In the last couple of weeks we have had Parents’ Evening for our children. For the first time we had meetings with subject specific teachers for our eldest and it was really nice to hear about my son’s strengths (including in music, which I guess isn’t a surprise given his mother’s musical interests/obsession). It was lovely to hear about other things he does in school, areas where he may have talents and maybe some areas where he could do with some more practice. Even the one subject area that I expected he would struggle with, his teacher was really positive highlighting the areas he had improved on and things he had done and enjoyed.
One teacher was unable to attend Parents Evening in person and sent emailed feedback to us, and I have to say I was really disappointed with it. It was feedback from a teacher of a creative subject and straight from the off it said that my son tried his best but he was not a strong artist. He is just 7 years old.
I felt, reading that sentence, that the teacher had written him off and may be putting him off doing the subject- something that he has always, before this year, enjoyed taking part in. I had noticed that in the last few months whenever I suggested getting the paints out my daughter would be very enthusiastic about it but my son regularly decided against joining us. I am worried that he will have picked up on his teacher’s opinion that this is not a subject he is good at, and that he feels now that it is not for him.
I have been thinking about this feedback ever since reading it, and also reflecting about how this sort of feedback in a creative subject like art – just like music, creative writing, drama etc- can put children off doing that activity. And about what children do creative activites at school for.
Creative activities – music, dance, drama, art, writing – are so good for children. Not just in terms of the skills they learn in doing the activity themselves (I have written before about the non musical benefits of music education, and much of this will be relevant for other creative arts subjects – see the What are the benefits of music practice section of my blog post about practice that I have linked to); but also in the opportunities they give children for self-expression. For discovering things about themselves. For giving them coping mechanisms for times that are difficult. For the chance at a bit of escapism.
So what are we teaching creative subjects for? There will, of course be children who go on to be professional musicians, artists, actors, dancers etc but let’s be honest, these children will not make up the majority of a creative arts teacher’s cohort of students. So, if the majority of a teacher’s students are not going to be professionals, what are they teaching them? To my mind, and I suspect many teachers of these subjects will agree with me, they are teaching the students a number of things – first and foremost to give art, music etc a go. Try it out and see if they enjoy it. To see the benefits of making something with their hands, or bodies. To have an outlet for self-expression. To be able to reach for a sketch pad, an instrument, a music streaming device (oh my goodness, what do you call these things, I am showing my age here) and sing, dance, draw, play, whatever they need to do to help them express and process difficult emotions they experience. Just to have the confidence that arts, theatres, concert halls, art galleries are places they are allowed to go into, and have an opinion about. Even to watch or observe the arts and let it wash over them. Creative arts are not just for people who do these things professionally. They are for everyone.
As a parent, what do I want my children to get out of their artistic education? Well, for me it’s the same as with all their other subjects. I want them to get a rounded education. I don’t know what my children will do when they are adults – that depends on them and on what emerges as their chosen field. I do, however, want them to have as much choice as they can possibly have. And in terms of the creative arts, I want them to experience art, music, drama etc, and choose for themselves whether they like any or all of them, whether they enjoy any of them, whether they want to take any of them seriously, or have them as something they do or experience in some way outside of their professional lives.
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