How parents and educators can promote wellbeing and quell anxieties related to wearing a mask or face covering at school.
By Sue Easton, Director of Wellbeing & Learning
As we prepare to return to campus amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, questions about the impact of wearing non-medical masks or face coverings on student wellbeing have surfaced. While wearing a mask has been proven to lessen exposure and provides us with the ability to reintegrate into society, it can be a challenge for us to accept the changes the virus has imposed on our lives. For children, this can be an even more complicated transition to understand, which is why it is vital to speak to young children about their emotions surrounding the start of school and the changes it may bring—including mask-culture.
As a positive education school, Ridley uses the PERMA-V Model to define “flourishing,” and we have used this framework to address common social-emotional concerns and to share some tips and help prepare families for September.
provide positive reinforcement for appropriate use of masks, when you are out in the community
give children choice in relation to the comfort of thier mask (some children like elastic behind the ears, while others prefer a toggle at the back)
give children choice on the appearance of their masks (for younger students, a ‘superhero’ approach has been used for years in parts of Asia and may be effective)
Communicate clearly, considering tone, expression and body language – all of us at Ridley will, too!
for younger children, use imaginativeplay to demonstrate appropriate use (e.g. with stuffed animals) and familiarize them with how their teachers may look this fall
for older children, make masks together to ensure that appearance and comfort are personalized
Practice wearing a mask while doing a task kids enjoy (such as watching TV or playing on electronics) to help normalize the feeling
“Not everyone is able to wear a face mask and many disabilities are invisible. Assume positive intent and be kind and respectful to those who cannot wear a face mask.”
model appropriate mask use – children use social referencing to decide what they should do, meaning parents and teachers can lead by example.
communicate clearly, considering tone, expression and body language – all of us at Ridley will, too!
normalize the use of masks, giving young children the opportunity to watch and get used to seeing others in masks, as well as wearing them
acknowledge feelings of discomfort, rather than telling children that they shouldn’t have a big issue with wearing a mask or seeing someone in a mask.
help children understand why we are wearing masks, and the importance of doing our best to protect ourselves and others in our community (personalize it if you can, ie: grandparents)
share information with them to further their understanding, like in this Bill Nye video
support children in creating cloth masks for others in the community who do not have access
celebrate consistency and appropriate use of masks as a way to be kind to others
encourage self-advocacy when children do not hear or understand what someone says to them
Give children choice on the appearance of their masks.
remind children that it has been repeatedly proven that we can breathe effectively through masks
teach children how to put on and take off masks so that they are avoiding touching certain parts of the mask or storing it in a santitary location during lunch or outdoor play.
McMaster Children’s hospital coined the phrase “Play, practice, prepare, and be patient” in relation to the introduction of masks to children. We appreciate your support in helping our Ridley students with this adjustment. We know that their physical and emotional wellbeing are your top priorities as parents — and they are for Ridley, too. We are here to support you in your reintegration back to school and want to ensure you feel ‘Positively Prepared.’
Help children understand why we are wearing masks, and the importance of doing our best to protect ourselves and others in our community.
“If there’s anything our school’s history has taught us, it’s that these are the moments when fresh, new ideas are born, moments when we, together, rise to the occasion.”
As the world faces one of the largest global crises on record, one can’t help but reflect on our school’s history. From the Springbank House fire in 1903, to world wars, economic turmoil, and more, Ridley has, quite literally, risen from the ashes through more than 130 years of unexpected plight. Though it may feel as though the COVID-19 pandemic has dented our amour, we know our school will once again prove its resilience and persevere in the face of this significant event.
We’ve flipped through our anthologies to illustrate the major crises and challenges Ridleians have overcome.*
Springbank House Fire (1903)
It was a cold October morning when students were roused from their sleep by shouts of “Fire!” The boys jostled each other to get outside, grabbing a random assortment of belongings in their haste, as the fire-bell rang in their ears. They stood under the street gaslight, answering, one by one, as Headmaster J.O. Miller called the roll—thankfully, all were accounted for. By the time the firemen arrived, it was clear the building would be completely destroyed; spurred on by the wind, the fire had raced along the attic before turning its attention to the main school building. The firemen concentrated their efforts on protecting the adjacent houses, and what belongings could be saved were piled on the street and in the headmaster’s backyard. The Upper School students watched, helpless, as Ridley collapsed before their eyes.
