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Primary PTA Article

Hot off the recent article for Primary PTA magazine, arguing that the arts and creative subjects are vital for our young children.
My thanks to editor Callum Fauser for allowing reproduction, and if you want to know more, details of this and their other magazines and resources are available at:

Human Creativity is a Miraculous Thing!

It’s not news to any of us that there has been somewhat of a devaluing of the teaching of drama, dance and other arts subjects over recent years. For a while, music fared rather better, but now that too is being pushed aside in favour of so-called STEM subjects.

I think part of the problem is the misconception that teaching arts subjects only has value in terms of getting better at those artistic disciplines, when in fact the development of the creative competencies inherent in those disciplines serve us in every aspect of our lives.

The ability to think creatively is one of man’s greatest gifts, it’s not just about painting or ballet, it’s about being able to solve problems in new and effective ways, it’s about being able to look after our needs and make our way in the world.

It’s somewhat of a cliché to say that we have no idea what jobs the children who are now at primary school will be asked to do when they are of an age to leave education and make their way in the world, but it is nonetheless true. We therefore need to ensure that our children develop core skills so that they can adapt to whatever demands are made upon them in a future we cannot know. Of course these skills need to include literacy, numeracy and knowledge of the world around them, but it is essential that they are also equipped with the ability to think creatively, and nothing does that better than arts subjects.

It’s interesting that in the many lists available on the internet of what attributes businesses say they want in their employees, communication skills almost always come top and then there are such things as teamwork, self-motivation and drive, flexibility, being reliable and the ability to problem solve.

Communication is at the heart of all art forms, whether it’s developing the ability to gain internal clarity in order to make yourself understood externally, or organising your creative output to express yourself effectively to your audience. Very little art making happens in isolation - mostly, communication has to play a part - and it certainly does when you’re learning it in primary school. Drama, dance and music are dependent on teamwork and mutual reliability. No drawing, painting or piece of creative writing gets done without a tonne of self-motivation and drive - it’s difficult to reach into the air and pull something out of nothing whatever age you are. Art teaches you what inspiration is, how to be brave enough to trust and when to follow your feelings, and not to shy away from taking risks. On top of all of this, there is the immense gain in self-confidence when you achieve the thing that you set out to create.

There’s very little doubt in the received wisdom that play and learning through play is essential in the early years, learning through the arts and creativity is the logical next stage of this. There is research from several different EU countries showing a marked drop-off in the creative skill set as children move through the education system - the very skill set that businesses say they want, and of course, that hugely benefits the individual.

At the primary school stage, we have an opportunity, through arts subjects to embed in our children prowess that will give them a broader proficiency than is available to them through any other area of study. Best of all, that creative muscle gets stronger the more we exercise it. Yes, some students may exhibit a natural talent for certain artistic bents, but the more a child practises the competencies that are needed in order to work through the process of making an actuality out of an idea, then the greater their ability to utilise curiosity, courage, effort, energy, self-belief and tenacity, amongst other abilities, will be.

Those who are more emotionally vulnerable may find support for their feelings and unforeseen modes of expressing themselves through artistic endeavour, which will help them grow into their full potential without feeling ostracised or freakish. In a world in which we seem to be becoming ever more isolated from each other, is there not a greater need for activities which by definition enable us to put ourselves in one another’s places, increasing our ability to empathise and connect with those who maybe very different from ourselves? But it’s not just the ‘softer’ areas of development that benefit.

Let’s take music as an example. Music is made of patterns, so as a young mind is learning to recognise and reproduce the patterns that are needed to make music, the same part of the brain that will need to recognise and reproduce patterns inherent in maths or linguistics is being exercised.

We all have to live out our days in our bodies, yet for many of us, our physicality seems merely a vessel in which to carry around our thoughts. How much healthier, happier and less burdensome on society would we be if we all learned the bodily awareness of a dancer when we were still children?

Arts subjects teach us not to fear uncertainty, to venture forth without necessarily knowing what the ultimate outcome will be. Like life. Is there anything more certain than the fact that it’s an uncertain world? So what better armour than to practice fearlessness in the face of the unknown.

What we want for our offspring, in their childhood and as they grow to take their places in the adult world, what we want for them and from them, is surely what the arts, culture and creativity gives.

So let’s encourage, apply and protect those creative competencies.

Move like a dancer, listen like a musician, invent like a writer. Have the discipline, communication skills and ability to collaborate of the artist.

Practice technique and imagination. Practice play and reliability. Practice experiment and exploration. Practice risk and trust.

Human creativity is a miraculous thing - in many ways, it’s all we have - let’s not deprive our future generations of it’s true worth.

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