Children’s perceptions of live arts performances: A longitudinal study

Schiller, W. (2005). Children’s perceptions of live arts performances: A longitudinal study. Early Child Development and Care, 176(6), 543-552.

Abstract:

The researcher conducted a three-year longitudinal research study and evaluation entitled “Children’s Voices,” in which five to twelve year old children were exposed to live arts performances in order to learn what the impact of attending arts performances is on school-aged children in public schools. The researcher selected four metropolitan public schools in South Australia to participate in the study and randomly selected 135 children between five and twelve years in age to participate in the research. The children attended three arts performances per year at the Festival Theatre in Adelaide, Australia and participated in pre- and post-program interviews and focus groups administered by the researcher. The children’s responses reveal the arts’ potential to foster positive dispositions for shared cultural diversity, to deepen children’s understanding of individual identity, and to encourage the inclusion of arts practices in their everyday lives.

Key Findings:

Participation in the “Children’s Voices” research project led children to include arts practices in their everyday lives. The participating children’s responses also revealed the arts’ potential to foster positive dispositions for shared cultural diversity.

Teachers reported noticing a stronger sense of harmony and understanding in the diverse climates of the schools as a result of the children’s engagement with the live arts performances and their subsequent engagement in art-making.

Participating children displayed playful engagement in learning and a confidence to experiment as a result of seeing the live arts performances.

Significance of the Findings:

The researcher cites further studies that find connections between live arts exposure and the ability to see situations in new ways, relate past experiences to future events, and use non-traditional methods to overcome adversity and express original ideas. The research study adds to this bank of knowledge and strengthens the case for the outcomes mentioned. The engagement and inclusion of arts activities by students after experiencing live art performances indicates the potential of live performances to inspire and engage students in art making and arts education. Furthermore, the project documented in this study is an example of how schools can incorporate live arts exposure into class lessons through collaboration with community arts organizations. The ideas presented in this study can inform teachers and school administrations planning to include live arts performances in their schools.

Methodology:

A selection panel guided by the research study selected 135 children between ages five and twelve in four South Australian public schools based on their composition, geographic location, and Index of Disadvantage. The researcher randomly selected students within these schools with approximately equal numbers of girls and boys. Children attended three performances: Brundibar, Robinson Crusoe, and The Snow Queen. Each performance contained universal themes, such as friendship, personal identity, and loyalty and friendship in the face of adversity.

To examine the impact of the performances on students, the researcher interviewed students both individually and in groups before and after each performance, conducted focus groups with parents and school leaders, observed students’ play, and examined student writing and drawings. The researcher assessed the impact of the performance on classroom practice and teacher professional and personal development, through teacher interviews and review of teacher journals.

Limitations of the Research:

This paper documents one year of a three-year study with students ages five to twelve. The descriptive nature of the study does not consider measurable outcomes related to student learning, but overall impact of the performances on students and the relationship between schools and their communities. The research design lacks a control group by which to compare findings of the treatment group.

Questions to Guide New Research:

What significant and enduring impact can live arts exposure have on elementary school children?

How does exposure to live arts performances impact measurable student outcomes such as engagement and motivation, in addition to cultural understanding and other outcomes mentioned in this study?

How does exposure to live arts performances impact school-aged children on measurable outcomes when compared to a control group who is not exposed to live arts programs?