But those who knew Miller, knew that he would not give up on his beloved school. The loss of the Springbank building, though devastating, only spurred on in him a determination to build the school he’d wanted all along. Boys were temporarily rehoused, and within a month of the fire, everything was relatively normal in the academic programme and general activities; there was even a gym of sorts. Miller got to work finding and securing funds to build a brand-new Upper School and chapel on the same land as the Lower School—finally bringing the schools together on the Western Hill in 1905.
“Those who knew Miller, knew that he would not give up on his beloved school. The loss of the Springbank building, though devastating, only spurred on in him a determination to build the school he’d wanted all along.”
The First World War (1914-1918)
When the Great War broke out, Old Ridleians immediately enlisted in military services, and the school was filled with the spirit of patriotism. But what started out as a feeling of adventure—the sound of marching infantry, bands playing martial music in the streets, and students filled with the rightness of the cause—by 1916 became grim, the realities of war all too real.
The Acta Ridleianas of the era published obituaries of Ridley’s dead, their names and photographs raised on panels along Chapel walls. Tributes also went up celebrating those who were decorated for valour and leadership. Students donated pocket money to social appeals, war relief funds, and hospital wards; and the boys held a minstrel show to raise money for the cause.
They were told it was their duty to perform well at school, and the students took it to heart. They found solace in music; the Glee Club was restored, concerts held, and the gymnasium was, on occasion, converted into a motion-picture theatre, where it would be filled with laughter at the slapstick comedy of film stars like Charlie Chaplin. On the ice, the hockey team was filled with a formidable fierceness, finishing the season with 16 victories.
“By the end of the war, the school had won a high place in public regard, and the mood on campus was one of confidence—that of a firmly established institution ready to grow and expand.”
Canada lost 61,000 lives in that war, more than half of Ridley’s 800 graduates were in active service, and of them, 61 died. The Old Boys proposed a chapel in honour of the Ridleians who had lost their lives and raised nearly $50,000 by the spring of 1919. By the end of the war, the school had won a high place in public regard, and the mood on campus was one of confidence—that of a firmly established institution ready to grow and expand. Canada’s attitudes toward school and higher education grew with it; the number of applications for admittance to Ridley rose.
Recession (1922) in the midst of Spanish Flu Pandemic (1918-20) & Encephalitis Lethargica Pandemic (1915-26)
The war years, and those that followed, were plagued by worries for health, as the Encephalitis Lethargica pandemic—a curious brain-attacking disease which left its victims still as statues, in a zombie-like state, or dead—raged worldwide.
During those same years, the Spanish Flu pandemic swept the globe, killing millions. In an effort to prepare for what they worried would soon come to campus, Ridley’s governors approached architectural firm, Sproatt & Rolph to plan an isolation hospital. Construction began behind Dean’s House that September, and the new hospital was dubbed “The Pest House” by its first patients.
By October, as many as 60 boys had fallen ill. The most serious cases were reserved for The Pest House, the dorms converted to hospital bays for the overflow. Football season was disrupted, and a 10-day holiday decreed in late October to help reduce human contact. Though Ridley lost one member of its faculty and one nurse, no student died during the pandemic—a testimony to the skill and care of its medical staff. The Pest House continued to serve as an isolation hospital until the Schmon Hospital opened in 1947. With increased enrollment in the decades that followed, The Pest House was converted into a residence and renamed Governors House.
The Great Depression (1928-1932)
By 1931, as Canada’s industrial and trade situation became more desperate, it was soon evident that Ridley could face a serious crisis. By fall 1932, enrollment had plummeted, and many questioned the wisdom in building the new dormitory (which would become Merritt House). Old Boys attending the annual meeting that December were worried about the cost of the forthcoming build. Though they acted confident, Ridley’s principal and governors knew the only way they could justify the spend was to find new boys to fill its dormitories.
