By Jenny Heitler-Klevans
This piece is reprinted from Jenny’s blog.
This morning I spent my time with children, singing, pretending to be caterpillars and butterflies, playing sticks, learning rhythms, and letting children make up their own rhythm and spoken word pieces. I watched as the children listened attentively, engaged in music and mime, laughed at silly puppets, and used their creativity.
In a recent New York Times op-ed, Thomas L. Friedman wrote about the need to re-examine education. He spoke to Harvard education specialist Tony Wagner. Wagner said, “Today, because knowledge is available on every Internet-connected device, what you know matters far less than what you can do with what you know. The capacity to innovate — the ability to solve problems creatively or bring new possibilities to life — and skills like critical thinking, communication and collaboration are far more important than academic knowledge.”
As a teaching artist, I read with interest, but nothing in the article or the comments afterward mentioned the arts as a vital and important way to help children learn innovation and problem-solving.
Wagner went on to say, “We need to focus more on teaching the skill and will to learn and to make a difference and bring the three most powerful ingredients of intrinsic motivation into the classroom: play, passion and purpose.”
What better way to bring play, passion and purpose into the classroom then through the arts? My husband and I often lead song-writing residencies where we help children to create original songs. It is a process-based activity in which the students are creatively engaged throughout the project. They choose the topic and the point of view, organize their ideas, create lyrics, invent melodies, and work together in a cooperative process. The students become invested in the project because it is their ideas, their song. When the song is finished, they record it and perform it in front of their classmates and families. They feel a sense of accomplishment and pride in the work they have done.
Yet everyday we meet obstacles – under-funding, over-testing, and always the mantra “we need more instructional time.” Somehow, many people have the idea that if something is fun, children aren’t learning. Administrators, teachers and politicians need to remember that the arts are instructive. Not only that, but they help integrate all the lessons the students have been learning in an enjoyable and meaningful way. People need to dance, sing, act, write and create visual art in order to live a full life and be fully human. If we are deprived of these activities, the world becomes a dreary place and we lose the passion, play and purpose of living.
As Sir Ken Robinson says, “Creativity is as important now in education as literacy and we should treat it with the same status.” Education specialists around the world are talking about the need to foster creativity as a way to train people to be more innovative and flexible. We need to make sure the arts are a big part of that conversation.
Jenny Heitler-Klevans is a longtime Children’s Music Network member, and sings with her husband David as Two of a Kind.