Confession: I can’t draw. At all. Anyone who is an ‘artist’ tells me that it’s simply copying. But I can’t. It never looks like it’s supposed to. The children in my class will cheer and applaud and comment ‘Well done, Miss, that actually looks like a duck’…..I mean I was heading for blackbird, but I’ll take that as a win. Friends the same age look back on school art lessons as a halcyon time when the teachers were laid back and it was a good excuse to gossip with your friends and actually work as little as possible. Me, I remember vividly (year 6) drawing a picture of Jesus’ ascension into Heaven. My teacher, whom I adored, peered through his rimmed spectacles at the artistic swirling pattern which had taken me ages to create and asked the question, ‘Victoria, why is Jesus surrounded by disco lights?’ From this moment onwards, drawing has terrified me. I love a board game, but the mere mention of the word ‘Pictionary’ has me reaching for the wine…
I think it’s important I share this information with you because I am a self-titled ‘creative’. Teacher by day, musician by night. It’s not a great superpower. It doesn’t come with a cape or the ability to fly, and the only way I know my ‘powers’ are required is the catchphrase (most often heard during family celebrations): “Oh, you play the piano! Give us a song!” I also work for and run theatre groups in my local area, so music and drama are my thing. I’m also partial to a bit of dancing, particularly when Whitney’s playing. But I cannot draw. I have ideas, sometimes slightly crazy and far out ideas. Our lovely teaching assistants are a brilliant filter for these. I know that, if met with the response: “Sorry, you want us to make what?!” it’s bound to be a winner. I want to share all this with you because, although I consider myself a non-drawer, creativity is not a word that scares me. I know that Expressive Arts can be terrifying to the non-specialist. Believe me, I’ve heard all the excuses:
- “It’s alright for you, you’re a musician…”
- “I don’t have time to fit it into the curriculum…”
- “It’s not as important as Maths and English though…”
- “I’m just not very confident at teaching it…”
- “My class are a bit wild and I’m scared of losing control…”
I’m just going to leave this here…
Creativity is inclusive. That’s my favourite thing about it. Those children who don’t excel at Maths; who don’t love reading; who find spelling really tricky; these are often the children who come to life when they are allowed the freedom to express themselves. These are the children who shine.
For some children, the power to express themselves will show you a side of them you didn’t know existed. I was one of those children. I still am. I love to read, I love to write, but the piano is my home. It’s been there for me through some tough times. For some, drawing, dancing, singing is their escape; it allows them to be themselves. And for a moment, those children will feel like butterflies and not caterpillars. So, I’d like to share with you a few ideas of how I have incorporated creativity and a creative approach into my teaching this year and maybe you could adapt them for use in your own classrooms 😊
A Project Approach
My school uses a project-based learning approach. For us, this term is focused around history. We knew our end goal as a school would be to hold our own ‘museums’ and invite parents and guests in to see our learning, but the approach we take is sculpted and crafted by the main stakeholders – the children and the teachers. I teach year 2 as part of a year 1 and 2 team. We spoke to the children and realised that while a historical slant would be lovely, they are of an age where they want to play and discover and learn through doing. They have little to no chronology and in a world where Wales’ new curriculum is seeking to develop ‘Ethical, Informed Citizens’, we felt this was really important. So, we decided with the children, that rather than focus on ‘Ancient Egypt’ or ‘Victorians’, we would do our best to time travel! This term, we have spent three weeks on ancient Egyptians, then ancient Greece; after half term we will be visiting Victorian London and then bringing things up to date with the children’s own autobiographies.
We started by asking the children what they wanted to learn (I call this our ‘dentistry’ lesson, because it’s very similar to pulling teeth, initially) and we realised that we needed to have a ‘WOW’ day in order for the children to become familiar with the concepts and eras before knowing what they wanted to learn so….
We sent secret e-mails to our parents, asking them to research with their child and choose an historical figure to dress as. We gave them a pre-designed ‘luggage label’ to fill in and return on the day of our project launch and we were blown away by the response. Myself and my fantastic TA were Egyptians for the day, my next door neighbours (Miss G and Mrs G) were Victorians and the third class in our team (Miss F and Mrs Y) came as ancient Greeks. The TA s made us an awesome time machine and the children entered our school hall through the time machine. Then followed a fashion show ‘through the ages’ before the children shared their facts about their chosen historical figure. We ‘met’ several Einsteins, a few Neil Armstrongs, plenty of Roman soldiers and even a Coco Chanel and a Meghan Markle. We then asked the children to group themselves according to era and they put themselves (with support….from humans and Google!) into a gigantic human timeline. Now, all of this is too ‘teacher-led’ to be defined as ‘creative’ but it was a brilliant stimulus for the project.
Discovering and Doing…
We make the most of our ‘Discover And Do’ (DAD) days to be creative and artistic. Safeguarding a Friday for these activities is brilliant because it means that the Expressive Arts are really given the importance they deserve. During our DAD days, I will teach the same lesson three times to my class and the other two in my team. My colleagues will each teach their own lesson three times. This means that all of the children will take part in three creative sessions throughout the course of the day. During our ancient Egypt element, these are some of the activities the children took part in:
Within our Greece project, the children decided they wanted to focus primarily on the Olympics. Funny isn’t it, how you can spend weeks teaching and learning about the rich history and the children’s ‘take away’ is that ‘the men didn’t wear any clothes when they competed!’ They loved the history of the Olympics, staging our own mini Olympic games and looking at the symbolism of the rings before producing these:
The piece de resistance (and the moment we all thought our colleague had lost the plot!) had to be the Greek chariots. Using mini cereal boxes provided by the parents, the children had the opportunity to use numeracy skills in measuring the length of the dowelling, learned about axles and practised their (much needed!) cutting and sticking skills in producing these Greek chariots:
So, in summary:
- “It’s alright for you, you’re a musician…”
Yes, but I’m not an artist. What I do have are a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare…oh wait. Creativity is about the courage to have a go, regardless of your ability.
2. “I don’t have time to fit it into the curriculum…”
Make time. Cross-curricular links are the way forward; or if you can, set aside dedicated time as we do.
3. “It’s not as important as Maths and English though…”
No, it absolutely is. Music, as my main focus has taught me discipline, control, collaboration, thinking on my feet, stick-ability, patience and understanding. Arguably just as beneficial for everyday life as Literacy and Numeracy.
4. “I’m just not very confident at teaching it…”
I get this, but we have to be brave as professionals and have a go. The children will thank you for it and won’t care if you’re the next Picasso.
5. “My class are a bit wild and I’m scared of losing control…”
Music is loud and art is messy, dance is expressive and drama is freeform. But so are children. We owe it to them to let them explore their creative side. And if we’re hoovering up glitter and downing paracetamol for the post-percussion-lesson headache, so what? The children have learned, experienced and been engaged and isn’t that why we’re here?