It was only a month or so after my publishers and I decided on the title for my book (released Thursday 19th!) that I realised it pretty much summed up my entire working life. I am passionate about these three things, and most passionate of all about the places where they conjoin.
My career started in theatre, music and dance, then I moved to children’s television and stage shows. When I crossed over to teaching, I was amazed at how many of the things I had learned as a performer and creator became not only useful to me, but were an essential part of the repertoire in helping children learn.
I believe that the use of creative and performative techniques in any educational setting are important tools for engagement, but this is especially true in EYFS. However, in the midst of all the other skills the early years practitioner has to get under their belt before they are able to get out into the workplace, these two can be overlooked.
On top of which, creativity in particular has a slightly slippery rep. I can’t count the number of teachers I’ve come across who have told me they are ‘not creative at all’. In the main, I think this betrays a history of having been told they can’t dance, can’t sing, can’t draw or similar, and so have come to believe they have no skill in this area. NO! I say. Each and everyone one of us is a creative being in some shape or form. We may not have a talent for even a single one of what is traditionally construed as The Arts, but this does not mean we are not creative.
Every time there is a hard to reach child in class, or actually, every time you have to think of a way to more fully engage an easy to reach child, you are being creative. Working in EYFS more than any other setting, throws up communicative challenges, and it’s the creative part of your brain that has to solve these dilemmas.
In writing this book, I wanted to help practitioners recognise their own worth and potential in this field, to feel more confident and more comfortable with using these tools. So as well as giving practical suggestions, case studies and tips on storytelling, puppetry, music, movement and more, I wanted to keep the development of each and every one of us at the core. It’s all about how you grow and broaden your skillset, as well as what activities you can give to the children.
It’s not always particularly complicated. In my training sessions, an exercise I regularly use, is to ask everyone to work on their own to write a list of things they do in their spare time. Absolutely any interest, activity or source of enjoyment is acceptable. We then put the lists aside and work together as a group to draw up a list of areas from the EYFS Framework that the teachers are keen to concentrate on in their classes.
Then we bring the personal lists back and work in pairs to apply the outside interest to the demands of the curriculum.
There can be some really wonderfully creative ideas. My favourite was a lady who attended weekly Flamenco classes, and suddenly realised that she had at her disposal a way of teaching counting that was engaging, multi-sensory, fun and effective.
We all have elements of our lives that we’ve maybe not thought about using in our practice - for me, bringing Pilates exercise bands to nursery was a revelation!
Try the exercise for yourself. Have a think about what other skills or party tricks you have up your sleeve that you can apply to your teaching.
Performers draw on their entire personal toolkit to do the best job possible, and it’s a technique that really works in the classroom. Apart from anything else, it makes it a whole lot more fun.
At the end of the day, the more comfortable you feel with letting your own creative juices flow, the more you will be encouraging your children to do the same. The happier you feel with the performance aspects of your job - storytelling, leading movement sessions and so on - the more connection you will be able to make with your young audience.
I do believe that it’s a real privilege to be able to work with young children. They are incredibly important, and that’s why you teachers are incredibly important. What you do in the theatre of your classroom is much more critical than just trying to please an adult audience. You work on the most important stage there is, so go create, perform, teach.
When was the last time you asked a child a truly profound question?
The comedian Joe Lycett recently wrote a Guardian column in which he mentions asking a ten year old girl, to whom he is close, “What do you think art is?” She replies, “It’s trust. If you trust something’s good, then it is.” Brilliant. As Joe says, that is exactly what art is.
Fashion is a slippery master. It pervades almost every aspect of our lives, not just music and clothes, but attitudes, values and personality traits. These days the tenet that ‘you can achieve anything if you want it enough’ is all pervasive. Similarly I see a trend towards ‘loving yourself’ gathering momentum. Less in favour are the not-so-thrusty attributes of modesty and humility.