern us and the children loved making gruesome potions based on the character of ‘Disgust’. For two weeks, we used the characters of ‘Inside Out’ – Joy, Anger, Fear, Disgust, Sadness as a way of exploring our feelings through a variety of subject areas. Highlights included:
We explored chromatography using the ‘colours’ relating to the characters in the film. We explored Welsh language patterns using ‘Sut wyt ti?’ (How are you?) and answered using the emotions: ‘Dwi’n hapus’ (I’m happy), ‘Dwi’n grac’ (I’m angry) etc and turned this into a mini display so we can check in with the children each morning. We also created some beautiful artwork, where we took photographs of the children, printed in black and white, then played music designed to evoke each emotion from the film while the children made marks to signify how the music made them feel. Here is the result:
Launching our project ‘Making a Splash!’ involved quite a great deal of ‘thinking outside the box’. In launches gone by, we would have got together as a team (90 children in year one and two, 6 members of staff) but the need for class bubbles (30 per class, one teacher and TA per class) meant we had to rethink our plans for something that was unusual, memorable and engaging, but would mean individual resources, could be carried out in the classrooms and in our individual sections of the yard as the hall is currently off limits. We asked the children to come in wearing ‘holiday’ (beach-themed) clothes to make the day a bit more special. When they walked into class they were amazed by the beach-themed ‘Tuff Spot’ we had set up. Children were asked to look carefully at the ‘Tuff Spot’ and tell us what they could see and smell, etc. By this point they didn’t know what the project theme was.
We then headed outside where the children were given a pre-filled water balloon. They were asked to talk about how it felt, what happened when they gently squeezed it, etc. Then (and this was collectively their highlight of the day!) the children were told to burst the balloon in any way that saw fit. We then talked about what the project title could be and discussed that the children were going to be literally ‘making a splash’ as they just did but that ‘making a splash’ could also mean making a difference in the world. After breaktime, we told the children that we had planned an expressive arts rest of day, so we began with some sea creature art. The children had to create a watercolour wash and then add their own sea creatures in silhouette. The result:
In the afternoon, we had seen an idea for some lovely beach-themed art, but had to think carefully as to how to achieve this. In the event, the children painted their own watercolour sea and sand sections, then we asked the children to take their shoes off and draw around their feet onto the yellow wash section. They then added the glue (PVA as glue stick was proving to be non adhesive!) and sprinkled the sand over the top. They loved doing it and had some amazing artwork to show for their project launch day.
One of the boys (this child is not easily impressed, as a rule!) told me it was the ‘best project launch ever’. So we did something right that day, with a bit of sand and some water balloons! 😊
As term began, government guidelines were that singing should be limited within the classroom and this I found a real challenge. For someone who is pretty much performing all day long, having to speak-sing rhymes and maths songs, etc, this was really difficult. I wanted to incorporate music into my lessons, but how? So I wrote a rap. About pollution in the oceans. Now, while I think Eminem’s career is safe (I know there are more contemporary rappers, but I’m a 38 year old mum of two, bear with me), the end result wasn’t shameful. I wrote a verse, which we practised performing as a class, then the children wrote their own mini verses to add in! Here was mine:
This is plastic, it’s not fantastic
It’s in the ocean and it’s causing a commotion
Hurting all the fish, so this is my wish:
Here’s what to do: take it home with you!
We added a rap beat from YouTube (rap backing track) and recorded our efforts, then the children wrote their own sections. Highlights included:
“The beach is a mess and it’s making me stress”, “Put it in the bin so we can all win” and my personal favourite: “You could hurt a sea cow, so stop it now!” They loved performing these and it meant we could make music as a class which was lovely.
The research and evidence in favour of children studying expressive arts is overwhelming. In terms of their wellbeing, developing a skillset, improving collaboration, self-discipline, studying and learning from the work of others, developing technique, etc, the evidence is everywhere. I could have chosen any one of a million quotes, memes, even scientific research (my Oxford University professors would be so proud…) but I wouldn’t be telling anyone anything new and groundbreaking. What it is vital to remember in these strange and unprecedented (there’s that word again) times is that we would be nothing without the arts. Imagine a lockdown with no film, no music, no books. Then imagine a lifetime with the same. We need to foster a passion for the arts in our miniature humans, and let’s ‘Rethink, Reskill, Reboot’ a resurgence in music, art, drama, dance within our classrooms. The children need joy right now just as much as we do.