Adventures in Education – a whole curriculum
The learning Adventure
Education should be an adventure, the most important adventure in a child’s life. The word “education” comes from the Latin meaning “to lead out”. Too often our schools narrow children’s learning to bargain basement numeracy and literacy. Education should be far more than basic schooling. Science, modern languages, geography and history all need much more space in the primary curriculum. Sport and the Arts are often poor cousins afforded more time outside the school day than within it. The narrow curriculum lacks depth, stimulation and appeal; children need to enter the world of learning through many different doors.
Sport, music, drama, dance, art and all the areas of learning that expand and confirm the richness of human experience actually contribute to a child’s intellectual development in every way. For example, if you want your child to learn to read young and with pleasure and good understanding, make sure they have the opportunity to participate in music classes. Singing and playing simple percussion instruments involve the same skills as needed to learn to read: the ability to interpret the spoken word, discrimination between different kinds of sounds and the recognition of sequence, pattern and rhythm. Participating in games involves the same skills as needed in grasping basic mathematics skills: spatial awareness, pattern, sequence, listening. What is more, the physical activity children enjoy in sport or drama, dance and music is essential to keeping the brain alert and receptive. Creative activities are essential to building paths to problem-solving and to all intellectual growth.
How can any school deny the importance of daily sport? Why should drama or music be considered “extra” non-curricular studies for lunch-time play or after-school time? The arts and sport, as well as those less valued studies in science, modern languages, history and geography, should be integrated into the mainstream curriculum timetable within the normal school day and not given only occasional attention or relegated to out-of-school time. And shouldn’t there be the opportunity during the school day to care for animals, make camps in the school woodland, tend a vegetable patch, play chess, manage a pond, create a play, jam with fellow musicians, sit and read, create a storybook on computer, play a game of tennis, stock the bird-feeder, explore ways to help others or just enjoy being with friends?
How can this be achieved in a school? First, the school must be enabled to value a balanced curriculum that awards equal importance to academic, arts and physical activities. It’s important that teachers and parents recognise that breadth in the curriculum improves standards and not the opposite. Second, the school day needs to be long enough to accommodate a full, balanced curriculum. Thirdly, quality specialist teachers, especially for languages, sport, drama and music, must be available in increasing numbers from nursery up and the equipment and facilities needed must be provided.
Are these ideals practicable? Do any schools manage to deliver such exemplary standards locally? Can a broad curriculum deliver academic excellence? Yes, to every question. With the best will in the world, lack of funding, lack of specialist teachers, large class sizes and short school days can make it a struggle to achieve such ideals in primary schools. Some educators, anyway, don’t agree that providing a broad curriculum is worthwhile. However, if you’d like to see some primary schools where these ideals are in action every day, go and visit any of the nearby independent preparatory schools. These schools believe in providing a rich curriculum and promoting the highest standards; they are on your doorstep.