Education is serious work. Arts Integration is serious work.
But the arts can also be seriously fun. Sometimes in my fervor to promote more rigorous education I can lose sight of just how much fun participating in the arts can be. Because educators are under so much pressure to improve test scores and teach what seems to me to be an ever increasing amount of content, we can get so focused on maximizing our educational time that we can forget to make time for some serious fun! This past weekend I experienced some reminders.
On Saturday, I went to visit my sister to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. We had both studied Irish step dancing as children and she is still my favorite dance partner. I was very much looking forward to my road trip but before I could leave, I had to teach my early childhood music and movement classes. Each participant, parent and child alike, I’d given the resonator bells (like mini xylophones) and mallets to. Then, lead the class in exploring different levels of beat as we sang. I became distracted by one little boy who was busy commandeering the bells of neighbors to build a train and drive it around the room.
Thank goodness for that child!
He reminded me of the importance of playfulness in learning and soon we were all singing the tune of the song on “choo-choo” and pushing our own bells around the floor like cars in a train. It was so much fun, that I intentionally added that in to my next class.
The next day I went to hear an Irish band and was watching lots of adults pretending to Irish dance and having a tremendous time doing it. I think I had more fun watching the dancers than I did listening to the music and dancing myself! The abandon and playfulness they exhibited doing a form of dance I used for “serious” purposes like performance and competition again reminded me how important it is for everyone no matter how old to have time to be playful.
I was thinking about this need to play as I drove home from my weekend and was reminded of one of my most challenging years of classroom teaching. That year there were two classes of fifth graders with many challenging behaviors. However, when St. Patrick’s Day came around, I still wanted to try to teach them some of the traditional Irish folk dancing called ceili dancing. My principal later revealed to me that she thought I had been crazy to even attempt it but being the supportive person that she was, she permitted my teammate and I to gather all the children in one room, push back the furniture, and dance.
We had so much fun that the following day, a group of students asked if they could stay inside during recess to try the dancing again!
Sharing that art experience with my students was not only fun but it helped foster more positive dynamics between my students and me and helped me facilitate a more productive work environment in my classroom. With these experiences and reflections, I am reminded of the power of the arts not just to illuminate concepts but to bring people together. I humbly suggest that while engaging in the challenging and serious work of education and Arts Integration, we all give ourselves permission to indulge in some art-making with the pure intention of just having some serious fun!