Is traditional schooling stifling creativity? – by Annalisa Jackson
Is traditional schooling stifling creativity?
The pandemic currently still holding on to our world changed the way a lot of life was run. Businesses learned that a lot of office working was actually extraneous, and we all learned that without human intervention the world would be very quickly returned to nature. On a smaller scale I became more acutely aware of a concept I had been questioning for some time, namely the effect of education on the natural creative process.
My son was in Year Six of primary when the pandemic hit in 2020. Consequently, all his Year Six SATS exams were cancelled, and I ended up schooling him at home during the lockdown. The school he attended at the time with my daughter was very proactive in setting up a learning environment online for both my children, but the first time around they were quite blind sided and had not yet set up Zoom lessons, so all work was set and submitted through a learning portal with no Zoom or Teams lessons.
My son is exceedingly bright, and had been earmarked to do advanced (also known as ‘in greater depth’) exams across the board, so he was also sent home with additional work in the physical form of exam pamphlets.
I was actually quite grateful for this initially, as I grappled with the idea of schooling both my kids, who have an age gap of twenty-two months or two school years, at the same time. This learning portal meant I was able to set up both children with work, and was able to spend some one-on-one time with each of them for periods within the day. Eventually, like a lot of parents, I turned to Twinkl, an online website with great resources for education that a lot of schools also use.
However, when I looked at the work set on the education portal so that I could download the correct resources for both children, I couldn’t help but find myself a little disappointed at how little the school curriculum seemed to encourage creativity in the children learning it.
I am aware that when they were still in school, prior to the pandemic, they would come home from time to time with projects, such as building a model of the solar system or designing a Roman style shield; I always enjoyed helping them out and seeing them having fun as they created their own ideas, and how proud they were to take them into school afterwards.
However, I couldn’t help but see that it was a fleeting focus, a perfunctory or cursory nod to encouraging the creative children in the class.
My oldest child is a bit of an all-rounder: he is good at drawing as well as doing traditional academic work like Maths and English. On the other hand, my youngest daughter finds academic work quite stifling and comes to life when creating. She is autistic but luckily ended up that year with a teacher who ‘got her’, and to help her write stories, she provided a folder of visual prompts which she found so much easier to process than written instructions. Nowadays she has taken up coding and enjoys it immensely, but loves using it to create games and enjoys building Lego or robots. Although these are STEM (Science, Engineering, Maths and Technology) activities, she enjoys bringing creativity to them and has made a couple of infinite games which are quite fun to play; I have used the air hockey one to procrastinate more than once.
However, she has a folder for her stories on the desktop of my laptop and frequently steals my laptop to write new stories purely for her own enjoyment.
Whilst I was working with them every day at home with their set work, I just found it was all geared to the academic side of life. English especially stood out to me. Children now are being asked to parse sentences and be able to recognise grammatical nuances like fronted adverbials, prepositions, and clauses.
I am a writer by career. I also perform spoken word. However, whilst I understand the need for literary devices like alliteration, onomatopoeia, metaphors, assonance, and more, I would not know a fronted adverbial if it walked up and punched me in the face. All I could see as I watched my children work, was them breaking sentences into technical blocks and missing the fact that some sentences were simply beautifully written.
In the end I decided to stray completely from the curriculum. We stopped learning about taking words apart, and I taught them to put them back together again. We wrote poetry and short stories; we learned the meaning of a new word every day. Even in science we explored how we could make it fun and memorable. We did experiments, blowing things up in the garden, and when I started to teach my oldest some of the basics, (he would be starting in secondary school) we built animal and plant cells out of cardboard, tinfoil, and sponges. The animal cell still has its own pride of place on the kitchen notice board.
I can’t say I will ever be sorry for abandoning the curriculum work they were set. I know they will be caught up on their grammar by their amazing and hardworking teachers. Over eighteen months later from beginning school anew in September 2020, I have seen no obvious detriment to their formal schooling, and in the meantime I can only hope that the time I spent in allowing them to take a more holistic overview of language may have lit a small spark of creativity in them both and that it will be allowed to grow.
I have found that even teachers I have spoken to amongst my circle of friends and family have agreed the curriculum is dry and uninteresting in many parts, designed purely to pass exams at the age of eleven. Exams that realistically have zero impact on their future. Arbitrary targets.
So, if you feel the same way I do about our children learning to love music, art, painting and writing, and you feel traditional schooling is knocking the joy of beauty out of your young children what do we do next?
Personally, while I am all for homework, I just want my children to learn to appreciate the world around them, and to express their feelings in whatever creative way they wish. So, my youngest daughter has unlimited access to my laptop, along with her folder of picture prompts so she can write to her hearts content. Both have sketch pads, pens and pencils, and Alexa always has some tunes for us while we shut the screens off and spend some time making things.
It’s ok if your child doesn’t pass an exam at eleven because they hate maths or science. It’s ok for them to dislike parts of their schooling and feel stifled by a traditional curriculum. There are so many other options they can explore if they just want to create instead. Honestly speaking, they really have no concept of the future at this point really, even if they say they have plans. I was determined my whole life to be a nurse or paramedic, which I did for many years, but now thirty years after the old ‘Eleven plus’ exams, I am sat at my desk creating stories about magical creatures who live behind the bedroom door for children to laugh at.
I have very little idea of the finer points of grammar, and occasionally I treat commas like they are sprayed from a shotgun, but I am not pinned down by convention.
And I love it.
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