Summer Schools: A blast from the pastApril 27, 2021
Craft AdventuresMay 5, 2021
Evidencing the character strengths developed by arts
Art and creativity implicitly strengthen the character of young people. All practitioners working in the cultural education sector know this. Proving it, however, has always been a challenge.
In Summer 2020, Curious Minds partnered with Goldsmiths, University of London
for an ambitious research program that seeks to help researchers and practitioners back this up with empirical data. Both teams were keen to see if it is possible to develop a validated tool to measure some of the benefits of the arts.
Data collection is on-going. However, early indications in data collected from participants of the Bubble Up summer schools
show that these out-of-school clubs may be superior to routine arts activities in developing specific character strengths:
(e.g. coming up with new ideas)
Love of learning
(e.g. learning new things and enjoying doing so)
(e.g. feeling comfortable with others)
(e.g. feeling positive even when unsure how things will go)
Preliminary findings also indicate that the Bubble Up clubs encouraged children to exercise fairness and perspective, likely due to the emphasis of these clubs on group activities.
What are character strengths?
Character strengths can be defined as “Positive, trait-like capacities for thinking, feeling, and behaving in ways that benefit oneself and others” (Niemiec, 2014).
Character strengths are often separated into 24 key traits, which can be arranged under six so-called virtues (Peterson & Seligman, 2004).
It is clear to see that many of these traits might be developed through engaging with the arts and art activities:
- Wisdom: the arts encourage exploration and learning and so we can expect expressions of curiosity, judgement, creativity and love of learning when engaging in arts activities.
- Transcendence: the arts may directly influence factors such as gratitude and the appreciation of beauty. This might be due to the rewarding nature of creative self-expression.
- Moderation and Justice: For example, in ensemble-based activity, team work, leadership, modesty and social-expression may be promoted.
However, as research is scant, and more data is needed, the Curious Minds-Goldsmiths partnership has set out to explore this further.
The team of post graduate researchers at Goldsmiths started by reviewing the literature, to explore what is already known about the benefits of the arts and their interaction with the virtue dimensions. They found promising relationships. For instance, Bungay and Vella-Burrows (2013) showed that participation in the arts led to improvement in young people’s physical and mental health. Furthermore, across a range of reviewed studies, young people engaging in the arts showed improved behaviour, confidence, self-esteem, knowledge and physical activity levels.
However, the review also served to highlight the lack of robust, standardised measures available to evidence the impact of the arts for young people.
Our current research agenda is therefore guided by a large body of work in the psychological sciences, where the development of appropriate tools has already helped advance understanding of the role of arts in adult lives. A focus on the role of the arts in young people feels very timely as they emerge and recover from successive pandemic lockdowns.
What are the next steps?
Curious Minds and Goldsmiths, London are currently collecting data from a large sample of participants in the Bubble Up learning clubs and secondary school pupils. With this data, we hope to understand much more about how character traits, especially curiosity, may be developed through engagement with the arts.
Bubble Up and the summer school opportunity
Our young people have missed out on so much in the last year. Even now, after a return to the classroom, their curriculum and learning experience is likely to be far from ‘normal’ for some time.
We believe that the funding set aside for summer schools offers an unmissable opportunity to boost children’s capacity to learn and their prospects. The Goldsmiths research shows Bubble Up can achieve this in joyful ways. This can be made possible to the benefit of everyone, by passing the baton to the expert army of creative educators that exist in our communities.
Cultural learning clubs, based in and around local secondary schools, would support incoming Year 7 pupils to reconnect with the people and environment around them, regain their confidence and curiosity, forge new friendships and to catch up on creativity.