The trauma inflicted by a pandemic and lockdown could be a catalyst for a revival of the arts in the NZ school curriculum. Shannon Johnstone reports.
When kids went back to primary school this week, the focus wasn't on maths, English or science.
Instead it was a return to prominence of the arts, as schools tried to help ease pupils into the post-lockdown world.
Although the pandemic has not been the medical crisis that it could have been in New Zealand, it has been a "human crisis", president of the New Zealand Principal's Federation Perry Rush said.
Youngsters were encouraged at school to make sense of, reflect on and express their emotions about what they had been through.
The oft-maligned arts - dance, music, visual arts, drama and creative writing - are the "perfect vehicle" within the curriculum to do this as they "invite a human response", Rush says.
It's an area Rush said has "taken a batting" in the past 15 to 20 years but he sees it as arguably the most important subject to learn in 2020.
"I do think it's going to be a very key curriculum to enable young people to make sense of what's occurred," Rush said.
Visual art and drama teacher at Hastings Intermediate School Manda Dagg said she was excited that the times-tables had turned (so to speak) and the arts were now the focus.
"The arts have always been used to explore feelings and emotions and at a time when kids are trying to make sense of their feelings [they are useful]," she said.
Arts also provide students with a chance to "have a break from everything else going on" and the creativity can help distance them from more negative things, she said.
The arts also provided a place where pupils can build confidence, which has become even more important now, she said.
During the lockdown, knowing not all would have the same access to arts supplies, Dagg set them a challenge of using nature and kids who thought they weren't artists came up with "such cool things".
Dagg has always used art in her teaching and said the broadness of the subject area gives children many different ways to express themselves.
She said at her and other schools many teachers are using the Te Rito Toi programme, which helps teachers to work with students when they return to school after traumatic or life-changing events using the arts.
Parkvale School principal Mark Gifkins said the focus on the arts instead of structured lessons provides time for students to talk to each other and their teachers about their experiences in lockdown.
He said the school's students have had positive experiences in lockdown and the more creative focussed and less structured schooling was also about easing them back into the school routine.
Te Mata School principal Michael Bain said it was about giving students agency.
Similar to how they were learning during lockdown, an idea, topic or question was posed to students then they could choose how they wanted to explore that.
Students were making films, dances and sculptures as part of their learning.
It wasn't about directly sitting down and asking about how they felt about the lockdown, but using an open style of learning that allowed students to share their lockdown experience, talk to their peers and teachers about it and do so in their own way, he said.
It was something the school began to do before Covid-19, but the at-home learning had deepened the idea around student agency, Bain said.
Although the arts will be a big part of primary school in the next few weeks, Rush hopes schools will "re-discover the power of the arts" as a result of the lockdown.
"We are as a profession becoming much more aware of the importance or re-discovering the power and the efficacy of the arts in teaching and learning."