Child exploring textures and patterns through nature. Photo by Teresa Teo Lay Yan

By Teresa Teo Lay Yan

Formal education makes us believe that the basis of all learning rests mainly on the 10 numerals and 26 English alphabets (or other symbols, depending on one’s language and cultural background).

We then spent all our school years trying to unravel the mystery of the 10 numerals and language symbols, rearranging and sequencing them to invent new complicated meanings or abstract equations to expand our knowledge and vocabularies.The study of neurosciences has provided new insights into how the human brain processes information. Not everyone processes information in the same manner, especially for people with a disability or multiple disabilities.

If a child is able to recite 1 to 100, does it mean he or she understood number value or the decimal system? Similarly, if a child is able to rearrange the letters of the alphabet to make the word ‘ant’, does he or she understand its meaning? To understand the true meaning of a word, children need to use all their sensory functions in various contexts to experience and make meaning out of it. Even adult learners also found learning effective through the use of hands-on activities and sensory integration, especially when mastering a new skill.

Using flash cards is an old school of thought. Learning needs to expand beyond the textbooks or classroom. Acquisition of basic knowledge and skills does provide the basic foundation for higher learning and lead to employment opportunity. How best can we learn? For any learning to take place, there must be interaction between the symbols, the self, and the environment and integrating all our sensory functions if possible.

There is an area that is given less priority than learning to read and write in formal schooling, which is to introduce creative art experiences to students whether they are with or without disabilities. Creative art experiences help learners to form relationships between the symbols (or artwork), the artist (student) and the environment. It also allows freedom to explore, discover and innovate and develop critical thinking skills which is crucial for functioning in a real working world. Hopefully, more research studies can provide evidences that support the value of creative art experiences in formal schooling.

In a techno savvy environment, it is possible to provide a new way of thinking and learning for people with disabilities. Expressing through the visual arts provides an alternative way of communication for those struggling in a highly text-based environment.

The late Maria Montessori once said, ‘Education is a natural process carried out by the child and is not acquired by listening to words but by experiences in the environment.’ Learning can only take place in an inclusive environment filled with opportunities for enriching experiences that cater to different learners.

Lowenfeld, V. & Brittain, L.W. (1964). Creative and Mental Growth. London: Collier’Macmillan Limited.

Montessori, M. (1995). The absorbent Mind. United States: Holt Paperbacks.

Panayiotou, A., Falcone, C., Sasse,C., Bernhard, D., Silak, D., Giori,G. and Poyiatzi, Z. (2010).Organizing art workshopsfor
people with intellectual disabilities.
Project Titled Further Education for People with Intellectual Disabilities (F.E.P.I.D.),
Austria: Bildungshaus Schloss Retzhof.

Pinker, S. (2006). How The Mind Works. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences,882: 119–127. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.1999.tb08538.x

About the Author :

 Teresa Teo Lay Yan is the founder and managing director of Dove Doodle Pte Ltd. She writes for the Company’s blog and engages the community through a variety of topics, in particular, visual arts in social and cultural context, artists with a disability, doing business for social good and research related articles. To learn more about the author, CLICK the ‘Founder’s Profile’.