Can kids learn complex creative skills like music, songwriting, creative writing, drama and dance through play?
Written by Lorrie Holmes
Based on my own experiences as a Creative Arts Instructor & Mentor, over the past decade, I’ve certainly learned that the answer is yes. As a matter of fact, the more creative freedom that’s given, the more focused these kids are on developing a skill or completing a project to the best of their ability. Provide these young artists with the right environment and support and their creativity will blossom. They will automatically:
1. Display the Ability to Make Choices
When children and youth come up with their own ideas about what they want to do, they begin to take ownership of whatever it is that they are doing or planning to do.
In my own Creative Arts Programming, I approach this model by breaking it down into three components:
Step No. 1 – Creating or adapting a story or song
Step No. 2 – Making props and backdrops to use in their storytelling
Step No. 3 – Deciding how they would like to perform these stories (acting, puppetry, dance and choreography, video, etc.)
2. Foresee Problems and Come Up With Solutions
Critical thinking begins when kids start to think about how they can realistically accomplish their creative goals. When planning a project such as building a prop for a show or working out a dance routine, these young creative thinkers begin to discover challenges. Even more importantly, they learn how to solve them. Sometimes they ask for help. Other times they naturally begin to delegate and problem solve with each other and bring me in afterwards. When called upon to help, I will make suggestions of ways they can go about solving problems by offering choices. I never give them just one solution. This way, they still take some ownership, even if it’s just choosing from different options that I’ve provided them.
3. Become Leaders and Team Players
Once the kids have chosen a project and have a plan of action, they magically start to assume their own roles and responsibilities. Don’t get me wrong, it’s certainly not all flow! This can be a super frustrating point in time for them and a somewhat stressful one for me as well. But if I’m to be completely honest, it’s also where most of their growth takes place. It’s a great opportunity for teaching social skills as the kids are each trying to fit into a role and work together. Older children often step up or are called upon to work with the younger ones. Their older peers make observations and suggestions and lend a hand when it’s agreed upon or requested. In the end, everyone is entitled to feel out whether they want to take suggestions, though more often than not, guidance from fellow peers is appreciated.
4. Become Inspired
While watching other kids try things and work through their own fears, children naturally begin to follow suit and step out of their own comfort zones. Through their camaraderie of friendship, they seem to find courage in each other to try new things. It’s very exciting when their hidden talents or interests are discovered in the most unexpected activities – from storytelling and creative writing, to prop making and stage decorating. From singing and songwriting, to dancing and acting, and from stage directing to choreography – when kids jump in and try things, they often discover that they enjoy doing things they never imagined themselves doing.
5. See Things Through
Through perseverance, and working through fears and frustrations, kids gain confidence as they build creativity. By taking on responsibilities even when it gets hard, these budding performers, directors, choreographers and singer-songwriters learn that hard work pays off and so does believing in yourself and your friends. During this process, I strongly encourage my kids to take baby steps often so they are constantly setting themselves up for success. And when things sometimes don’t go their way, they learn to try again and keep their chin up while doing it.
6. Feel Proud
My first two goals when working with children are for kids to have fun and build confidence. Pride comes once they recognize, within themselves, that they’ve really done a good job. The harder the job, the bigger the payoff in the long run. These kids gain the understanding that to be really good at something is hard work. You don’t just suddenly decide to play the piano and begin writing brilliant compositions (unless you’re Mozart maybe). Mastering any art form is a huge commitment and takes a lot of practice. Kids want to see instant results but they learn that this isn’t realistic. By watching their peers work hard at their chosen crafts, these kids all learn together, the value and PROCESS in BECOMING good at something they desire.
Through the exposure of so many creative art forms, many of the programs that I have been involved in over the years have helped kids to discover what they are interested in exploring while giving them realistic steps to build and improve their own skills. Often the younger children in the group can find a mentor a few years older who is committed to the same interests and has put in the work to become good at it. The younger protege then sees the possibilities of what their future payoffs might be if they put in the work themselves. Kids are more inspired by their older peers. The gap isn’t as big so the payoff seems more attainable. This is key. Like us adults, kids need to see what the results will mean for them if they are going to consider working really hard at something. This is why I am a big fan of mixed ages – as long as the gap isn’t too big.
Putting It All Into Practice
To end off this story, I decided to feature a video that a group of young authors created under my guidance of writing mentor over the last term at the Creative Writing For Children Society. This was such a fun project as the children and I decided to take all of the lessons I had taught them over the term about creative writing and break each one of them in this song parody that they rewrote with me. This included the children making props, and even acting out each scene in this music video. They also sang all of the lyrics they wrote and even added their own background vocals and foley (extra sounds effects) to add extra layers into this video story.
I’m so appreciative of all the opportunities I have had to share my creativity with children through the programs that I have been involved in and I am so excited to now be reviewing the work of other creative professionals, sharing their songs and other creative teaching tools in my classes with children and at times, their teachers and youth leaders. What I’m most excited about these days is covering some children’s songs in my classes and learning the chords to these amazingly playful songs and recreating them in Garageband for our classes! It’s such a fun time to be looking past my own experience and ideas and collaborating with many other creatives who choose to write songs and stories for children. I’m so looking forward to working with many of you in the near future here at KiDS NEWS & REViEWS!Sincerely, Lorrie Holmes