“We can only assume that a number of Ridley families made great sacrifices to keep their sons at the school.”
Old Boys were challenged to get to work as recruiters, and by the next fall, all heaved a sigh of relief when 27 new students started at Ridley. On campus, students became increasingly interested in current events, absorbed by questions of government, capitalism, and the various ‘isms of communism, pacifism, and fascism being debated around the world. Nevertheless, school spirit remained strong and, as early as 1933, enrollment began rising again.
Only one or two boys were withdrawn for economic reasons during the Depression, indicating that Canadians considered education important enough to be one of the last expenses to be eliminated. We can only assume that a number of Ridley families made great sacrifices to keep their sons at the school.
The Second World War(1939-45)
Still raw from the toll of The Great War, by the time the Second World War broke out, the hundreds of Old Ridleians who reported for active service did so with eyes wide open. Gone were the adventurous spirits of 1914; these men knew what it meant to be at war. Graduates of 1940 left the Prize Day presentation table went straight to the fighting forces. Many seniors didn’t even stay to graduate.
For Ridley, the war threatened to be an enormous burden; the school lost staff and students, had difficulty getting supplies, and there were problems of families divided. The mood amongst students was one of defiance, peppered by the occasional fierce display.
“During the span of the war, the administration recognized the great advances being made in industrial technology, and of the worldwide move toward science. Ridley got on board, creating the strongest physics and science staff they could assemble in order to adapt to the impending age.”
Though it was hard to concentrate—for both students and teachers alike—academic rigour was still upheld, and the boys were active in debate, public speaking, music, drama, and athletics. The new Iggulden Gymnasium revolutionized the school, the perfect site for performances and plays, and the state-of-the-art space made way for activities and sports beyond the traditional trio of football, hockey and cricket.
At the end of the war in 1945, a gesture to commemorate the dead, similar to the Memorial Chapel, was desired by all, and the Memorial Hall was planned. During the span of the war, the administration recognized the great advances being made in industrial technology, and of the worldwide move toward science. Ridley got on board, creating the strongest physics and science staff they could assemble in order to adapt to the impending age.
Recession (1950) and the Korean War (1950-53)
People had not yet recovered from the Second World War, when the Korean War broke out, and active service loomed yet again for Ridley’s seniors. The Cadets received new attention, now looked upon to train Canada’s soldiers of the future. A lavish provision of supplies filled the gymnasium’s armory with guns, rifles, drums, bugles, and signal radio equipment; the Cadet Bugle Band was upgraded with new artillery trumpets, cymbals and bell lyres. School time was spent on military training, able-bodied young men prepared to enlist for Korea or any other areas of conflict.
The numbers of Ridleians who were serving were troubling: 14 Old Boys were in the Canadian Army; five in the Royal Canadian Air Force; seven in Korea serving with the U.S. Air Force; 12 in the Royal Canadian Navy; three in the Royal Navy; and eight serving in the U.S. Navy. Though the school’s atmosphere didn’t have the same tension that was present during the major wars before it, there was a deep anxiety about what the future would hold and where communist aggression could go. Student enrollment numbers declined as the recession tightened wallets around the country but recovered in step with the war’s ending in 1953.
A Decade of Transition: The Hong Kong Flu and the 1970s
By the time the devastating Hong Kong Flu finished in 1969, it had killed over one million people worldwide, and helped kick a recession into high gear. Like many boarding schools, Ridley saw a staggering 14 per cent drop in enrollment, brought about not only by financial woes, but by major changes the country was facing at the turn of the decade: the dismantling of the conventional family; drugs; student resistance; egalitarianism; a diversifying society, and the start of the computer revolution.
“The question of the day was on everyone’s mind: how could Ridley preserve its 80-year heritage while adapting to these new realities?“
Parents were complaining, faculty and students expressed dissatisfaction, Ridley’s policies and systems seemingly out of date. The school was caught between its conservative traditions and a society which had increasingly progressive aspirations. The question of the day was on everyone’s mind: how could Ridley preserve its 80-year heritage while adapting to these new realities?
