My Passion for Arts-Based Education

Copyright © 2014 Maria Simeone

My passion for arts-integrated, child-centered education is truly a passion of the heart – the roots of which are found in my own childhood. Furthermore, this fascinating journey brought me to a revelation about my own public school experiences. As a child, I would devise elaborate plays, songs and dances – not realizing at the time that this was learning at its most authentic level! By contrast, traditional school had taught me that “real” learning was “hard work” not to be confused with “play” (and certainly improvised music and movement were considered play!). I accepted this for a long-time, while remaining stubbornly committed to my music and dance knowing innately that it was a necessity for healthful, vibrant living – and NOT simply the “icing” on an otherwise dry academic “cake”.

It wasn’t until adulthood that I began to consciously integrate music/movement “play” within the process of my own learning. It made a dramatic difference and caused me to question the old educational paradigms of “serious school work” and “play”, as separate entities. Indeed, I was discovering that the opposite was true! Learning and creativity were powerfully intertwined! As a parent and teacher, I became an advocate for exploratory, child-centered learning that integrated the arts. I found this strategy to be universally effective for ALL children regardless of labels, economics, or prior experiences. Arts-integrative learning that was child-centered and exploratory did the most good for the greatest number of children. One of the significant “results” being that children unleashed their own intrinsic motivation for learning!

Not surprisingly, this journey led me to become soberly aware of how antiquated our traditional educational methods had become. Learning is the most naturally human activity we can engage in! It’s simply astounding that our school system, on average, has managed to make learning effortful and joyless for so many children. Music programs are often removed in the primary grades when it’s the most critical for their development. Children are expected to sit for far longer periods of time at far younger ages, when learning via movement is the most natural. Many of the “extracurricular” music programs that do exist, tend to focus on product, competition and performance (often in an effort to justify their worth) rather than process and child-centered play. Throughout my 25 year educational career, and as the mother of two children who’ve overcome significant challenges themselves, I have NEVER met a child who does not want to learn when given the creative tools with which to do it! I HAVE met many children (and adults) who have NEVER experienced effortless learning and who have finally given-up. How many brilliant, creative minds have we lost as a result? Learning through the arts is the answer for these children and for all children because it is innate to our very development.

Through my educational journey, I’m convinced (and there’s now a plethora of scientific evidence to support my conviction) that the reason music/movement based learning is so universally powerful is due to our “first relationship” – the relationship that sets us up for our entire life. That first relationship is the innately musical womb. What we all know from our womb experience is rhythm and movement. What we also know is that this fully integrative experience (magnified via the baby’s watery environment) is done in personal, intimate relationship. When babies are born, they know the timbre, rhythm, nuance and resonance of their mother’s voice! They know the songs that were sung to them, the music the mother listened and moved to during pregnancy. THIS is where we find the roots for profound learning. Even if the mother never sang to her child or listened to music – the orchestration of her vital organs resonating in synchronicity with her child, is its own music as the baby’s systems form and develop. In fact, the vary shape of the brain is that of the human ear. Quite astounding when you think about it! Therefore, NO amount of technology can ever compete with the profound learning that can come from an artistically rich education experienced in meaningful relationship with others in real time. However, even more important than a child’s academic development, is the character and compassion that develops through such meaningful learning. There is no high-tech substitute that can teach that. Meaningful, relational arts-based learning gives life profound joy and limitless purpose that has the power to spread to the four corners of the Earth. This is the real educational legacy I want to leave my children, all those I play with, and those still to come.