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Why Are the Performing Arts Important for Children?

By Shanghai Family

November 26, 2020

When we think about crucial subjects for children at school we tend to think about math, science and English. Performing arts are often overlooked, but they can be crucial for our child's development. Nigel de Sousa, Head of Performing Arts from The British International School Shanghai, Puxi tells us more.
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Performing arts programme for children gives them the opportunity to develop confidence and artistic skills through performance but, it does a whole lot more than this. Performing arts are not just about the final show or performance, but it's about the process a child goes through to get to the final performance. We are teaching them to love the journey as much as the destination. A vibrant performing arts department is just as much about developing children's emotional intelligence and attitude to learning.

Why? In Daniel Goleman's widely acclaimed book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than IQ, he highlights the importance that employees place on emotional intelligence, and rather than being a slightly derided set of skills, heightened emotional intelligence (or EQ) is what sets people apart as leaders – hugely important in this competitive world of work, and perhaps more so in these challenging times. He defines EQ as a set of qualities that focus on self awareness, motivation, self-regulation, empath, and social skills – these can all be found (and to some degree assessed) in drama, for example.

The performing arts programme helps students focus on skills such as collaboration and creativity, allowing students to access language in a playful setting.

Performing arts help children to focus on these skills and value collaboration, creativity and curiosity (amongst others), as well as strong performance skills. Students who engage in performing arts tend to leave their learning much more self aware and ready to connect with others – as well as achieving the top grades.

Another big advantage to a well developed performing arts programme is that it allows students to access language in a playful setting. Students who are enjoying their learning are going to be much more engaged – as well as happier – something we all want for our children. So, a focus on practical and fun activities (as well as the academic challenge) is hugely important. In a multicultural environment, where there are many EAL (English as an Additional Language) learners, a subject such as drama has the power to ignite the imagination.

In an interpretation of Professor Wolfson's 'bulge theory' (The Bulge: A Theory of Speech Behavior and Social Distance), she explains that we don't remember most of the mundane language interactions we have day to day. But it’s the language of 'conflict' (an argument you might have) or the language of 'intimacy' (this could be the kind words of a close friend) that you do recall. This is why drama is so important. It deals with the language of conflict and intimacy all the time. Take Romeo and Juliet, for example, it’s a play that opens with a fight scene and its main theme is 'love'. At BISS Puxi, we explore this text practically in Year 8 and ask students to experiment with the text - the feelings, and ideas as well as the meaning, so they have fun, with language. This has a greater impact on learners, and in particular, supports EAL students with understanding the play text better. The outcome of this is reflected in both their academic result and their enjoyment of their learning journey.

Even regularly watching plays, dance and other types of performance can have formative potential for children. Art often tackles topics that are hard to digest, to understand or are uncomfortable to think about. Performing Arts allows children the opportunity to become more informed, to have their ideas questioned and to think about the world in a different light, all done so in a non-confrontational way.

When you take this further and ask children to begin to pick apart texts, to create their own versions of them and to explore the motivation behind a character's actions or emotions you are deepening their understanding of human nature itself. Ask children why Tybalt killed Mercutio at the beginning of the second act of Romeo and Juliet and why this is crucial to the play. Their answers can give you an insight into the emotional intelligence and understanding of the children.

Every child is unique and every child will take something different away from performing arts. For one child their language skills will have improved, for another, it will be their confidence, for one child, it gives them time to take a break from textbooks and allows their imagination to run free for many, it heightens their EQ and understanding of the world around them.


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