Children get to art of the matter

A new TV show charts a pilot project focused on creativity and the arts in primary and secondary schools across Ireland, writes Helen O’Callaghan
Children get to art of the matter

Creative Kids two Girls from Presentation primary school Tralee on stage at Siamsa Tire, Tralee, Co. Kerry
Creative Kids two Girls from Presentation primary school Tralee on stage at Siamsa Tire, Tralee, Co. Kerry

A new TV show charts a pilot project focused on creativity and the arts in primary and secondary schools across Ireland, writes Helen O’Callaghan

‘Art isn’t just something that’s on a page.”

“It’s something that makes you happy.”

“It could be Maths, storytelling, English, or cookery — anything really — you just need imagination.”

‘”You could be free with it. You could be creative. Everybody’s creative in their own way.”

These are just some ways in which children featured in a new RTÉ documentary define what the arts are.

Creative Kids airs on RTÉ One on Sunday and was inspired by the rollout of Creative Schools, a pilot project focusing on creativity and the arts in primary and secondary schools across Ireland.

Getting creative

The documentary follows five schools over the course of one academic year as they implement the Creative Schools project and encourage pupils to think about the arts and creativity in a whole new way.

Creative Schools — 150 schools are participating — builds upon the idea that many of us are at our most creative and imaginative when we’re young.

The documentary showcases this creativity in a programme driven by the ideas, words, voices, and innovation of young people in schools countrywide.

Schools featured on the documentary are Presentation Primary School, Tralee; Stepaside Educate Together Secondary School, Dublin; St Patrick’s De La Salle Primary School, Castlebar; Presentation Primary School, Warrenmount, Blackpitts, Dublin 8; and Scoil Athphoirt Primary, Arranmore Island, Co Donegal.

The projects/disciplines agreed on were driven by students themselves in co-operation with a ‘creative associate’ — an artist and/or teacher hired by Creative Ireland to work with schools to help facilitate and roll out their ideas.

In many cases, local artists were brought into schools to host workshops/work with students on their projects.

Sustaining art

Alice O’Connor is a teacher and Creative Schools co-ordinator at Stepaside Educate Together, where 160 students worked to create an end-of-year festival on the school grounds that explored the theme of sustainability.

Part of their project involved making elaborate headdresses out of empty Capri Sun packets and plastic drinking straws.

“Our students explored how creativity can be accessed from all sorts of angles,” says Alice.

“Sustainability’s really important to the ethos of our school, so this was a brilliant opportunity, and it also

married into our digital learning. We shaped the programme based on student feedback.

"They had a huge lead on it — every student had their voice heard.”

Children from 23 countries attend Tralee-based Presentation Primary School and the international flavour of the school inspired its 306 students to put on a whole-school music and dance show, which they staged at Siamsa Tire, Tralee – the theme was ‘Breaking Boundaries’.

“We wanted to celebrate the diverse community we have in the school,” says principal John Hickey.

Ciara O’Shea and Mehek Hussain, both aged 9 and in third class when they did the show last year, performed together in Siamsa Tire. Discussing the theme of their show, they explain it’s not important where you come from, “what colour you are, whether you wear glasses or not”, but that they are all “equally the same and special”.

“You could have a different culture or a different hair colour — it doesn’t matter. We should all be treated equally,” says Ciara.

Mehek agrees: “Everybody’s different in their own way. Like me — people mightn’t like me because of my religion. That [shouldn’t] matter — we’re all human.”

IN SYNC: Ciara O’Shea and Mehek Hussain, from Presentation Primary School, Tralee, performed on stage together last year in Siamsa Tire.
IN SYNC: Ciara O’Shea and Mehek Hussain, from Presentation Primary School, Tralee, performed on stage together last year in Siamsa Tire.

Mr Hickey, who played the ukulele and performed two songs on stage with the children (Bruno Mars’ ‘Count on Me’ and Randy Newman’s ‘You’ve Got a Friend in Me’), says the show went beyond the immediate school community. Parents, grandparents, people from nearby schools, and the local pipe band all participated.

“We had in excess of 500 performing on stage that night. Years from now, our pupils will always remember they performed on stage in the National Folk Theatre. We see it as a huge confidence-building exercise.”

The 19 students in Scoil Athphoirt Primary, Arranmore Island, live in a really special place — their school’s perched on a hill above a small beach — and their project, ‘How to be an explorer in the world’, got them looking afresh and with new eyes at what’s on their doorstep.

“They used creative activities to explore their environment. They did land art — reimagining a natural area as a piece of art. On a beach that could be anything from drawing in the sand to making a pattern with shells,” says Diarmaid O’Meara, a primary school teacher, who was creative associate for Creative Schools in Scoil Athphoirt.

Life’s a beach

Artists Rebecca Strain and Martha McCulloch facilitated the project and the children organised different materials they found on the beach to make sculptures.

There was a lot of focus on looking, says Mr O’Meara. The project culminated in a book with images of the children’s creations — and of their fresh understanding of what it is to really see something.

At Presentation Primary School in Warrenmount in The Liberties, the focus is on keeping young people in school until third level. There, the students chose to be artistic with food — they had a baking class with Jenny Synnott of Dublin Cookie Company, who hoped to get children to think creatively about their futures.

Meanwhile, pupils at St Patrick’s Primary School, Castlebar, are used to movement, but usually on the football match.

Dance artist Catherine Donnolly came to the school to get them engaged in an altogether different kind of movement: Dance. School principal Joe Carty says: “We want to develop emotional intelligence in our children and we think creativity has a huge part to play in developing that sociability.”

For Mr Hickey in his Tralee school, Creative Schools is about putting creativity at the heart of the school. In Donegal, Mr O’Meara says it’s all about art as process, rather than as product.

While many of the schools who engaged with Creative Schools organised their work to culminate in a final showcase piece, Mr O’Meara points out: “The doing [of creativity] is what’s important, not the end product.”

There’s no doubt, the 150 schools all enjoyed the journey.

  • Creative Kids, RTÉ One, Sunday, May 3, at 6.30pm.

How the arts benefit children

Research shows a correlation between children’s arts participation and other achievements.

A report by Americans for the arts found young people who participate regularly in the arts (three hours a day on three days a week for one year) are four times more likely (than children who don’t participate) to be recognised for academic achievement; participate in a maths and science fair; win an award for writing an essay or poem; and have stronger problem-solving and critical-thinking skills.

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