CAITLIN RICHARDSON is the Kindergarten Integrated Arts Specialist at the Canadian International School (CIS) and a passionate advocate for child-led arts integration in the early years. We asked her about her interest in this, and how the arts programme is implemented at the school.
Tell us about how you got into early childhood teaching?
I was inspired to become a teacher by my mother, who was an incredibly passionate early years educator in South Africa.
I trained to be a teacher at The University of Auckland and started my career teaching Grades 3, 5 and 6, and becoming the inquiry team leader. I then moved to the Early Years and was involved in a unique NZ educational setting called a Play Centre. Play Centres are run by parents with educational backgrounds and are entirely child-led and play-based. I helped set up a “Te Puna Reo” play centre – the phrase means “spring” in the Maori language – in our local marae (cultural meeting house) to help develop the Maori language and traditions in our community.
My passion has always been learning through the integrated arts, and in 2018 I was lucky enough to move to CIS and accept my dream job as Kindergarten Integrated Arts Specialist.
What’s the advantage of integrating all the arts subjects instead of teaching them separately?
Teaching children about the arts and how they are connected, as we do at CIS, enables them to use the arts as a tool to help explore and make meaning of their world. By integrating them, we introduce children to the arts as complementary languages which they can use to express themselves and communicate, regardless of their age or language ability.
Give us an insight into some of the arts activities that CIS Kindergarten kids are engaged in at the moment?
They’re involved in a wide range of activities. Our Senior Kindergarten students are participating in various arts activities to explore why bees are important and our responsibility to protect them. They read poems and stories, sing songs, role-play, create things with recycled materials, paint and experiment with musical instruments. This rich and diverse experience allows them to communicate and develop a deep understanding of their learning. It also helps develop important life skills like taking risks, thinking creatively, focus and self-control, and gross motor skills.
Can you give a real-life example of how this approach benefits students?
A new boy with limited English recently joined my class. Initially, he just sat in a corner and watched his classmates participate in the activities. After a while, he walked over to the musical instruments and picked up a triangle, held it in a closed hand and shrugged his shoulders. A little girl nearby saw him; she smiled and went over. They couldn’t communicate with words, but she noticed the string that holds the triangle was missing. So she found some twine, cut a length and brought it over. She tried to tie it around the triangle, but she can’t tie knots. He can though, so he put his hands out to help. She taught someone something new; he made a friend. It was wonderful!