I have been facilitating the expressive arts group at school for two years now.
My colleague and I have been reflecting recently how the group has evolved.
The group has gone from organised and contained chaos with up to 27 students attending in the early stages of the group, to bliss. Right now, we have about fifteen children attending. About 75% of the children have been coming for two years. We have some Kindergartners and new students to the school attending the group now. Although students are required to enrol before each term, the group has always been open and we have some children come and go depending on their circumstances.
I used to run one directed art activity per session, and the worry bin. After these directed activities the students were free to do non-directed activities. I used to ask the children to do scribble drawings on the first session back each term.
Late in 2010 and this past term, the group has evolved to being non-directed. I started running out of ideas for the directed activities, and I also started to see benefit in the children being free to do what they felt they needed. Initially, the group was so big it needed to have some direction, but as the group became smaller and the students became familiar with the process it became no longer necessary.
The expressive arts group has become a designated safe place for children. The students grin from ear-to-ear during the session and they talk about how much they enjoy the group.
Some individuals have only just started to test how safe the group is. One student who has only drawn happy themes for two years, recently drew a picture which had themes of violence and death. The student was nervous about the picture, didn’t want to talk about it or show me. Interestingly, this student has constantly protested about one of my golden rules – no taking any artwork home.
Last term, I made up a folder for each child, and put sheets in the folder with a direction on the top of what to draw on the paper, for example, me, my family, my home, my friends, my neighbourhood, feeling states, etc. Some children, the newer members of the group have enjoyed this.
I did manage one directed art activity this term. It was a mask activity – one mask for a strong feeling they experienced recently, one mask for calming down feelings. Half the children rebelled – they drew one line and moved on to do other activities. For a few, the activity lasted the whole session.
I try to make everything as transparent as possible to the children, explain what I am doing and the reasons why. Next time I do a directed activity I will explain the concept of directed and non-directed activities, and give the students the choice to participate or not.
I recently attended a child centered play therapy workshop. From that workshop I learnt some new responses to children that we can use to make limits clear but express them in ways that children still feel accepted. We have been doing a great job, but there is always room for improvement.
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