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Should Schools be Doing More to Encourage Creativity in Children?

a child with various colours of paint on her hands holding her hands up to her eyes as if taking a picture

Creativity is an important part of all of our lives. Whether that be art, music, drama, TV shows, going to the theatre/cinema, or anything else remotely related to the arts, creativity is important. Yet, for some reason, the school system doesn't seem to agree.

Even though this isn't necessarily a part of the school system, the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) has put art and design within the specific areas part of learning and development, instead of with the prime areas. Despite the EYFS stating that all of these areas are important, it still leaves art and design until last and despite the well known saying 'save the best till last', they definitely haven't saved it till last because they think it's the best, they've saved it till last because they don't see it as being important.

As someone who spent many years in the education system (haven't we all) and who has since spent many hours working with children in schools, I can tell you that schools don't seem to see that much importance in creativity. They seem more focused on making children sit at a desk for six hours a day, five days a week and spouting a load of facts at them; despite it being widely known that children don't have that much of an attention span and seem to work better when they are actively doing something instead of sitting at desks being talked at.

Schools seem to have this main focus of preparing children for exams, which I can get, but is it really necessary to have six-year-olds sitting a SATS exam? In making your sole focus of preparing children for an exam, when a lot of what is in that exam will not prepare them for the outside world, you're not really preparing them for life.

Creativity still allows children to use their brains. Yes, it may not be in a conventional way, but incorporating creativity into the curriculum gives children the opportunity to think for themselves and to not have to do things the same way as everyone else. It's leaving things open for interpretation. We all know with exam marking schemes, there is often a set way for you to answer something, which I completely understand as those are based on fact and you can't put something wrong and get a mark for it. But creativity isn't based on fact. Creativity is doing something in a way that you see fit to do it and there is no right or wrong answer.

But even in subjects where creativity is encouraged, sometimes teachers still try to make you do things in a way they see fit. One example is from my art GCSE class. The first piece I ever did was a cartoon and apparently, I wasn't allowed to do that as 'cartoons aren't real art'. Okay, but try telling that to Disney, or pretty much any TV show/movie that involves cartoons.

Another example is of flowers and houses and this example was given to me by one of my university lecturers last year (2020). She gave us ten seconds to draw a flower and another ten seconds to draw a house and pretty much everyone came up with something that looked like this:

a drawing in pen of a flower and a house

Looking at these, in what scenario do any flowers or houses look like this? My lecturer told us her daughter once got told off by her teacher because she drew a house where the door was down the side of the house (this replicated what her actual house looked like). Shouldn't we be able to draw flowers and houses in whatever way we please, whether they look like our own houses or flowers we have seen or draw them in a way we would like them to look, instead of teachers telling us how we should be drawing them?

(By the way, I'm aware this entire post looks like I'm teacher bashing. I'm not. I promise)

We all know that schools are underfunded, but the arts subjects always seem to be at the brunt of this underfunding. I remember when I was doing art GCSE and students had to buy their own material (paint brushes, paint, sketchbooks, just to name a few) because the school could no longer afford to provide us with those resources. Teachers would even pay for some students whose parents couldn't afford these materials but didn't want those students to miss out. No parent or teacher should have to use their own money for something the Government should be providing adequate funding for to ensure all children, no matter their educational background, are provided with equal chances.

In the UK, there is currently very little understanding of the arts and what the arts can bring to this country. I am sure you are more than aware of the announcement the Government made a few months ago regarding a 50% budget cut for arts subjects in UK universities. Combine this with the fact the current Government is putting pressure on mainstream schools to achieve higher results in English, Maths and Science, subjects, such as the arts, are being left behind as they are not seen as essential. But what might be seen as non-essential to one person, doesn't mean that it's not essential to another person. For example, I find it essential to spend regular time by myself to get to know myself better and the person I want to become; whereas someone else might find it essential to continuously spend lots of time around lots of people because that is what they want to do. When you look at people who work within the arts, such as Eminem, Jim Carrey, and Oprah Winfrey, they all come from a poor background but have managed to become successful. I'm not saying that those in the arts from middle-class backgrounds found it easy to get into the arts industry, but it's more than likely they had some form of contact to the industry or even if they didn't, they had the money to be able to go to the better schools or to not have to spend a lot of their time working multiple jobs to try and get to castings or to fund time in a music studio.

Many people from working-class backgrounds want to go into the arts but are encouraged from a young age not to do so because they are made to believe that they won't get there and will end up working in some other industry. I believe a part of that is due to the lack of funding for arts subjects. Students are made to believe that arts subjects don't matter. I don't know if this was the same at other schools, but my school wouldn't allow us to take more than two creative subjects at GCSE. For example, I could do art and music, but that meant I wouldn't be able to do drama. This same logic wasn't applied to the other subjects, such as the humanities, where it was possible for someone to take geography, history and ancient history. But why the arts? We should be encouraging our young people to engage with the arts, even if it's not because they're interested in them from a career perspective, but the arts can be very therapeutic. Part of my health and social care A-Level involved making a toy for a child and just being able to cut and stick pieces of paper together helped relieve a lot of the stress I was feeling towards my upcoming exams. Singing is believed to be a great stress-reliever. Acting out a scene from a play can help you see others perspectives and develop more empathy for those going through something you may not otherwise be able to understand. The arts are an important part of all of our lives and are something we should be looking to get more people involved with; instead of pushing them away from this choice.

Going back to creativity, children have so much creative spirit in them to the point where you don't need to give them that much instruction in how to do something. All you need to do is give a class of thirty children a very brief overview and they will all create something completely different to one another. You could ask them all to create something that shows their emotions and they will all create something different. Some will use paint. Some will use crayons. Some may not even put anything to paper and may put different objects together. Some will create an image. Some will just splatter different colours onto a piece of paper.

And the best part about all of this is that with the arts, there is no right or wrong. It's all about creative expression and THAT is why we should be doing more to encourage more creativity within children to help them gain a better sense of who they are as individuals without being told what they can and cannot do.

Love Beth xx

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