When I entered the field of child welfare, I was required to attend long days at core training classes. If we became fidgety, stressed or distracted by our own thoughts, our tables were stocked with pictures to color and toys that could be bent, stretched and twisted enticing us to use creativity as a coping strategy.
I was delighted, and, yet, there was a traditionally trained teacher in me that felt guilty for not “fully attending” to the instructor by keeping my head up with eyes on speaker at all times and my hands still. After all, wasn’t that what I expected from the students in my classroom?
And yet, despite returning home with stacks of 8 X 10 finely colored pictures, I felt I had engaged and learned quite a bit despite the long hours and sometimes heavy topics. I reflected how little time I spent in my own head lamenting about how I just wish I could be somewhere else. I didn’t feel overwhelmed with the sheer amount of information and headiness of the content when I left.
I’ve often joked that gardening has saved me thousands in therapy bills. I can literally spend hours playing in the dirt, weeding, composting, admiring, and harvesting. Recently, I have also rediscovered my love of coloring books. So much so that, at one point over the holidays I found myself thinking about posting to my social media feed, “I can’t stop coloring!”
Turns out, I may have experienced the connection between creativity and mental health! Whatever creative outlet is chosen, you find your thoughts moving out of your mind and on to the paper, clay, dirt, musical instrument, etc. Not only do you get to experience the cathartic effect of creativity, you actually find yourself being proactive in your own therapy through non-disruptive, self-care activities. I guess my ‘joke’ had more truth in it than I realized.
I think back to how I could have allowed free flowing creativity as a coping strategy with my students. Goodness knows there were plenty who had experienced trauma in their short lives! Goodness knows they could have used some self-controlled, therapeutic outlets! Goodness know I could have used better strategies for what appeared to be behavior problems that resulted in a lot of time put towards classroom management.
Allowing my students the benefits in the unexpected joy of art therapy even while I was teaching could have helped distract that student from their current state of stress and provided a healthy way to effectively release tension without the need for the teacher to redirect, dismiss from class, yell, throw things and all other levels of frustrated behaviors teachers have been guilty of displaying in an effort to thwart whatever was interrupting their teaching in the first place.
With so many schools cutting art, PE and even recess and upwards of 1/2 to 2/3 of students having experienced some level of trauma, teachers may want to redirect focus with fidget toys and art supplies not only as a creative outlet but as a coping strategy.
They may be surprised to how little time is now spent on managing behavior and how much more time they have to teach!