Its answer lay with a new, young headmaster, Richard Alan Bradley, fresh from the U.K., with experience leading schools that had been through similar changes. Buoyed by a willing faculty, a loyal and dedicated group of senior Prefects, and a $5 million financial campaign, over the 1970s, Bradley made changes which would pay off in the decades to come.
Aware it could no longer solely depend on expanding its boarding population, Ridley welcomed day boys to the Upper School in 1972. By the early ‘70s, Ridley went co-ed—arguably the single most radical change in Ridley’s history. Bradley’s argument was not solely based on numbers; he saw it as a logical step in a world where equal opportunities between sexes were becoming a fact of life. The first girls attended the school in 1973; by 1978, 26 female boarders were welcomed to the school, along with 18 day girls. Ridley’s numbers were rising.
Post-Gulf War Economic Slowdown Leads to Recession: The Early 1990s
There was a general restlessness that occurred in the 1990s, brought in part by the economic recession. Parents were dissatisfied, students impatient. Many areas of the school were showing signs of wear, resources limited, and renovations were slower than some would have liked. Financial aid was stretched thin and, as the demand for information technology increased, concerns about what it might mean for the school increased with it. Co-ed programmes had been launched at Lakefield, Trinity and Appleby Colleges, and Ridley’s administration was uncertain what the competition would mean for its future.
“The Planning Committee assessed all aspects of Ridley life, revisited the school’s mission statement and vision, addressed school spirit, and created a blueprint that would move the school into the 21st century.
For students, things were becoming stricter. A dress coded was enforced and rules were tightening in response to a feeling amongst faculty that the honour system was being disregarded. Spirits declined as many students chafed at the new rules; seniors felt they were losing status and privilege, and everywhere on campus people seemed to complain—whether about lagging technology, long construction projects, a disappearing Old Boys system, or something else entirely.
Students needed to feel heard and Ridley needed an ongoing, focused plan—a review cycle which would examine the school’s nooks and crannies, and take into account changing environments, new technologies, competition, and new demands. The Planning Committee ensured a wide range of Ridleians were involved in the process. They assessed all aspects of Ridley life, revisited the school’s mission statement and vision, addressed school spirit and the perceived lack of student enfranchisement in Ridley’s affairs, and created a blueprint that would move the school into the 21st century.
Changes were soon made. Seniors were given more control, more time was spent on arts and activities, Chapel service was moved to a more-convenient Friday slot, academic programmes reviewed, and changes made to student schedules. And, as the calendar pages flipped toward the late 1990s, Ridley recovered its numbers. By 1998, the school population—along with its spirit—had bounced back.
Now, another moment in time, a moment when our world feels a little off kilter, our community just a little bit raw. But if there’s anything our school’s history has taught us, it’s that these are the moments when fresh, new ideas are born, moments when we, together, rise to the occasion. Each time we’ve been shaken, we’ve stood firmer, only inspired by another opportunity to grow.
We all heard the announcement this week from Premier Doug Ford, that Ontario schools would not reopen for the rest of the 2019-20 school year. Though it wasn’t a total surprise, it definitely evoked many emotions in the adults and children of our Ridley community.
Some felt elated at the opportunity to spend more time with family, to continue exploring interests and passions, sleep more and have more choice and flexibility in planning each day.
Some felt neutral. They have developed a daily routine—including school or work, time with family, communicating with friends, exercising, and doing things that interest them—and are comfortable with the continuation of this schedule for the next four weeks.
Some felt distressed at the thought of four more weeks within the same four walls, with few opportunities to see friends or participate in the activities that they love.
Many of us will fluctuate between these different feelings in a day, a week, or throughout the next few weeks. Each of these feelings is normal, and part of being human. In past blog posts, I have shared many research-based strategies and practices to use on a regular basis to support us when our feelings or emotions seem stuck in the negative: focusing on relationships, using our strengths, understanding our feelings to help us navigate them, sleeping well, moving more, and eating healthy.
But what about the moments when our anger, sadness or fear seem to overwhelm us?
