Tag Archives: Education

Adventures in Art with Children: tell stories…but just a few | Sarah Palferman | Minerva London | Part 2

Sarah Palferman shares with us another feature on why art exhibitions are brilliant for young minds. Sarah has the gift to harness our children’s sponge-like minds to absorb and learn about art in the most interesting of ways.  I cannot wait to take my children to London to expose them next summer to the galleries with Sarah.

“I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn” – Albert Einstein.

There are more than 850 art galleries in London. The city’s wealth of culture might, therefore, rather easily overwhelm even those of us who schedule furtive ‘gallery time’ into the working week. This is particularly true if you are a child and the very word “gallery” might render you instantly fatigued.

It has been argued that art exhibitions are no places for children and, while anyone whose contemplation of a sublimely silent Dutch interior has been shattered by the noisy protestations of young visitors being dragged round London’s National Gallery might agree, I do not.

Those noisy protestations are unnecessary. Done the right way, it is perfectly possible to engage young people with art so that their curiosities are sparked, their wonderfully sponge-like brains are stimulated … and they have fun!

Human beings are hardwired for stories. We have told them to each other since the dawn of time; we have written about them in literature from the Epic of Gilgamesh inscribed on clay tablets in ancient Sumer onwards; we depict them in music, theatre and dance; and we express them through visual art.

Behind so many canvases and sculptures lining the walls of London’s galleries lurk fascinating stories waiting to be discovered: scenes of scandal, war, revenge, love; canvases with their own tales of tragedy and fables of forgery; art that might or might not even qualify as art.

It is hard, for example, not to be moved by Waterhouse’s symbol-sprinkled and gorgeous depiction of the ill-fated Lady of Shalott, frozen in Tate Britain moments from her demise. The power of this tale to enthral is evident in the layers of inspiration from Arthurian legend through Tennyson’s poetry to Waterhouse’s paintbrush.

The National Gallery is heaving with portrayals of myth: Daphne mid-transformation into a laurel tree as an arboreal escape from the attentions of Apollo; Bacchus mid-leap from his chariot, struck by a coup de foudre on discovering the abandoned Ariadne; the Rokeby Venus mid-languid gaze at the viewer and fully recovered from her attack with a meat cleaver at the hands of a suffragette in 1914.

At the Courtauld Gallery skulks The Procuress, the subject of decades of speculation and revealed by clever modern investigative techniques to be the handiwork of a somewhat talented twentieth-century Dutch forger rather than of an early seventeenth-century painter of original creations, also Dutch.

Focusing on just a few pieces and exploring them together in depth is far better than parading children round vast rooms of great masterpieces and, even worse, telling them that these are ‘Great Masterpieces’. Research conducted in the USA over the past decade concluded that the study of the visual arts allows young people to explore ideas, realities and relationships that cannot be conveyed simply in words. Through visual stories, children can explore concepts beyond their own environments and appreciate alternative viewpoints. They are exposed to different cultural perspectives and social groups in entirely unthreatening circumstances. They can develop a sense of themselves in relation to others and the world they inhabit.

Captivating young imaginations with the stories behind art, and keeping each cultural encounter clearly focused so that repeat visits are begged, removes the danger of dissociation from artistic tradition that many children might experience. It endows them with a sense of wonder without the risk of paralysing awe, or even worse, scant interest. It allows them to see themselves as part of a cultural continuum, with the capacity to engage in a journey of discovery that will enrich their whole lives.

Sarah Palferman is a private tutor and educational advisor. She is the founder of Minerva London Ltd, offering tailored adventures in art and culture to young people in London.

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Do we ever put our children in the right schools?

Do we ever put our children in the right schools?

My children are 5 years, 3 years and 19 months.  I have been talking and thinking about schools even since I was pregnant with my first.  I was determined that, having gone to boarding school myself, that it would be automatic that if it was a boy, Eton, Radley or Winchester would be on the list, and it was a girl, Wycombe Abbey, would be it.  It was so simple.   However, when Luca was born, our unconditional love for our first child threw out everything we knew or believed before having children. My husband changed his mind and he has firmly stated that none of his children will ever go to boarding school, whilst I still sit on the fence. (see other stories on boarding school)

When I first moved to Dubai, and my eldest son, Luca, was only 5 weeks old, a wise friend told me to put his names down for schools.  I thought she was joking.  By the time, I got round to putting his name down he was already 2 and a half years old.  Some schools were already not accepting application forms.  (I would advise any mother moving to Dubai or about to have their first child to start thinking about schools and nurseries, call me crazy!)

