Creative ways to teach Relationships and Sex Education
Artist Abigail Hunt tells us how her new Teaching for Creativity resources can help teachers address embarrassing & delicate subjects
19 April 2021
In this series of blogs, the authors of our Teaching for Creativity resources explain how they chose which curriculum and topic area to focus their resource on, and how this works together with teaching creative habits.
Abigail’s resources – Which me do you see? and Crafting conversations – both focus on the creative habit of discipline and are based around the Key Stage 2 & 3 Relationships and Sex Education curriculum. Through the resource activities, students explore their emotionsand expand their vocabulary around discussing theirs and other people’s feelings around friendships and developing positive relationships.
The creative tasks help take the emphasis away from an embarrassing or delicate subject area, allowing space for pupils to feel safe and supported in exploring personal issues and enabling them to challenge and explore their feelings and the feelings of others. Whilst hands are active, a mental space is created for reflections to be made without pupils feeling under pressure.
I think the focus is spot on. Encouraging talking to others should be in all PSHE lessons, but in resources and lesson plans you rarely see activities on how to start those conversations and deal with the feelings you have about having them and during them
– Feedback from Jo Caswell Head of PSHE at Eastbury Community School
Why I chose to focus on this topic
I am a visual artist and a creative practitioner with twenty years of experience facilitating and leading creative projects in schools and art galleries. I have a research-based art practise which incorporates sculpture and collage, and I am fascinated in the haptic (touch) relationship of the object in the hand. I also work quite directly with audiences and create socially engaged artworks which involve building a relationship with those who see or experience an artwork.
Using creative techniques to explore Relationships and Sex Education is at the root of both the resources I have produced – ‘Crafting conversations’ for Key Stage 2 and ‘Which me do you see?’ for Key Stage 3. Both resources look at how practical making activities help to promote new ways of thinking more deeply and highlight how the physicality of using your hands, having a relationship with materials, and making something allows for an entirely different kind of experience and thought process.This can alsooffer vital transferable skills and the opportunity to make wider connections and thought processes.
It’s important for students to have difficult conversations
The new Relationships and Sex Education curriculum is hugely important, especially I think since Covid-19 had altered the way we are all able to interact with other people. It’s so important for all of us, and especially for our young people, to be able to consider how we connect to other people effectively, positively, and with healthy relationships, personal resilience and agency in mind.
We often wrongly think that communication is largely verbal, but it's about so much more than words – it’s body language, expectations, tone, volume, and often the lack of words that more often says so much, and that’s not even beginning to think of how we communicate digitally. We need to be teaching the understanding of all of this in order to support good relationships. This includes across our personal lives – family, friends, wider peers, colleagues and in physical relationships – working relationships, digital relationships, and a general attitude towards others we share the world with, either in person or indirectly in how we consider, perceive and express our opinion about others.
I think the sex education curriculum is easy to avoid because it’s expected to be tricky to teach, and we know it has the potential to be embarrassing for both teachers and pupils. But it needs to be taught dynamically and with confidence because it is such an important part of learning and of being human.
I think the new relationships element to the sex education curriculum is very relevant, current and important in reflecting on the things our young people now have to face, both socially and sexually, in a digital-facing world. I think teaching it through practical creative activities which generate thinking and discussion links it directly back to the learners and connects their feelings and emotions to their own learning and understanding. Covid-19 has also changed relationships and how we act around people, so it’s even more essential that this is taught well and in an interesting, inspiring and supported way.
Learning how to be disciplined
Creativity crosses all subject areas and is the way in for more exciting and relevant teaching, connecting to pupils, exploring every subject, and incorporating transferable skills and possibilities for problem solving. A creative curriculum is one which is relevant to the possibilities of learning.
The discipline of self-refection is an enormously useful tool, which if nurtured can build both self- confidence and better understanding for others. It can enable a deeper thought process if used regularly to explore ideas. Building discipline skills around Relationships and Sex Education will improve resilience, acceptance of one’s body and mind, a belief in one’s own abilities, skills and experiences, and, importantly, recognising one’s own feelings as valid and relevant.
I strongly believe that creative practice opens-up and challenges thinking. It allows for a different kind of understanding and interaction and a new possibility of exploring ideas and problem solving. Practical creative activity works on multiple levels and supports a different kind of mindset, allowing for something so much deeper than a discussion or written-based task. It offers possibilities for collaboration and communication between pupils and has the potential to help release concerns and embarrassment when looking at difficult subject areas. It gives individuals more agency and opportunity to express their own thinking, and the confidence to shape themselves.
Creativity provides connections. Between people and between ideas and thinking. It also can drive change. Although my own practise is in the visual arts, I believe strongly that the arts generally are an incredibly important part of society, and I am often concerned that they are not valued as much as they deserve to be. Reflecting, for example, on the experience of Covid-19 across the world, I can’t imagine how any of us would have got through this collective lockdown experience without the arts in some form – so many people have turned to taking part in or observing drawing, painting, making, music, drama, comedy, creative writing, dance and more. This is before even mentioning the huge importance of creativity in other areas like science. Without creative scientists I don’t believe, for example, that we would have been able to develop vaccines across the world.
Humans require the possibilities within creativity to open up new ideas and directions. Creativity is also at the root of our wellbeing and mental health, and that feels like such an important link and a key reason why the new Relationships and Sex Education curriculum is so vital.
Thinking of the future
I hope that the activities in my resources give the opportunity for self-refection and allow both for discussion and private consideration. I hope that the techniques and activities suggested will empower young people to explore, unpick, and consider themselves and their relationships. I hope they gain self-confidence and self-respect, as well as empathy and a deeper understanding of and for others.
I would love to continue exploring teaching in this area and within this curriculum. I am excited to be continuing to develop thinking around this area and I am keen to continue to explore and encourage teachers to feel confident in teaching this part of the curriculum through creative activities and ideas.