John is the Dean of Happy Cow, the children’s education division of Evam. He creates modules and syllabi for workshops and year-long theatre curriculums that have been implemented in schools across India for children.
During a discussion about children’s education with the Director of a chain of schools in Bangalore, he told me something that left me baffled. He said, “Children are not creative until the age of six”. As someone who works with Happy Cow, the division of Evam that uses theatre-based methodologies to teach children, this left me pondering.
A bit of research was done to truly understand the meaning behind his words. Happy Cow aims to create life-changing experiences for children in the age group of 1 to 6 and their facilitators.
Gaining clarity on the following aspects helped me to get more into the orientation of designing a program for them, with them and from their point of view.
Children Work From Memory
Children learn from their environment. They touch, taste, feel and explore things just to know what they are. Simple things like a bouncing ball or the crushing sound of paper excites them. Their grey matter is open to exploring and storing things in the memory.
Therefore, when a child says, “I will land the rocket on an elephant’s back!” – He/she is picking up two random things from their memory and putting them together. It is not creativity. For them, a rocket and an elephant are elements they saw in a cartoon or a text book or, they could even be new words they learned this morning… They piece them together because it is fresh in their memory and curiosity drives them to use those words.
The Role of Art in a Child’s Life
Art is creativity. If children are not creative, then what are we teaching them? How does theatre benefit children?
Children in the age group of one to six are taught to master gross motor skills, but fine motor coordination (including skills like writing) remain beyond their grasp. Children of this age group are whole-body learners who need to learn through active exploration, involving lots of physical activity.
Therefore, theatre at this level typically involves high energy movement focusing on balance and coordination (gross motor skills). Children begin to invent their own steps and movements once they are older.
Research in all disciplines indicates that early childhood learners have very short attention spans and need routines involving a variety of activities to sustain their interest. A structured classroom environment that also allows for open-ended, exploratory work is the key here.
Therefore, repetition of basic concepts that continues to allow freedom for students to invent their own movements is very important. Instructions in class may allow for guided as well as unguided “improvisational” work, for children at this age.
In the earliest stages of this age range, parents and teachers are often the most important individuals in a child’s life. Learners at this stage are very social and talkative. Children are often very much interested in “re-telling” pictorial and physical aspects to peers and adults. Images become more representational in their point of view.
At this point, children begin to explore relationships between themselves and the world around them. Allowing them to form small groups and engaging them in a full-fledged activity like theatre and dance helps foster their cooperative skills and communication abilities.
It is widely accepted that performing arts encourage development in all these areas; and art-based explorations are often seamlessly integrated into educational experiences for pre-school and elementary learners. In early childhood, performing arts present students with a primary means of communicating their understandings of themselves and the world. Creativity and innovation come in much later in their lives.
Theatre-based methodology helps children store concepts of communication in their memory in an experiential pattern. Such a memory is long lasting and responsible for creativity & innovation at later stages of their lives.