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One of the first changes we could see in public as a result of the lockdown were rainbows going up in windows.

Created by children to support the NHS and care workers, these little bursts of joy created instant community on our streets. Families came to together to express compassion with a symbol of hope.

The increase in arts and creativity across the country is itself a symbol of hope to me. Anyone in education knows we so often have to make the case for the value of arts and creative activities. The lockdown gives us a chance to recognise their value – now and moving forward.  

School at home and the role of arts and creativity

It is recognised that parents are a child’s first teacher, but this takes on a different sense when parents across the country have been asked to step up as substitute teachers.

Although the Department for Education have said “no one expects parents to act as teachers, or to provide the activities and feedback that a school or nursery would” it has certainly become incumbent on parents to step up to some form of a learning plate. Families have had to work out what to do at home and how to fill the time.

It’s interesting how much they have turned to arts and creative activities. Reports of painting, drawing, cooking, active play, seed sowing, dancing, exercising, crafting and making have proliferated on social media.

This tweet summed it up for me:

@Miss_L_White: What I have found interesting whilst in lockdown is the promotion of all the subjects that in school get the least appreciation; Art, Music, Sport. If they are all essential for keeping us sane in lockdown why aren’t they just as essential when it comes to funding?

Have we unwittingly placed extra value on the purpose and utility of art and creative activities?

From putting your recycling to an alternative use, to expressing ideas and finding you have something to say or enabling a moment of quiet and self-reflection – more of us than ever are seeing the value of arts.

The amount of resources that have been made available to families to support arts education shows how we are increasingly recognising creativity’s value.

For example, these worksheets produced by Firstsite - a gallery in Colchester, Essex. The worksheets link directly to the social and emotional benefits of undertaking creative activities, with artists from different creative practices taking the opportunity to challenge young people to think differently and apply a different perspective to the world.

RSA Academies art resources

At RSA Academies – a network of schools supported by the RSA – we have always promoted the importance of arts. We recently launched a Contemporary Art Space Project to inspire teaching and learning through commissioning socially-engaged artworks connected to self-expression.  

While our schools are closed and the country is in the lockdown, we have worked in partnership with Iniva to create short set of emotional learning cards based on these artworks.

The artists (Rudy Loewe, Laurie Ramsell and Nilupa Yasmin) and students from the schools (Holyhead School, Abbeywood First School and Arrow Vale RSA Academy) invite other young people to engage with the artworks and self-reflect.

They are a practical resource that can encourage student to express themselves and understand the world in which they live. We hope they are useful to you and your family. Download the resources.

RSA Academies are not the only schools producing resources for families. In a recent survey of RSA Fellows working in education, a respondent reported that art resources were being sent home. In an interview with Charles Dickens Primary School on their approach dealing with school closures, the head reported their hope to send packs of acrylic paints to each child at home.

But a major barrier for schools in supporting art in the home is lack of understanding what resources families have got access to, from art materials to space.

Arts organisations, who despite struggling themselves at the moment, are also feeding a need for practical resources. For example, Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne have arranged for art material packs to be sent around to local families.

And once you start exploring online, there is an overwhelming array of opportunities to tour around galleries and museums, experience drama and opera, have books read to you, learn to draw, join a singing group, listen to a different form of music, join a live bedroom performance. It feels like the invitations have never been so numerous or diverse.

From BBC Bitesize, to Tate to the Royal Opera House, the lockdown is a good opportunity for children to develop cultural capital – right across the spectrum of the arts.  

Making sure everyone benefits from lockdown creativity

Research shows that apart from films and videos, most children only access arts activities whilst in school. Could the lockdown see a resurgence of creative activities in the home?

At RSA Academies, our emphasis is on supporting families and understanding the challenges and concerns they have.

One challenge is making sure that arts and creativity at home doesn’t widen disadvantage. It is the most advantaged families likely to have the time, space and resources to take part in art activities and – crucially – the most likely to continue new habits after the lockdown ends. We must try to make sure this isn’t another way children who were academically behind before lockdown are subject to further disadvantage.

We are putting our focus on the practical things that families can do together like reading, creative learning experiences, going on safe walks, playing board games, baking etc.

What can we gain from lockdown?

The rainbows created a spirit of encouragement. Perhaps this #stayathome period encourage us to find more time and space to be creative in the longer term, having come to recognise more deeply what this can offer?

  • We might come to have a greater respect for our own wellbeing and mental health, and that of our children, colleagues and neighbours around us.
  • We might have an increased respect for the role of teachers and the craft that is being a professional educator.
  • We might have formed new habits and reflected on the positive aspects to have evolved out of this disruption to our previous routines.
  • We might continue with different forms of online learning. We might make more time for creative activities and learning through creative means.  

The opportunity is there. We just need to keep going.

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