by Laura Potts
The TARDIS programme at Chapel Break Infant School is an exemplary example of creative education and an inspirational learning environment. For 10 years, the programme has transformed classrooms into imaginative environments for young minds to explore and develop in. TARDIS stands for ‘Thinking Arts Reflective Dialogue Imagination Studio’. The aim of its resourceful staff is to immerse the children in philosophical and creative enquiry:
‘The learning consists of the development of a range of skills, including speaking and listening, debate and discussion, a variety of thinking skills, social skills, independence of thought and action and persistence. It builds a knowledge and experience of the visual arts beyond those that can be offered within the usual classroom setting.’
TARDIS founder and Chapel Break deputy head Angela Moore has a passion for creativity. She saw the holistic benefits for the children of allowing philosophical enquiry through creative activity. In accordance with this vision, the programme not only develops personal skills but also expands the collective abilities of the children. The TARDIS was developed from a number of influences and inspirations, including P4C, a progressive teaching approach that re-evaluates the current system and stresses the need for encouraging independent thought in children.
The artwork produced in the TARDIS is highly experimental and very impressive
I spent a month working in the TARDIS alongside Jennie Farman-Walker, the lead teacher and current facilitator. She stresses the importance of the children ‘contextualising their worlds’ and ‘breaking down the rigidity’ of the current education system. Encouraging a deep understanding and respect for each other in these children at a pivotal age of development forms the foundation for a growing peace amongst them as they grow up. Through the TARDIS, the children’s confidence grows differently than through other forms of teaching. Their individual character is valued and there are fewer limits placed on their imagination.
There are two sides to the TARDIS: the ‘thinking side’ and the ‘creative side’. The thinking side tends to lead most sessions and encourages the children to question the world around them as well as themselves. This is very interesting to observe as they work through concepts and embark on investigations that an adult mind would not, matching colours with different emotions or working collectively to perform a scene from a book based on the questions they have. This allows them to gain a type of self-consciousness that has a base in ethical philosophy and an understanding of the world around them that has grown from questioning instead of from the assertions of authority.
The ‘creative’ side of the TARDIS then enables the children to visually express these thought processes, emotions and enquiries. This is often done collaboratively, allowing them to simultaneously develop their collective abilities and explore the depth of human interaction and understanding. The children also do kinesthetic and tactile creative work, such as creative sculpting or mark making using a wide range of artistic media, from clay to recycled materials. The artwork produced in the TARDIS is highly experimental and very impressive. Producing artwork is beneficial to children in many contexts; when that work has roots in philosophy and questioning, the creative process is even more nourishing.
During my placement I did notice some limitations placed on the TARDIS programme by the views of the society it exists within. I was warned to be careful not to incite ideas of rebellion in the children too much. The school had previously received complaints from parents whose children were beginning to question the instructions and norms set for them at home (around the consumption of animal products, for example). I understand that encouraging children to maintain a level of compliance and respect is necessary, for safety reasons as much as anything else. However, if parents are not receptive to the ‘why?’ questions of their children, helping them to understand how the world works, it can encourage them to be less creative as they grow older. Children who do not receive explanation in response to questioning will soon become either frustrated, or simply develop a habit of compliance to the ‘facts’ they are given by authority figures. When amplified with age this becomes a much more serious issue, making young adults more impressionable to the skewed messages of political figures, broadcasting and other manipulation. There are many considerations in the holistic development of children, including academic, creative and physical stimulation.
Of course, as the children continue into the surrounding education systems, many institutions will undermine the work done in the TARDIS. The ability to question the world around oneself does not always sit easily with the agenda of capitalism and neoliberal power. The pressures of being economically viable is a growing burden on students and seeps down into our education system and institutions, stifling creativity.
But the excellent work done in the TARDIS will endure, to some degree at least, in the individuals it has touched, opening doors for them to become forward thinking agents in a society that needs progressive minds more than ever. It has been an amazing experience to be part of this alternative, progressive education system. Chapel Break School should be proud of their stance and work. Hopefully many other educational institutions will follow the success of the TARDIS model in the future.
An exhibition of TARDIS work will take place at Studio 20, Norwich, on the 19th of March
All images courtesy of Chapel Break Infant School
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