Music, dance, theatre, poetry and the visual arts must be seen as fundamental to the education process and should always be at the forefront of educational planning. An arts-based education is integral to human development, speaking to what cannot be effectively put into words, making us complete as individuals and giving rise to highly attuned members of society.
The arts program in schools should not be taught in isolation, or squeezed into random, end-of-day moments, but should be scheduled with the same consideration given to mathematics, science and English.
At St Anthony’s School for Girls, the arts program runs in parallel with the academic offering. Both facets of school life co-exist and are thoughtfully interwoven to ensure that a comprehensive curriculum is offered to the girls. The girls’ teachers approach each learning target using diverse and creatively planned lessons.
A day at St Anthony’s will begin with ‘Singing at Drop Off’, followed by Mandarin or maths. In hot-pursuit comes rhythmic gymnastics, ‘The Big Write’ or a ukulele workshop. Drama is used to teach sentence syntax to young writers; it is used to elucidate concepts in science, themes in Shakespeare and role-play in History. Kung fu is also used to great effect to embed the use of punctuation marks.
This timetable allows the children to be exposed to a range of stimuli, opportunities for self-expression and working within a group, as well as critical thinking, risk-taking and self-initiated learning, which is both spontaneous, surprising and deeply satisfying for each child. The girls are confident to share their ideas and propel lessons towards higher-order thinking. They are active learners, not waiting to be spoon-fed a bland diet of predictable lessons.
A school program with integrated provision for the arts and academic subjects has many benefits. Children develop a strong sense of self-worth and their self-esteem is based on an authentic awareness of their strengths and talents. They feel positive about themselves and are affirmed for the creative contributions that they make in school.
Motivation is greatly enhanced for all learners through the enticing and playful creative challenges put before the children. Those children who are kinesthetic learners, or those who find a traditional classroom setting isolating and confusing, are able to participate meaningfully, finding new ways to make sense of the challenges set before them.
An arts rich environment encourages a more positive dynamic where the learning space becomes one of discovery, collaboration and surprise. Children develop the ability to work collaboratively, and with guidance, are able to show sensitivity and respect for one another. They learn that alongside their strengths, they need to demonstrate humility when working towards a common goal.
The children also acquire a more developed aesthetic awareness, becoming mindful of the beauty and complexity of sounds in music and the world around them. Along with listening, children become discerning observers, attuned to the power or serenity of a significant view or of visual expressions in sculpture, architecture, drawing and painting.
The arts are culturally significant to all communities. Engaging with an arts-based curriculum exposes children to the rich cultural diversity within our schools, helping them to appreciate the positive aspects of our multi-cultural society. It promotes social harmony as it encourages collaboration and creates a safe space to explore cultural difference. A child finds that their voice is important and they may express themselves in ways that would otherwise not be possible.
At St Anthony’s School for Girls, we are acutely aware of the pressures faced by children today. Without planning and care, they will not have seeing eyes when they look, hearing ears when they listen, or sensitive fingers when they touch. By looking at education through the lens of the arts we affirm that a child’s mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.
This article was submitted by Donal Brennan, Headmaster at St Anthony’s School For Girls