There is an old school of thought that our brains are either one of two types: mathematical or artistic. Thanks to recognition of the importance of nurturing skills and intellects across all subjects and through an appreciation of the arts in general, we are realising that the distinction between these two brain types is not quite so clear-cut. Our deviation from traditional or, should we say, ‘text book’ teaching techniques has reinforced this further.

Benefits of arts education in primary schools

The ability to interpret, question and ‘think outside of the box’ are equally as important as the ability to take in and learn information. At Cranmore, we understand the important role that the arts play in developing curiosity, creativity and an alternative means of engaging with academic education. The arts also provide an important relief from the rigours of a busy school day, which has a positive knock-on effect on wellbeing and academic performance.

In fact, it is fairly common knowledge (if not an urban legend) that music can help children from an early age. You might have heard of the ‘Mozart effect’, which suggests that playing music to children in the womb has a positive effect on development. Behind this is solid evidence that there is a real benefit to art education in both primary and secondary school. By making sure that children are growing up in an environment that is rich in the arts and music you will help them flourish throughout their life. There are also strong associations between maths and music, which casts the art versus maths divide into further question. This week, we explore the role of the arts in education.

Psychological theories on child development

Anna Freud is one of the most prominent thinkers about childhood development and continued the work of her father, Sigmund Freud. One of her most influential works, The Ego and Mechanisms for Defence, explains some of the methods that children and adults use to protect their sense of self from unfulfilled desires. In layman’s terms as we grow up we experience limitations and challenges as a result of not being able to get everything we want all of the time. These are mostly very important and normal, but responding to authority and denial can be challenging for children.

An important aspect of early education is teaching children to have an appropriate and healthy outlet for any challenging emotions that they experience. This helps them process these feelings and direct their frustrations in a useful direction, ultimately making them healthier, happier, and more confident in who they are.

Freud provides a number of different ways that children (and adults) cope with stresses. One such way is engaging in denial. For example when a child refuses to acknowledge that they have done anything wrong or regresses into an earlier and less emotionally developed pattern of behaviour (also known as, a tantrum!). Of course, this is rarely the preferred method of dealing with problems in life. That’s why it is important that children are shown the tools to be able to interpret, communicate and cope with these frustrations.

Arts education

Both Sigmund and Anna Freud suggested that one of the healthiest ways that we can express our frustrations is through use of a form of psychological self-defence called ‘sublimation’. Sublimation is the process of turning negative emotions and pressures into a creative or useful output. It is a form of self-defence in that it protects us from some form of ‘neurosis’, that is, anxiety. But it also contributes to wider development. Many writers, composers, and actors engage in sublimation. A comprehensive education should aim to be holistic, rather than purely academic, and provide the means to transfer negative emotions into a rewarding creative process that will foster a love of knowledge. Freud recognised that an education in the arts was an important way of achieving this.

Of course, while Anna Freud was one of the first people to express this in a formal academic setting, artistic creation has long been valued as an essential component in early years education. Composers like Benjamin Britten and Saint-Saëns utilised this and wrote pieces especially for children to introduce them to the orchestra. A firm grounding in music has been proven to foster emotional maturity, coordination and communication. Not dissimilar to a sport, music can also contribute to an educational environment that is as supportive, social and stimulating as possible.

Extracurricular artistic activities provide children with the opportunity to find the mode of expression that suits them and where their talents lie. Whether you are singing in a choir, working in music technology class, taking a seat at the potter’s wheel or performing on stage – there is no one way of being creative. Allowing children to understand this for themselves is essential to creating a well-rounded individual. Alongside music, drama and drawing are other art forms that play important roles during early development, with proven benefits.

There is significant evidence that art can help with childhood development by encouraging creativity, and gives each child the confidence to articulate their ideas. Government research shows that art encourages young people to explore their ideas, as well as build the skills required to interpret, understand and evaluate the ideas of others. By doing this, children are able to test their physical, emotional and cognitive abilities in a safe and controlled manner. Providing all pupils with the opportunity to take part in plays and other collaborative art means they will learn the tools of self-reliance and self-dependence. Even something as familiar as a Nativity play can help a child with confidence and to foster a feeling of community and camaraderie.

The importance of the arts in childhood

Introducing children to musical history and culture, as well as the many different types of music, fosters an understanding and appreciation for the skills and knowledge involved. This places them in good stead to enjoy the art culture throughout their lives.

Cranmore Prep’s varied artistic curriculum and Art and Design Studio provide a nurturing space for children to practise and experiment music, art and drama. Our partnership with the neighbouring Grange Park Opera house is a fantastic way of introducing children to one of the most impressive art forms: opera.

Through this partnership, children gain access to professionally run workshops as well as in-house opportunities and productions. Grange Park Opera Company regularly hosts opera and theatre like Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, in a gorgeous setting. It is vital that children feel comfortable in different settings in order to fully appreciate the art that is inside them. This partnership will open up a rich cultural vista.

We are passionate about providing Cranmore pupils with plenty of choice and rich experiences. With access to our outstanding Creative Arts facilities and stimulating grounds, pupils are encouraged to be creative and are able to learn some of the practical skills to do so. Find out more about Creative Arts at Cranmore on our website.