By Esther Anderson – Co Artistic Director infuseDANCE
Freedom to explore, freedom to express to yourself, freedom to respond to new things in a carefree and genuine way are human experiences that we hope will be readily accessible in our children’s lives and educational settings. But these opportunities are sadly becoming less and less frequent and accessible due to an education system that favours traditional academic learning of facts and information. The arts that provide these nourishing experiences are seeing dramatic funding cuts especially after the pandemic, and there’s immense pressure on schools to provides ‘results from tests’ as a way of ‘catching up’ from the pandemic.
That’s why we were overjoyed to see that schools like Ellesmere College in Leicester are still battling their way through the current climate to provide arts opportunities for their children and young people. In collaboration with Attenborough Art Centre’s SENsory Atelier Programme they invited us, infuseDANCE, to work in a Reggio Emilia approach with their pupils and staff (EYFS to KS2) over a 5 week period.
So how important are these projects?
Well, from our point of view as artists and also parents ourselves they are immensely valuable and an essential part of learning and well being. We saw moments of genuine learning where children discovered something for themselves through exploration using trial and error. Beautiful hand and foot dances, choreographed in the moment as they responded to a torch light casting their shadow upon a wall. A sensory explosion of bubble wrap and brown paper pathways, to jump on, roll down and pull up. Light painting and scarves that could be thrown, twisted and hidden under, balanced on a body part or just experienced for the texture and colour.
Each week the children arrived into our space, that had multiple offerings/provocations already set with gentle, instrumental music playing in the background. Their part in this was to explore and use the space around them as they wanted to. The adults in the space held back for the first few minutes so there was no intervention. We always liken this to the atmosphere of pre show; the audience coming into the auditorium and there’s a sense of anticipation of what’s to come.
The space had been set in a way that invited the children to move, touch and respond….and instantly the children’s curiosity was peaked. The taped pathways on the floor and walls offered motivation to travel, jump and roll; they had to share and negotiate this space with their fellow classmates and in doing so trust and listen to each other’s responses. The children were handed the reins to make choices for themselves as to how they were going to respond physically to the environment and each other…. and yes, they could do this well, superbly well and they made creative choices that were beautiful, unique and free of mistakes. Eventually the adults in the room would also join in but not as leaders – as supporters who could ‘scaffold’ the great ideas that were already happening and gently invite further investigation.
Some adults were understandably nervous to let go of the heavily engrained ‘adults know best’ approach, whilst some instantly tapped into their ‘inner child’ and got down on the floor and allowed themselves to play and explore alongside and with their pupils. This gave the children permission to let go and be free and it was wonderful to watch and absorb.
We need more of this – this is what I want for them…and I sadly can’t give them this in the classroom”Teacher, Ellesmere College
By the end of the project every child relished the freedom to self direct and explore. For the adults there was an awareness of how valuable the children’s ideas, creativity and unique individual responses were – no matter how small.
“Look at her fine motor skills”
“Wow, I’ve never seen him reach for anything”Teacher
As adults we may think we know it all but the joy of this kind of learning is that there’s no one answer. The benefits of this open ended result where everything can be anything is endless, the possibilities are vast. What’s even more important to observe are happy, engaged and active learners.