Let the children play: Giving pupils creative freedom

Brian Madigan

Brian's company, Madmusik, has been providing music for dance/drama education since 1992, supplying thousands of schools, colleges and independent practitioners throughout the UK and now - thanks to the internet - across Europe and North America as well.

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Website: www.dancenotes.co.uk Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

I had an interesting and illuminating conversation with my children the other day, whilst walking along the Kennet & Avon Canal near to our home in Somerset.

It concerned ‘the best teacher ever’, and came about after they gave an impromptu rendition of a song they had written under the supervision of the teacher in question. In fact “under supervision” may be putting it too strongly: the point being that he allowed them to create the song themselves, something many teachers apparently would be afraid to do.

It all comes down to the notion of ‘ownership’; not a word my children would use themselves but one I feel is apt in this case. They were clearly proud of what they had achieved and could recall every word some two years after the song’s creation. Their pride came largely from the fact that this had been their own work (again, ‘work’ not being a word my children would use to describe this process) and they valued their teacher’s trust and indulgence in them.

Interestingly, the teacher was a recent graduate, who was working alongside the main class teacher. When the latter was presented with the song, she was less impressed – perhaps due to the subject matter being rather dark and gruesome. However, the younger teacher could see the humour behind the words and also the value of allowing the children to explore their own ideas.

In the process of doing this, I would suggest they had explored the following:

  • Teamwork
  • Collaboration
  • Rhyme
  • Meter
  • Rhythm
  • Melody
  • Composition
  • Narrative
  • Creative thinking

And I’m sure you could think of many more points to add to this list.

In the same conversation, my son related how his art teacher never allows the class to draw or paint what they wish, rather stipulating in some detail what they should produce in their sessions. Whereas providing examples of different styles and methods and looking at key historical artists are valuable learning tools, these could all then provide a springboard for the children’s’ own creativity. As soon as the notion of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ outcomes is introduced, then creativity will naturally be inhibited and motivation decreased.

Whereas for some teachers the idea of teaching creative disciplines may seem daunting, all have the necessary skills to do this - whether or not the creative disciplines in question fall within their own field of ‘expertise’. The danger is in having the expectation of needing to provide a set of instructions. However, my collaborators – and the vast majority of teachers with whom I have spoken over the years – understand that what is actually needed is a framework in which children may explore their own creative ideas. The job of the teacher then is to guide the class through a systematic sequence of experimentation, repetition, enhancement, self-evaluation and development, all of which are within the day-to-day vocabulary of any good teacher.

So what at first may look like an ‘exclusive’ creative pursuit (be it music, art, dance or any number of other subjects) in fact turns out to be well within the reach of all of us. We just need to trust that children will take to the tasks given - and they certainly will, provided we allow it to be ‘their’ work and resist the urge to lead too strongly.

In the inimitable words of Carlos Santana: ‘Let the children play’!

Image Credit: Flickr

How does this compare with your teaching methods? Let us know below.

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