Sunday, January 25, 2015

ART: Why Does It Matter?

Our counseling program uses art daily as a form of communication, creativity and intervention. Through art, children can help work through issues such as, death, trauma, self-esteem, anxiety, friendship trouble, and the list goes on.  This is why we find our art programs and teachers to be extremely valuable in our students educational and cognitive development.  This month, we invited one of our amazing art teachers, Jackie La Lanne, to provide her perspective on why art is important for our kids and share a couple stories of how art helped our students and their social/emotional development.
Art Matters
Written By: Jackie La Lanne

Art matters. My students come into the art room relieved, excited, and wanting to know what we are going to do. It’s always amazing to feel their enthusiasm. Why? Because they love making art. They tell me art is one of their favorite subjects, because it is different than anything else they do during their day at school. They are painting, drawing, sculpting, photographing, printmaking. They are creating something with their imaginations and intuitions. Some students have even shared with me that art class is the only place they feel comfortable, successful, and proud.
In art there is no right answer. The students are able to come up with their own unique ideas. The way they use the art materials is an exploration that allows them to play and relax. They feel they are creating something special, and they truly enjoy what they are doing. Their process of using materials makes them feel calm and renewed. For some of my students, coming to art is the all-important experience for personal growth. It has given some of my students important tools to flourish and feel good about themselves. Here are just a few examples:

I had a 4th grader working with clay which happened to be his favorite medium. His mom was helping in art, and admired the dragon he was making. She wondered if it would be a material she could use at her work with the teenagers at the juvenile hall. I encouraged her to take some clay and try it. She expressed her concern about her own son failing his weekly spelling tests. I offered a bag of clay for the student to make his spelling words. A month later, it was reported that the student was getting 100 percent on his spelling tests. For him, the understanding of letters and words came through working with clay with his hands.
A few years ago I had a 5th grade student who hated school. He hated drawing in art as well. He was diagnosed with dysgraphia, a neurological disorder that affects your ability to write. I gave the student a camera during art and gave him an assignment: go search for shadows and reflections. When we looked at his photographs I was shocked by his creativity and amazing compositions. I called his parents and suggested he borrow one of our school cameras. Six months later, his parents had bought him his own camera, and shared his photographs with me. The student and his parents were so proud of him. He had found success and joy in his creations with a camera. He had found the tool that would help him find his voice and self-expression. He had found photographic literacy.
I recently had a 5th grade student who was failing most subjects in class. He was interested in magical beasts, dragons, and the dark side of Star Wars. We were just starting an etching project in art where the students carve into plexiglass with a metal tool, ink, and print their plexiglass plate with a printing press. He created a beautiful dragon head, and loved using the metal tool to scratch into the plexiglass. He wanted to print again and again, staying in for lunch and asking to come in during recess. Then he asked if he could have another piece of plexiglass to do a different etching. He asked if he could take the plexiglass plate home to give to his parents. He was beaming with success, and had a huge smile on his face.

These are just a few stories of my students being touched by their own creative potential. I feel lucky to see and hear about their triumphs, reminding me every year why art matters.

Holiday Blues

The holiday seasons is exciting, full of anticipation, and the essence of our children’s dreams. It can also, amazingly enough, create jagged nerves in us all, leaving us with the holiday blues when the big days have come and gone.  Children loaded with toys are suddenly bored, their tempers flared, and they are sometimes moody and teary.  It is a predicable response to the pre-holiday hype, however, as parents we oftentimes inherit a problem that usually is owned by the child.  It becomes our responsibility because we accept the problem as our own, instead of helping the child resolve the unpleasant feelings.  How to survive?

First of all, actively listen to your child.  Keep your own talk to a minimum and give him/her your undivided attention.  Accept and acknowledge what you are hearing.  As you are listening, begin to actively listen for feelings.  The child will say he’s bored, restless, feeling disconnected with his peers, lonely, or perhaps angry.  Now is the time to connect those feelings that you have heard expressed to the content of the conversation.  You might say, “Gee Johnny, it sounds like you are feeling really bored”.  You need to first and foremost assist your child in understanding his emotional state.
Then, help him/her explore possible alternatives and predict the consequences.  Good verbal input on your part may be “What can you do?” “What else can you try?” “What do you think would happen if you did that?” This is a perfect time to share with your child your own experiences.  This may sounds like, “You know Johnny, when I was young I got bored after the holidays too.”  Resist the temptation to then tell Johnny what he should do about it.  Not only does the problem then inch towards becoming yours, but you are giving your child the subtle message that perhaps he is not able to handle the problem himself and that you may not have confidence in him to do just that.

As a follow-up, ask your child what he does intend to do and when he intends to do it.  Encourage him to handle his own affairs.  Once he had decided to call a friend to alleviate his boredom, and he seems to be dawdling, you might appropriately say, “Johnny, I’m going to be very curious to see how you feel after you call your friend.  That is a really good way to take care of your boredom”. 

Holiday blues can be challenging and depressing, and yet, a time to foster good communication and emotional growth. 

Written by: Dr. Claudia Trinklein-Engman