The search for schools in Dubai schools and nurseries has been more confusing than in the UK.  When we were living in the UK, league tables, would have been my indication of where I thought I would send my children. In Dubai, there is a vast amount of choice for different education systems; UK, French, American, IB, German, and the list goes on.  If you then speak to different nationalities in Dubai their opinions differ too on what their criteria is on what they are looking for for their children.

If you speak to some high-flying banker dads their children’s school formula is ‘British system for junior school, IB system for senior school and without a shadow of a doubt, only US Ivy League universities’.  They are happy for children to start school at three years old because they worked internationally and they know how tough and competitive the work environment is in cities like London and New York, and they want their kids to have the best fighting chance.  I probably sit in this camp.

However, if you speak to European parents, they feel that children go to school too early in Dubai – they sway for IB or US curriculum which sometimes only starts at 4 years old.  Most schools start at 3 years old in Dubai whilst in Europe they start at 5 or 6 years old.  Many European parents feel children should be children for longer – who can argue with that.

My heart definitely ached when I dropped Luca, my eldest, off at 3 years-old to school on his first day – was I making the right decision? From where I stand now, I am impressed that my son at 5 years old is able to read simple books and write simple sentences whilst his European counterparts remain at home – my son, I observe, feels a sense of independence running around the malls, airports, picking up words on posters, reading the names of his favourite cars and writing funnily spelt emails to his grandmother.  Most Europeans (generally speaking) are much more relaxed about school.  They are of a point of view that they, themselves, succeeded as professionals without these fancy private schools.  My husband is firmly embedded in this camp, and he believes that it is the dedication of the parents, the value system at home and the family environment that ultimately shapes children.

I accept my husband’s point but then, panic always strikes, if I talk to friends back in the UK whose children are at private schools, my son , by comparison, would already be behind the curve so is schooling here really that tough?  Sometimes when I do let the FEAR grip me, I think my children will need to compete with these UK children for university spaces?  The Tiger Mum in me then rears its ugly head once more.

In the end, after hours, days, months and years of the education discussion, my husband and I chose the British system for our children.  Perhaps I was more familiar with it.  We like the school, we like the community feel.  That is our choice.  Is it the right one?  We will never know.  Four of my children will attend the same school.  I am not sure if one school will have the right formula for 4 different personalities.  I will still always ask if I am doing the right thing by my children.  I don’t think any parent ever stops.  Until today my mother asks herself the same questions regarding the education for my brother and me.

The big plus side for me about Dubai itself is that, I think, it plays a large role in my children’s education.  It is an environment, in my opinion, where children stay children for longer.  There are fewer places in the world where parents can claim that.  It is easier for parents to preserve innocence of their children for longer.  What I love is that the children will have friends from all over the world.  The boundaries between the international communities are less obvious in Dubai compared to cities such as London where communities prefer to stick to their own kind.  Here, I have learned so much more about different cultures, the different way business is done and mums from other cultures have also taught me invaluable lessons when it comes to the family and children.  This is also an education in itself.  I am so pleased that my children will benefit from this.

The expat environment also means that more professional mothers  have had to give up careers to be full-time mothers in Dubai.  The role of the mother at home, I believe, is crucial too.   I was previously the all-out career girl, and I still believe that working mums have a different and important role to play.  For us mums who have chosen to spend time with the kids, sometimes we feel that we perform a thankless task but it is a luxury for our children (that they may never appreciate until they have children of their own) to have their mothers to be there for them.  Back in London, Singapore, New York, Milan, it would take two incomes to run a household.   In Dubai, most families are fortunate that mothers are able to pick up their children, to talk to them on the way home from school, they are there to guide their children with homework, to nurture them and to be there as an emotional support.

The other question I often ask myself that whilst I do want smart children and to give them the best education that money can buy, I also look at many successful entrepreneurs (many inspiring people that started it all in Dubai) who didn’t attend universities or finish school – so does it really matter?

Education, is in my books, very important but I think it is even more important to teach our children the right values when doing business, to teach them to pay debts on time, to work with integrity, to learn to talk to anyone and everyone, to value seniors as well as juniors in the community, and to recover from failures because it is the journey that will take us further in life.  People will want to do business with the honest person, the person who delivers projects in on time, who keeps their word, who can be trusted and relied upon, who looks after his staff with compassion and understanding.  That is what I hope for my children.  It is how my children will achieve their goals that I believe will make them better and stronger, and not what they will always achieve on paper.