Throughout this pandemic, Polka has prioritised supporting children’s mental health and well-being. In line with our mission, we have been using theatre and creative learning activities to help children navigate their way through the challenges they are facing at this extraordinary time.
Polka has reached thousands of children both at home and at school. Our Write Here, Write Now literacy support programme has continued online, as has our Freefalling programme for children facing challenging circumstances, and our Re:Sound Community Choir.
Like most arts organisations, we’ve done our best in difficult circumstances. This has been a process of quick learning, improvisation and recognition of the immediate needs of the children and families in our community.
As we move forward now with schools reopening and hope for the future, we have to understand the impact this pandemic has had on children’s wellbeing. It is true that the government has supported schools with £1.7 billion of funding, distributing over one million laptops/tablets and including £700m of ‘catch-up’ funding for lost learning. However, my concern is not just about the curriculum.
Children have been unable to see family, friends, have play dates, go to the cinema, see plays, go swimming, go to parties – to have the kinds of interactions that are key to their social, personal and physical development. For many, too much of their time has been spent in front of a screen.
So, the focus now must not just be on ‘catching up’ with schooling, but on recognising that the positive mental health and wellbeing of children is a necessity for them to be able to learn effectively.
We know that theatre and creative activities help children come to terms with their emotions and anxieties. They can be transformative. So let’s give them a break from Google classroom, and think about how we can prioritise the quality of their lives. In the words of Sir Ken Robinson ‘let’s create the conditions under which they will begin to flourish.’
They need to be allowed to be children again, then they will learn better.