Peter and Ellen Jarratt began their arts education project with the simple mission of ‘inspiring creative thinkers with the confidence to change their world’. From their base in Gisborne they offer a range of arts education resources to unleash student creativity all over New Zealand, writes MELISSA WASTNEY (NZ Education Gazette)
Pablo Picasso famously said, "every child is an artist, but the problem is how to remain an artist once you grow up." It is just this problem that is addressed by Peter and Ellen Jarratt in their arts education programme, Jarratt Create & Educate, which strives to infuse primary classrooms with contagious creativity. “We champion the view that every child has natural talents that will flourish if given the opportunity, and this goes for teachers too,” says Peter.
We really don’t need to look to Finland, Japan or even Google for inspiration in fostering creative minds. It’s about looking around us, looking within and connecting with each other.
Originally from Cornwall in England, Peter and Ellen’s New Zealand journey began in 2006 when they travelled here to give workshops as educational consultants. Peter says he was inspired by a book he picked up in a second-hand shop: In the Early World, by Elwyn S Richardson. Published in 1964, the book focuses on the inherent creative capabilities of all children. Elwyn Richardson and his small rural primary school at Oruaiti in Northland became an international model of progressive education during the 1950s. “For me this book confirmed that in a not-too-distant past all the conditions were right for nurturing a child’s curiosity. These were days before terms like enquiry-based learning or modern learning environment became commonplace,” says Peter.
“We really don’t need to look to Finland, Japan or even Google for inspiration in fostering creative minds. It’s about looking around us, looking within and connecting with each other.” A programme inspired by the world around us Jarratt Create & Educate offers a learning programme for schools based around students’ own interests and is delivered through a mix of online tuition, printable resources and hands-on learning.
“As ex-teachers we definitely understand the pressures that teachers experience, which is why we want to offer these arts resources to enhance creativity in the classroom,” says Peter. “Colour-by-numbers has a place but it shouldn’t really tick the box as ‘creativity education’. We believe there are better ways to explore art-making.”
Peter and Ellen have developed a series of ‘creative challenges’ for use in the classroom. Each module is linked to The New Zealand Curriculum and is designed to be flexible enough to suit any group of students. These challenges range from sculpture to design, painting and drawing to wearable art. An important element of the programme involves the celebration and sharing of student work, which is usually done through a performance for whānau and the wider community. “We provide the creative learning projects as a great framework, but the hope is that schools will tailor the projects to make them their own, because every school is different and has its own set of challenges and strengths,” says Peter.
Ellen says the projects are influenced from a wide range of cultures. “We introduce creativity from everywhere and everything – from Māori and Pasifika art and North American Indian and Chinese (Jilin) totem poles to Japanese woodcut prints and Viking sculpture,” she says. Other projects tap into Western modern art and its rich history – such as an exploration into the synaesthesia of Russian abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky, or the joy of the ‘punk rock of its time’, Cubism. Many of the units are cross-curricular, encompassing storytelling, reading and
creative writing aspects, scientific concepts and pattern recognition. “We also encourage students to put on a colourful showcase of their work – some schools have composed samba music for mask parades and choreographed their own moves, and others have researched different types of carnivals that are held around the world,” says Ellen.
Most of all, it’s about tapping into something already inside our students, and indeed, all of us.
Side-by-Side learning and the creativity myth In the spirit of the Picasso quote at the beginning of this article, the Jarratts believe teacher confidence and open-mindedness is key when it comes to delivering an arts programme to students. It’s easy to lose the spark and drive of getting creative once we leave childhood behind, but Peter says it’s integral we try and reclaim it, for our students’ sakes and our own. “For those teachers who believe they haven’t got a creative bone in their body, it’s time for a rethink,” he says. “Often we find that teachers fall into the category of ‘self-diagnosed non-creatives’.” He tells an anecdote about a teacher who had avoided purely creative-based work with his students because he had lost touch with his own love of writing and reading. “He said, ‘It’s been a long time since I’ve thought about myself as a creative person, or written a poem, but I remember I used to really like doing that’,” he recalls.
Peter believes that art subjects bring out “the real people inside us” – people who show their strengths and weaknesses.“I think it can bring us back to why we joined the profession in the first place,” he says.
“When you put yourself out there your kids and learn alongside them – let your guard down – it can be very powerful for everyone involved. “I believe it is really empowering for students to see their teacher in this way – as a lifelong learner who is open and willing to try new things. “There is, of course, pressure on teachers to be ‘good’ at everything but when we take our students on a journey like this they get to see us as real people learning alongside them.” These are lessons that help embed the key competencies in our curriculum, too. “It’s possible for both students and teachers to apply the lessons learned in arts education to everything else that goes in a school. It’s about fostering good attitudes to learning, empathy, and cooperation,” says Ellen.
Most of all, it’s about tapping into something already inside our students, and indeed, all of us, by working together. “We believe in the power of working as a valued individual in a group setting. This is where relationships are formed and differences can be celebrated. This positivity is contagious in the classroom and before long everyone is contributing and sharing ideas.”