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'It Captures Their Imagination': Teaching Sustainability Through the Arts

At a time when arts are squeezed in some schools, teachers are embracing them as a tool to teach the environment

At Fleet primary school in north London, children between the ages of three and 11 are learning songs about climate change and the environment. Tunes featuring fossil fuels, composting, growing vegetables and the impact of transport have all become popular in class, despite the somewhat serious messages at their heart.

For the teachers, music is proving to be a useful tool in explaining subjects that may otherwise be considered complex or inaccessible for young children. “The kids love singing about green issues,” says Beth Cleine, head of science and arts at the school. “They learn simple, catchy songs and sing them in the classroom or all together in assembly. It’s a fun way to learn.” The children performed some of the songs at last year’s Camden Music Festival at the Royal Albert Hall.

The school started using music as a tool to educate its pupils about the environment after hearing about a project called Project Earth Rock, which creates songs, animation and videos about sustainability for schools. The resource works well for the students, says Cleine, because it offers both a clear message and a visual aid.

The topics also lend themselves to a number of different aspects of the curriculum or campaigns such as walk to school week. Cleine adds: “When we set up the compost bins, we learn the ‘compost and growing’ song and produce artwork in relation to it, too. The arts and other curriculum areas are continually connected. Teaching the children to be sustainable has nice science, humanities and responsible citizenship links.” The school also has its own garden, which the children help to maintain.

Capturing the imagination

Gomersal St Mary’s CE primary school in Cleckheaton, near Bradford, has also found the creative arts helpful with engaging pupils in discussions about sustainability. Here, children aged eight and nine have been learning about people in Pakistan who make fair trade footballs. “The children make footballs out of recycled paper, carrier bags and elastic bands, and they discuss global issues around poverty, fairness and fair trade,” explains Cindy Sheard, a teacher at the school.

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