Research into somatopsychic (relating to the effects of the body on the mind) actions suggests that movements like the following can be helpful during these moments:
Square breathing: Picture a square in your mind. As you “draw” across the top, take a breath in to the count of four. As you “draw” down the side, hold the breath to the count of four. As you “draw” up, breathe out to the count of four. As you close the square, hold the breath to the count of four. Repeat at least three times, or as long as needed. Discover other breathing exercises for kids.
Yoga Poses:Practice these poses with your child regularly for improved wellbeing, and so that when they are feeling overwhelmed, they know just the right movement to make them feel better.
Exercise: Physical activity has been proven to reduce stress and fatigue, and to improve alertness and well-being. Thirty minutes a day, done together or in smaller time intervals, have been found to be effective. Determine what physical exercise you or your kids enjoy and take action daily. This will support daily well-being, and provide an outlet for overwhelming negative emotions.
Please remember, all emotions are normal. During this challenging time, it is important that we allow children to sit with their feelings, to notice, name and determine how to navigate them. If we see them getting stuck in negativity, however, hopefully at least one of the strategies shared here will help them move forward.
REMINDER: Hanna Kidd and I hope to see you Tuesday, May 26th at 8a.m. or 2p.m. EST—wherever you are in the world—for our Tuesday Tips chat on ZOOM! Next week’s topic will be Savouring Daily Joys.
“If you eat, sleep and move well today, you will have more energy tomorrow. You will treat your friends and family better. You will achieve more at work [or school] and give more to your community.” — Tom Rath, from Eat Move Sleep
This powerful advice is even more important today than when it was written—and more challenging when much of our day is spent inside, sitting and often in front of a screen.
Be sure each member of your household gets up and moves at least once per hour. It’s a great opportunity to get a glass of water (another important aspect of well-being!), check in with others (remember, relationships are important!), and reduce the risk of many long term health concerns. Here are some simple stretches to try during your day.
Speak with your child(ren) about screen time. Its forms are definitely not all created equal. We’re now using screens in so many different ways: to communicate, create, work, and explore. It’s still important to have a balance of screen and unplugged time. Keep in mind, however, given how important relationships are for well-being, screen time spent communicating with others needs to be considered. Talk to your child(ren) to better understand how they’re using their screens, and determine together a reasonable amount of daily screen time.
And please remember, parents, eating, sleeping and moving is not just for children. Look after yourselves, too!
REMINDER: Hanna Kidd and I hope to see you Tuesday, May 12th at 8a.m. or 2p.m. EST—wherever you are in the world—for our Tuesday Tips chat on ZOOM! Next week’s topic will be Cultivating Optimism.
“Life is amazing. And then it’s awful. And then it’s amazing again. And in between the amazing and the awful, it’s ordinary and mundane and routine. Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful, and relax and exhale during the ordinary. That’s just living heartbreaking, soul-healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life. And it’s breathtakingly beautiful.” — L.R. Knost
This quote is a reminder to us all that we will get through the “awful” and that life will be “amazing” again. One way we’re encouraging students to get through life’s challenges—in addition to its more “ordinary…mundane…and routine” parts—is to use their strengths. Beginning in Grade 3, each and every Ridley student learns about the VIA Character Strengths. Classes talk about identifying both character and performance strengths, and how to use them, not only to succeed, but to flourish.
Ridley College became a Visible Wellbeing School after spending two years working closely with Dr. Lea Waters. Her research-based book, The Strength Switch, focuses on the need for parents and educators to focus on children’s strengths in order to build resilience, optimism, and achievement. There is no more important time than now to focus on our strengths.
So, what can you do?
Discuss your child’s strengths with them. Reference the VIA Character strengths survey (for more information, check out these videos), and also discuss the strengths you see in them every day. Remind them how important it is that they know and use them.
Reference their strengths every day. One great activity that can be done around the dinner table is “Three Good Things,” which helps children reflect on what went well that day, why it went well and which strengths they or others used.
Choose a daily activity to do together. (Here are 101 from which to choose.) Talk about the strengths you used to complete these activities, and discuss how knowing and using their own strengths will help them during this challenging time.
