Why should we teach children and teachers about carnival?

Carnival is a festival of immense cultural and historical significance

The material on this web site relates mainly to Caribbean style carnivals both in the Caribbean and in the UK.(see historical section).

There are many advantages in holding a nursery or school carnival event. It can hold the key to learning in many areas of the curriculum, provide all children with opportunities to contribute at their own level, connect to childrens experiences in their communities and create links between adults in the setting and experienced carnival practitioners and parents.

Carnival is not about children dressing up and looking cute.
The serious study of carnival in educational contexts is long overdue and it has been frequently trivialised and misrepresented in the mainstream media. It is therefore important for teachers in schools to have accurate knowledge of the complex nature of carnival and to take its artistic, organisational and cultural practices seriously, working in collaboration with carnival artists and practitioners, the calypsonians, steel band arrangers and pan players, masquerade designers, makers and dancers and masqueraders from local mas bands.

Shaping identities

Carnival is an inclusive learning experience for all children. Children recalling their earliest experiences of carnival recall its significance in giving them a sense of belonging and developing competence in special skills and particular ways of being. For some children learning about carnival in schools will strengthen their connection with important aspects of their cultural heritages and with their homes and communities.

Play, imagination and the arts

Carnival gives children of all ages the chance to express their ideas, thoughts and feelings through a variety of media. The imitative creative and communicative processes that create culture are central to children's learning. These processes are particularly apparent in carnival.

Carnival allows children to playfully engage with representing themselves as something 'other'. So the arguments that support involving children in carnival are similar to the arguments for play and creativity. It is an experience that links directly with learning and most importantly with the world of the imagination and the emotions. Carnival can also be experienced as an aspect of spirituality.

Carnival arts are serious play for both children and adults.

"The arts are quite simply a magic key for some children, not only do they open the mind of the learner, they then reveal a vast cornucopia of endless delight, challenge and opportunity." Professor Tim Brighouse

Carnival in the curriculum

The most obvious links are with the development of children's creativity since children will be

"learning through all their senses and will be exploring and experimenting with ideas and materials."

Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage Qualifications and Curriculum Authority-QCA/Department for Education and Skills-DfES 2000

Carnival is important in developing children's confidence as learners. Taking risks and trying out new ways of doing things is central to the carnival experience. It has been demonstrated that creative and cultural education can help raise educational standards. Children are certainly enthusiastic about carnival and this excitement motivates them to learn and to discover new ways of learning.

Learning with adults

There are a growing number of carnival artists and groups who are experienced in working with children in schools and can bring their knowledge and expertise to support the learning of both children and teachers.(see contacts list) To work alongside a practitioner from the community is a practical demonstration of respect for cultural diversity. Where schools organise carnival activities children will have the

"opportunity to work alongside artists and other creative adults and to use resources from a variety of cultures to stimulate different ways of thinking"

Solving problems with the support of adults, learning about relationships in groups and respecting themselves and others are all important learning experiences in carnival.

At Goldsmiths all teachers training to work with children 3-11 take a short course on Carnival and learn how to integrate it with the curriculum. If anyone is interested in how we have developed and evaluated this course please contact Celia Burgess-Macey cburgessmacey@googlemail.com

Carnival is relevant to

  • all subjects of the National Curriculum
  • all the areas of learning of the Foundation Stage curriculum
  • the programmes of study for Citizenship education
  • Religious Education
  • personal, social and health education

  • Included here are teachers' ideas and examples from schools Carnivals.

    These are shared here to help develop Carnival as a positive and inclusive learning experience for all children. Permission to reproduce has been granted or sought. The identities of children and schools has been protected. Sometimes it has been necessary to obscure the faces of individual children.

    Subjects of the national curriculum.

    (see integrated learning and subjects web)

    The most obvious links between Carnival and national curriculum subjects are with the creative arts-music, (steel band music, calypso/rapso/soca/ ragga); dance (a variety of Caribbean and Latin American dance forms), art (artistic influences on Carnival costume are many and from various cultural traditions including European, African, Native American, East Indian, Chinese and Latin American); costume making involves the creative imagination in the original design and many artistic skills are employed using a variety of techniques and materials in the actual putting together of the costumes. These include painting, batik printing, tie dyeing, fabric painting, sculpting, modelling, collage etc with technology-both designing and making; with ICT through computer aided design programmes, researching on the Internet; and with mathematics-buying materials, measuring, symmetry, counting, dividing.

    However there are many possible links with literacy through stories and poems on the theme of Carnival, through drama, through studying non-fiction texts about Carnival, (see resources section) through the oral tradition within Carnival-calypso lyrics, (see calypso section) Robber speeches, Pierrot Grenade speech (see traditional characters section) and through children writing about their experiences, their ideas and responses.
    Children can also study the increasing number of media texts, museum exhibits and community literature.
    Many bands use stories, folk tales, myths and legends as a basis for Carnival costume designs. Schools may also use nursery rhymes and poems. Modern television and film media characters can also be the source of Carnival costume designs.

    Children can study history through Carnival, both in looking at the origins of Carnival and its historical development in Europe, the Caribbean and Latin America, its African roots and its diasporic influences. Carnival is intimately connected to the history of slavery, colonialism and emancipation and to post-war immigration and settlement in the United Kingdom.

    Furthermore any historical theme can be the source of ideas for Carnival costumes and many Carnival bands parade the streets dressed as historical characters from all parts of the globe-Ashanti or Egyptian, French or British kings and queens, Zulu warriors, Greek and Roman gods and heroes, Chinese emperors, Aztec rulers, Native American chiefs, or Maori chieftains. Sometimes bands will take a broader historical sweep as their theme with different sections representing different aspects, for example The Founding of the nation or The People who came/Movement of the people.

    This is similarly the case with geography, particularly the human aspects of geography including settlement and colonisation. The locations in which Carnival takes place around the world can be researched and the reasons for its spread throughout the diaspora. Links to this can be the study of distant environments, including Africa, Asia the Caribbean and Latin American. It will be particularly interesting for children if links can be made through studying schools carnivals in other countries. (see British Council website for linking projects) Topics like the weather, transport, the rainforest have been studied and linked to Carnival costumes.

    Environmental studies and science of the natural world are particularly popular sources of inspiration for Carnival costume designing and making. Popular themes include flowers, crops, fruits, under the sea, the stars and the universe, the seashore, insects, birds and animals, rainforests and endangered species. These can be carefully studied and children can use their knowledge in their costume creations.

    Scientific studies can also lead in the direction of costumes. The elements of earth, air, fire and water; the universe of sun and moon and stars and space exploration in general. There is also science involved in some of the processes of Carnival arts. There is the science involved in changing the material of an oil drum, heating it and hammering it into an instrument with a full chromatic scale. The making of percussion instruments and drums involves more exploration of the science of sound. Other processes involve changing materials, for example dyeing fabrics, making flour and water paste. There may also be cooking involved in making food for the Carnival day.

    Carnival takes place at the beginning of Lent, important in Christian calendar. Children will learn about the original meaning of the word Carnival-carne vale-farewell to flesh. There may discuss other religious festivals which involve fasting. In Trinidad which is a multifaith society celebrations like Hosay have had to influence on Carnival. There are also strong links between Carnival and traditional African religious practices.