A creative classroom is one in which all the elements of creativity (space, time, light, color, movement, sound, line, shape, form, rhythm, pattern and texture) are arranged to provide an optimum learning environment for whatever is being studied.  (See "The Elements of Creativity," PLAYMAKER SERIES 2000, Teaching Curriculum Through the Arts.)

It is a place in which all learning modalities are addressed and where each child is guided and encouraged to exercise his or her innate curiosity, to experience the thrill of discovery, and to share what is learned in ways that allow the joy of individual expression.

In a creative classroom, the arts become teaching and learning tools, designed to involve the students' senses, their feelings, and their bodies -- as well as their intellects.

Music plays a crucial role in the lives of young people.  It influences how they think and feel, what they purchase as young consumers -- even, quite often, their selection of friends and acquaintances.  They are exposed to powerful, persuasive music on the radio, in TV commercials, on CDs and through film scores.

The judicious use of music in the creative classroom can either calm or excite their active minds, introduce them to musical forms, perhaps not readily accessible to them outside their school environment, help them to better understand historical periods and cultures other than their own, and create moods in the classroom appropriate to the subject matter at hand.

Visual Arts are more subtle, but equally potent in their influence. "Seeing is believing" is more than just an aphorism; it is a statement of psychological fact.  If you see an illustration depicting how a Native American of a particular tribe was dressed, for example, you tend to believe it is so.  If you see a character dressed as Darth Vader, you are likely to associate that character with evil.  TV, newspaper and magazine advertising and, of course, movies inevitably form a child's perceptions of what the world is like and how he or she might be part of it.  Make no mistake!  Whatever visual images a child looks at for six hours a day in the classroom will stay in his or her subconscious mind for a lifetime.

Dance.  Rhythmic body movement has been an integral part of every culture since time immemorial.  Dancing the hora, the minuet, the Mexican hat dance or the square dance can teach things about the respective cultures that developed those dances in ways nothing else can.  Depicting scientific systems (the solar system, the water cycle, photosynthesis, the water cycle), interpreting environments and events, learning mathematical patterns of dance steps -- all can teach the bodies of children and thus reinforce concepts the mind is asked to grasp.  In a creative classroom, individual and team sports, even playtime at "recess," are taught with educational purpose.

Theatre, seen as a synthesis of all the arts, offers students the opportunity to experience the feelings of people, places and events and to communicate those feelings to others.  Role-playing is an essential part of any creative classroom and can both motivate students and help them to experientially learn more about themselves, one another and the world. For thousands of years, theatre was acknowledged as far more than just "popular entertainment."  Rather, it was recognized as a way to articulate for the masses issues that deeply concerned them.  In many places around the world, it still serves that function.  The best filmed plays and the most enduring plays on stage give us understandings that enrich and, in some cases, can transform inner lives.  Such a potent teaching tool belongs in a creative classroom.


"Assuming that I want to develop a creative classroom in my teaching of American Independence, how do I start?"


Any number of ways.  For instance, one morning immediately after the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, ask your students to move their chairs in a circle or leave their seats and gather together on the floor or simply to remain standing -- anything to break the daily routine, to go against their expectations -- to get their attention!

Then, ask them about the pledge they have just recited.  What does it mean?  What is a "pledge?"  What is "allegiance?"  What is a "state" and how many united states are there in America?  How many can they name?  What is a "Republic?"  A "nation?"  What does the phrase "under God" mean?  Why "indivisible?" Just exactly what is "Liberty?"  "Justice?"  Does "for all" include them?  And everybody else in America?  Why do they and millions of other students all over the country say these same words every morning for 12 or 13 years every day that school is in session?

What about the American flag?  Why is there one in every classroom?  How many stars are there on the flag and why?  What do the thirteen stripes represent?  What do the colors red, white and blue represent?

Regardless of the age or maturity of your class, such questions should stimulate a lively discussion!

You might ask them to look around the room to find other symbols of America (e.g., the great seal and a picture of George Washington are on a one dollar bill, a symbolic object certainly familiar to every student).

Play recordings of "The Star Spangled Banner," My Country 'Tis of Thee," and/or "America the Beautiful" and discuss what the words mean.  What do the second verses of each of those songs say about America that is not expressed in the first verse?  Do they all have second verses?  More than two verses?  Why? Or why not?  If the song "America the Beautiful" is written to a country, in what kind of song might the country answer back?

You might post parchment replicas of the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution that your class can discuss, write about, illustrate or act out.

In answer to your students' question (spoken or unspoken) "Why do we have to learn about America?" your answer could be:

"Because you are Americans.  And because ours is a government of the people, by the people and for the people, if there's something you don't like about it you have the power to change it -- no matter how old you are, whether you're male or female, regardless of how much money you have or don't have, regardless of race, color or what you believe in.

But you can't take part in your government, you can't do anything about your life as an American unless you know how America works and how it got to be the way it is."

You might, when you're ready to introduce curriculum content start with a couple of simple facts:

"The land we call 'America' was named after Americus Vespucius, an Italian explorer who lived at the time of Columbus." And "Many of the native inhabitants called it 'Turtle Island'."

Note:  Any good encyclopedia will provide supportive information for these facts. Then pick a curriculum objective; for instance, an introduction to the life of the Native American Indians.  How can you convey the information your students need to learn through visual art?  Pictures in textbooks and posters are helpful; so is having the children draw pictures of Native Americans.

Stretch the image further.  Extrapolate.  What about taking them on a field trip in the woods, of having them bring natural objects from home: feathers, shells, dried weeds, colorful stones?  Then have them create jewelry or articles of clothing for themselves, just like the Native Americans did. Or bring an old sheet from home and build a small tipi in one corner of your room.  Let each child choose an Indian name from nature (a combination of an adjective and noun usually work, such as "running deer," "bright feather," or "whispering wind").  Stretch the image by naming themselves in contemporary terms, e.g., "Nose in  Book," "TV Watcher," etc.  Have them create a visual symbol for that name and paint it on the tipi.