And please remember, parents, you are using your own strengths to navigate these challenging times! Recognize all that you are doing—and please be kind to yourself.
REMINDER: Hanna Kidd and I hope to see you next Tuesday, April 28th at 8a.m. or 2p.m. EST—wherever you are in the world—for our Tuesday Tips chat on ZOOM! Next week’s topic will be Nurturing Social Relationships.
This is a short week at Ridley, but another week of adjustments — and enhancements — for us all. To support our important work of ensuring students feel connected to the Ridley community, we’ve incorporated division-wide Assembly in Upper School, weekly Advisory times, class meetings in Lower School, and school-wide opportunities for student check-ins with teachers and Heads of House. Ridley, at its core, is built on relationships. We want to continue to maintain and grow these, knowing that they are a vital part of flourishing lives.
With relationships in mind, I share my current top five resources to support parents and introduce opportunities for them to build relationships and learn remotely with Ridley.
In addition, we look forward to launching our Flourishing for Parents virtual connections next week. Please join us for learning and community!
Opportunities for Parents for the week of April 13th
Tuesday Tips with Hanna Kidd & Sue Easton: 8:00a.m. & 2:00p.m. This week’s topic is Time Management. How can you support your child in achieving during this challenging time? Let us share some tips to support our Ridley family!
This past Thursday, our community embarked on a new adventure through Ridley Remote Learning, or R2L. The initial response from students, teachers and parents was resoundingly positive. Every member of the community was excited to reconnect, share their experiences and emotions, and begin to bring some normalcy back into their lives through the addition of regular learning and new opportunities to connect. We know that Ridley is built on relationships; these will help us get through these challenging times.
But how best to thrive when we are surrounded by change? Please
consider these five inspirational statements about change—along with some
resources to help support you and the Ridley community.
Change is an opportunity to do something
How can you create the space in your home
for your child(ren) to create or do something to support or inspire others?
The Ridley community is moving into uncharted territory, with new Remote Learning for students, and most of us either practicing physical distancing or in isolation—even quarantine—wherever we are in the world. Though this may be a time of uncertainty and change, our well-being doesn’t need to suffer. It may take more conscious, deliberate work than usual but, in keeping with Ridley’s vision to inspire flourishing lives (as defined by PERMA-V: positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, achievement, and vitality), each of us can benefit from incorporating the following five behaviours into our days—until we see each other again.
1. Connect with others.
Whether you’re spending time with those you live with, be it to share a meal or complete that jigsaw puzzle, or you’re reaching out via video call to family and friends, or playing a shared game of online Scrabble, connecting is important. We are practicing physical distancing, not social distancing, since we know that relationships are vital to support our well-being.
Got gamers in the house? Common-Sense Media features family-friendly games and other helpful resources.
New in The Guardian, Dr. Lea Waters shares videos to support families who are in isolation.
2. Incorporate Mindfulness Into Your Day.
Mindfulness helps children become more self-aware. Knowing how they are feeling during this unsettling time not only promotes conversation but helps them nurture self-compassion. Mindfulness also helps students learn self-management and develop important decision-making skills. These skills support us in being present and engaged in our new reality—and ready to participate in learning and living activities.
Clear your head with Headspace — a free site which features a variety of meditation practices.
GoZen includes family-friendly videos and activities to support anxiety, resilience and more.
3. Seek beauty to savour and appreciate.
Immersing ourselves in art, music or nature—be it inside, outside or virtually—boosts our positive emotions. By exploring the resources available to us, we learn where our interests lie, which in turn increases our engagement and helps give us a sense of control over our new situation.
Google Arts and Culture is a virtual treasure trove, providing visitors with tours of hot spots, street art, museums, and more.
Listen up! NPR offers this comprehensive list of live concerts to enjoy from the comfort of your own home.
Go on your own ‘home safari’ via webcams from your favourite zoo. Learn more in this handy guide from The New York Times.
