Our Stories: Nurturing Artistic Minds

Nurturing Artistic Minds


When does a drawing turn into a piece of art? For the young artists in MINDS Woodlands Gardens School’s (WGS) new Visual Arts curriculum, drawings and projects turn into works of art as they weave in their voices and stories in them.


Soft lines in a fresh composition

Hafiz Danial bin Abdul Rahim, 14, has always been a quiet figure since he first joined the school. Speech is onerous for him, and frustration can take over his usual laid-back demeanour when those around fail to understand him. As such, his art teacher Ms Nadiah Bte Anuar, 39, noted that he preferred keeping to himself, unwilling to reach out to others.

Nadiah has been with WGS since 2003. Approaching the two-decade mark of her journey as a special needs educator in WGS, she heads the revamped Visual Arts programme – Visual Arts in Motion: Nurturing Artistic Minds. The programme, incepted in 2019  with visual arts education specialist Dr Esther Joosa, took 3 years to implement. Dr Joosa then handed the reins to Nadiah. Inspired and empowered to lead, Nadiah has made breakthroughs in the way art is taught to students with special needs, and has found her own perspective on teaching students with special needs changing.

WGS Nadiah Anuar and Hafiz, 2022
Nadiah and Hafiz collaborating on a 3D sculpture. The new programme is inspired by the diverse abilities of WGS students and the unifying qualities of visual art.

An avant-garde approach

“In the past,” Nadiah recalls, “teachers might consider the limitations of the students and have them all work on similar pieces of art. Now, though, we have learnt to see past their disabilities to recognise what each student has to offer.”

A big change has been to put less emphasis on telling the children what to do, and instead, allowing them the freedom to discover and create.

It is a whole-of-school exercise. There is discourse and reflection amongst teachers on how different parts of the school can be used. They have expanded the learning of art beyond the classroom into the school’s Explorer Space and Eco Pond, incorporating a more playful approach to art and bringing vibrancy to these areas. Students are exposed to books and visuals around themes. Prompted to ponder the possibilities, they are engaged in a more meaningful process that results in authentic works of art.

It was during such sessions that the teachers noticed Hafiz’ interest burgeoning. “His eyes would light up,” Nadiah smiles. “He would be beaming with excitement, gesturing to indicate what he wanted to create.”


Art as a language

In a specially-designed art room, Hafiz and his friends are given access to a wide variety of materials. Giving them the chance to take the lead and make decisions nurtures their critical thinking skills and encourages them to be more independent.

Here, Hafiz slowly gained the confidence to communicate with his peers. A request for tape, asking for scissors—little steps built his confidence and made him more comfortable communicating with his teachers as well. He shared that he picked up digital drawing and uploads his artwork and animations on his own YouTube channel. One day, he hopes to have 10 million subscribers.

Art, Nadiah notes, allows the students to express their inner thoughts and motivations. “It is important to listen,” the educator says, describing Hafiz’ transformation from quiet boy to a confident teen with aspirations as “wonderful”.

Hafiz uploads his digital drawings on his own YouTube channel, and aspires to reach 10 million subscribers. His talent has not gone unnoticed—in 2021, his art was selected for inclusion in the National Day fun packs distributed during the parades.

Sketching the future

Nadiah has noticed significant changes in the students since the innovative curriculum was launched. It has helped uncap their curiosity and set free their creativity. It has uncorked communication and stretched their ability to adapt to changes in the environment, she says—a catalyst for good.

It has touched Nadiah, too. She divulges, “I have learnt to value art through its process, not just focusing on the end product.”

For Hafiz and his peers, their lives are still largely blank canvases, but a picture is emerging of joyful expression.

It has been a rewarding and enriching experience. I have realised that there are endless possibilities for creativity and have learnt to always believe in the artistic mind in every individual.”

Nadiah Bte Anuar
Teacher and Visual Arts Coordinator, Woodlands Gardens School

As MINDS celebrates its 60th anniversary, we invite the community to re-examine and re-structure systems to empower and enable PWIDs to unlock their potential.

At Woodlands Gardens School, we believe that every child has unique abilities. Our broad curriculum, including arts, sports and gardening, offer students platforms to discover and develop their interests in a safe environment, while equipping them with the skills needed for their integration into society; and preparing them for life after graduation. Learn more about WGS and MINDS’ Special Education schools here.

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NOTICE OF THE 59TH ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING OF MINDS: NOTICE is hereby given that the 59th Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS) will be held by way of electronic means as follows: Date: Saturday , 18 September 2020 Time: 9:30am (Registration starts at 8:30am) Venue: Online via ZOOM MINDS members will be receiving an email on the notice of AGM and are strongly encouraged to register your attendance to facilitate the verification process on the day of the AGM. For enquiries regardingthe AGM, members may email to agm@minds.org.sg or call 849607358