I know, I know, it's hard to believe, lol, but I had a childhood pre-National Curriculum (UK) - a broad and interesting education without computers and unrestricted by assessment, but full of opportunity to find your own way. When the local butcher's son brought in some bull's eyes (literally!), the teachers dropped everything and those of us who had the inclination (no, not me - I was not born to be a medic!) got to dissect them and find out how the eye is formed. We were 10.
I remember country dancing lessons, swimming lessons in our school outdoor pool (very fancy!) and my favourite, gymnastics - not as a club after school, but as a lesson. We all worked towards BAGA (British Amateur Gymnastic Awards) in each session, and everyone committed to see how far we could go - I don't remember anyone not wanting to be there. It took discipline; it challenged us, but was also enjoyable. It was my first experience of being graded.
Art was integrated into each topic. I have a vivid memory of using a projector to draw my facial outline on paper so that I could then recreate myself as a Sioux Indian girl (and then being asked why I gave myself black hair, rather than my white blond??!! erm... aren't we Indian? I thought.) It was never a stand-alone subject in Primary school. We didn't, at that stage, learn techniques, we learnt by exploring and being guided as we went along. Topics were broad and exploratory in that way.
I was an average learner, I guess, but loved my art. I got into Grammar school in Kent when we moved (a different system to Devon at the time) purely by having an interview and a short test. Here, I did ok. I wasn't a 'top' student, destined for University, but I enjoyed my learning. I did art, I did needlework, I got involved in drama and loved our music lessons when a new young teacher let us play our vinyls!! I even managed to do so well I was considered for A levels. I took some, I failed them. I left education a little embarrassed, but with an income and instead rose through the retail ranks to assistant buyer nurtured by the most inspirational woman I knew - she saw something in me.
Fast forward 17 years and in a complete turnaround, I stood in front of the camera holding in my hands a First Class Honours degree in Primary Education. I'd got into Uni (yes, I really was capable!) and I LOVED it! I just loved learning, reading, learning, reading... and writing! I realised I'd got lost around A level time, was drawn into a world of work, tempted by a regular wage, and missed an opportunity. How many other people does this happen to? I was lucky enough to be brave, take a huge step at not-the-best time (two small children, mortgage...) and be supported by my family as much as possible as I applied for a 3-year full-time degree.
The reason I am sharing this, I think, is to highlight the fact that the school system (probably more so, currently) can miss you. Can miss your talents. Can stop you from achieving more. And then without the motivation (or the belief in yourself that you can do it), life envelopes you and before you know it, you think it's too late. Too late to achieve your dream - but believe me, it is always achievable! It might take time, it might take creative thinking about how you can achieve it, but achieve it you can.
This applies to children too. Your children, if you have them.
You know them. You know what they can do. What is their talent? Think outside the box. Don't look for whether they are a good dancer or footballer (although, this really might be where their talents lie, in which case carry on...) - when we think 'talent' we often think sport or art. Look for those little signs - Can they organise others in team activities? Do they have an aptitude for numbers, even though they are only 5? Can they grow and nurture plants, while you struggle to keep them alive? Can they understand code? Are they interested in how things work, technical or mechanical? All these things and more are signs of a talent. Something that makes them light up (and often talk about for hours!).
As a teacher, I have seen and tried to nurture talents in many children. One such child was a very talented autistic 9 year old. He had been struggling with behaviour issues when I took over the class mid-year and his autism was a challenge for his parents and our staff. But he had a fantastic understanding of Space, was a talented computer technician and wrote and illustrated books with a sense of humour and quick wit! I worked with him to use his skills in class, and when I became the Headteacher, he would come and 'visit' on his tough days to show me his latest (mini) computer game he'd developed, or read his latest chapter of the book. With the right setting, he could have gone on to develop his ideas, but the last I heard, he had been let down by the system (my opinion) and wasn't in school at all. I hate seeing this - a talented child let down. Yes, he was struggling with a mental disorder, but with help, he could achieve so much.
I often think about him and wonder how many more children are 'let down' in the education system because their talent (which sometimes doesn't fit the system) isn't identified or nurtured. And I don't mean children with a disorder or with behaviour issues, I don't even mean the children that are hard to engage. Sometimes it is the quiet, studious child that gets missed. The one who is no trouble, does their work and homework, gets fair grades and doesn't complain. What is their talent? Does anyone ask? What makes them get excited, or motivated, or so engrossed they lose sense of time?
Even as parents we miss vital clues. We are busy people and do our very best to provide for and support our families and often its hard to sit back and view what is happening. But take that time. Sit back and watch. What does your child choose to do if they have 'free' time? Yes, I know many will head to a computer, but why? What is it that they really enjoy and how long are they on there? For some it's social or a habit. For some its the story-telling behind the game. For some it's the graphics or how the code brings the game to life.
Some children don't choose the screen. So what do they do if free to choose? Are they bored inside and need to be outside? "The Durrells" TV series keeps popping into my head, which I have recently binge-watched on Netflix - Gerry's love of nature and need to be outside exploring and searching for wildlife that he can learn about. He was so knowledgeable at such a young age, and yet his mother wanted him to be tutored to know his times tables, history and French! I'm not saying a rounded education isn't important, because it is, but despite (or maybe because of) all his evasive techniques Gerald Durrell went on to be a world-renowned naturalist, set up a wildlife conservation trust and zoo, as well as writing the books on which the series is based.
For every child there should be opportunity to 'be' - to explore in their own way. Introvert children may do this alone, or choose a quiet activity with a friend or two. Extrovert children may need more social activities. Each one should be given opportunities to find their talent and it is up to us as adults, be that teacher, parent or friend, to nurture it. If you don't understand computers, find a friend who does and could expand your child's knowledge of the technical aspects. If you haven't a clue about the animal world, just allowing your child to keep insects as 'pets' for a while to study like Gerry, or spending time outdoors exploring, and if money allows, a trip to the zoo, but stop and let your child speak to the keepers if you see one. These little things will expand your child's knowledge and maybe set them on a career path that they love. Isn't that just the best way to live your life? Doing what you love?
The discussion goes on, so please let me know your thoughts on the subject of creative learning. I'd love to hear if you support a child's talent in any way. We need a world of rounded adults who have explored their own talents and found their way. We don't need those skilled only in academia - how could we live with that?!
Next time we will start to look at how you can start to develop a creative mindset in your child. Look forward to see you then!
Sign up so you don't miss a post and grab a creative freebie on the way - look out for the pop-up!
See what's coming up and join an online creative workshop to ignite that creative spark!