There’s a certain preconception surrounding the arts that they’re either frivolous, a realm for the financial and cultural elite, or something for parents who want to schedule every minute of their child’s lives.
That’s just not the case says Michael Anderson, a Professor of Education at the University of Sydney and co-author of Transforming Schools, Creativity Critical Reflection, Communication, Collaboration.
Learning beyond the brain
In early childhood, there’s a large emphasis placed on cognitive capacity in the early developmental stages. While it seems obvious that the brain is a key player, the body is an integral part of the learning that is skipped over too often. Singing, dancing, acting, in the early stages, are key parts of play; and it’s play that helps create neurological pathways and aid cognitive development. “What we know from the research is that our bodies are critical to the way we learn. They’re critical to the way we develop. I think we’ve kind of focussed on the brain and not focussed on the body as the way that we can lean and do things in schools and so what the arts gives is a structure that young kids can engage with to express those inherent creativities.” Michael explains.
So it’s fun, what else?
Michael’s research showed that the benefits of performing arts for school-aged kids had irrefutable benefits beyond the classroom.
Kids who are active participants in the arts:
- Are more motivated
- Are more academically able to deal with what life throws at them
- Have better enjoyment at school
- Have better homework completion
- Have higher self esteem
- Have higher life satisfaction
- Have higher meaning and purpose
While some of these benefits begin to sound like a shopping list of achievements, Michael says it’s most important to understand that not only will kids do better at school, the arts have a beneficial effect on how confident and engaged children become as they grow into adulthood. “A life full of these wonderful experiences makes them collaborators, makes them more creative, makes them critically reflective [and] strengthens their communication skills. Those are the core skills that we know are going to be required in the 21st century and … when for a kid who starts kindergarten today or tomorrow or next week comes out the other end, it’s critical that we lay that foundation properly.”
Listen to Michael on Kinderling Conversation:
Un-formal-ising the arts
The formality of creative and performing arts lessons can put people off. The strict timetable of extra-curricular activities and the rigid practice routines can be off-putting. Michael believes that we don’t need to have such a formal approach to the arts with kids. In fact, we’re far better off, and more likely to see lasting effects in the way our children act and react, if we don’t adhere to those formal notions. “Of course, if a child shows an interest in dance or music or drama and they want to develop that, they need to [be directed] ... But in school, those things are taught subjects. They are taught not so these kids can become Cate Blanchett or whoever; they are taught so students can understand themselves and the world, and can develop the capacities that I’m talking about - the creativity, community, collaboration. They can actually do that within the framework of the arts,” he adds.
Use performing arts to prepare children for a bright and fast paced future
It’s no secret that the world is constantly changing and evolving. We see technological advancements every day, so much so that by 2030, when the kids going into kindergarten today are entering the workforce, we can’t possibly fathom now what that future world will look like. In order to properly and fairly prepare children for the future that awaits them, we need to focus on teaching them to be capable, rather than overloading them with things and stuff.
“How do we prepare our kids for their future, for 2031? It’s not about giving them stuff, it's not about giving them more facts, it’s about providing them the capacities that are going to make them flexible, that are going to make them agile, that are going to make them creative. Things are changing, and they’re changing quite radically, and they’re changing before our eyes, so how do we prepare for that future? We prepare by laying the groundwork with these kinds of key competencies and key skills.”
These skills, Michael adds, are all integral parts of the arts. “No matter what job you have, you’re going to have to communicate. You’re going to have to be able to collaborate. You’ll need to be creative because it’s not just some ‘out-there’ thing. Creativity is essential to what all of us will be doing, not only in 30 years’ time but what we have to do now.”
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