4. Get physical.
We all know that exercise helps with our physical health, but it is also one of the best ways to build positive emotions, decrease anxiety and stress, and support healthy sleep. Exercising outside while practicing physical distancing is a great way to get the benefits of being in nature while moving our bodies. But if that isn’t possible, there are many ways to get physical while keeping indoors.
Your kids are sure to love these movement and mindfulness videos from Go Noodle.
Stretch it out with classes from YogaDownload.com — the perfect size for any space.
5. Find your purpose.
Every human benefits from a feeling of achievement—often connected to what we believe is our purpose in life. For students practicing physical distancing, it may at times feel like academic work provides their sole sense of purpose. It is important that they know they make a difference in the lives of others, within their families, communities and beyond. For inspiration, consider some of these resources.
Reach out via one of these great ideas from Random Acts of Kindness — be sure to check out their kindness calendar!
From practicing gratitude to building optimism, Positive Psychology is offering great resources and activities you’ll want to try.
Keep it close to home with Operation Warm — a website highlighting online volunteer opportunities.
We’ll be sharing more resources in the coming weeks. In the meantime, please remember that as part of the Ridley community, you’re only an email away! Feel free to reach out for support and to learn more.
Ridley has had its share of excitement in academics, athletics and the arts over the past ten months. As another school year comes to an end, we look back on some of the most noteworthy events of 2017-2018.
“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” – Pablo Picasso
The arts are different. Unlike most activities, the product of art activity is not useful. Art does not feed us or make our lives more comfortable. It seems the very nature of art is to be without practical use. So why is it that evidence of art making through music and painting pre-dates the invention of writing by over 30,000 years? Why is it that art making traditions have existed in all human cultures throughout history? Just what is it about this activity that compels us to invest time and energy making it, consuming it and storing it in museums?
Picasso touches upon the answer. Art allows us to feel, to sense the wonder and complexity of existence that is ever elusive, that defies encapsulation within language or numbers. Making art is a hard-wired compulsion that can be seen in children who spontaneously make up songs, dance, draw and act out imaginary scenarios. Watch any four-year-old and you will see evidence of this compulsion and the sheer joy that it brings. Children express themselves freely until they move into adolescence and become more self-conscious and invest more time learning the argotic codes required for social standing. Too often the capacities of the artist are left to atrophy as children move through educational institutions that leave behind rigorous arts curricula and thereby denigrate this activity as less important. Children get the message: art is not valued by the adults here so I’ll attend to those things that are valued. The loss of potential is enormous, the capacity for full experience diminished.
At Ridley College, the arts are not left behind.
At Ridley, we aspire to nourish flourishing lives that tap into all facets of our humanity. We aspire to facilitate the full development of the child so that they can reach their maximum potential as productive, creative, happy people. At Ridley, children are exposed to music and art education by specialist teachers beginning in Kindergarten and are able to access increasingly specialized and demanding arts curriculum as they move through the programme into Upper School.
Many of our senior students find that, for them, a flourishing life is one infused with the joy experienced when engaged with art in the studio and on the stage. This joy comes from a state of flow. In a state of flow, a person is fully immersed in an activity because the challenge of the task is matched with their level of competence required to complete the task. As a teacher of visual art, observing students immersed in a state of flow in the studio is one of the most rewarding features of my job. A child who is fully immersed in the process of hands-on creation is a flourishing child.
As Ridley continues to build upon its reputation as a world-class school, its arts programme will grow to facilitate higher levels of performance and deeper engagement. The tools that we use to make art are also expanding to include a wide array of electronic media. More than ever, cultural industries are emerging to encompass large swaths of economic activity in an increasingly automated world. Thus, in the arts, we are also preparing children for rewarding careers as well as ensuring that they keep in their lives the joy and fulfillment that comes from engaging with the arts.
For all of us throughout our lives, we are faced with the task of building identity and generating meaning. Throughout history, the arts have played a vital role facilitating meaning making and affirming cultural identity. Beyond developing artists’ capacities, Ridley’s role as a school is to ensure that its students move on to adulthood with a deep-seated appreciation for the value of art in their lives. If Ridley can do this, it has done its part in ensuring our culture and civilization will continue to nourish our humanity and thereby make the world a better place.