By Lindsey Miske Wood at Raise With Love
Art is often a forgotten topic when discussing education and development. There are many resources on the web for “art projects for children,” but very little around the importance of art and its use as a learning and development tool as well as a mental health tool.
The value of art and how to interact with art, which, unfortunately, is a very uncommon topic when discussing education as it is not valued by the mainstream education system, needs more focus. A fantastic resource in extending this conversation is the book Rapunzel's Supermarket by Ursula Kolbe. This book really speaks to the importance of art. For example it supports the idea that “children use images to make sense of things and play with ideas” (Kolbe, 2009, p. 41). With this understanding, we clarify art is an important and vital part of the classroom as children learn to express themselves and develop their ideas.
The idea that images allow children to understand and process ideas resonates with me as I found in my classrooms children were always trying to tell a story or share a feeling through their art and creations. A child who felt rejected by a peer drew a picture of friends playing with her on the side. This allowed her to process and cope with this situation as well as gave her a tool to discuss the occurrence with me discuss tools to engage with her peers. It was common for us teachers to look at the images with the children and ask them what the story behind the art is and write it out for them, allowing for additional processing of an event or idea as well as language development. The children seemed to have an idea, even if it was just one word. A younger student pointed to his art and said “ball.” He then ran over and played ball. He was learning to connect abstract thinking to concrete actions. Another really vital discussion I found in this reading was the discussion of learning to see. The books discusses developing the skill of “being attentive to things, seeing familiar things anew, [and] seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary,” not only for the child but the adult as well (Kolbe, 2009, p. 8). I believe this is a necessary skill to be a connected and immersed as a teacher or parent as you understand each child’s creation as unique and brand new to appreciate it and approach it with curiosity. The more you understand a child’s art, the more you can understand how they see the world and their interests. This will improve a child’s mental health by supporting reciprocal communication which is a key factor in healthy attachment and relationships.
A key understanding around art as a tool for promoting mental health and development is that the art must be child guided. Having a child make a snowman may be cool and help develop hand eye coordination, but it will have no tie to the child’s personal expression and communication. Child guided art means the child is choosing what they create and how they create. A child must have autonomy to express themselves.
What can you do to utilize art as a tool for mental health and development?
Easy! Provide them the tools and creative space and let them work.