Art as Therapy

BY BINDU AJAY, TEACHER AT TEJASVITA TRUST

Over the last couple of years, we teachers at Tejasvita have developed a set routine for the way we prepare for our class, in the mornings.  And this is being perfected by the year, thanks to the diverse pool of human resources we have as teachers.  We meet in the office every morning and while we greet and exchange pleasantries with each other, we also check on the material required for the day, rehearse stories and rhymes, discuss and even plan for the next day.

Very soon, all this feeling of preparedness starts becoming a little shaky, as we step into class, with neatly packed bags and the day’s routine playing in our minds. The moment the children see us, they greet us with so much cheer and excitement that we stop thinking of our plans and be forced to enjoy the moment. The days we carry art supplies like paint/crayons and other materials for exploration, their excitement is much more obvious.

And here was such a day – a day when we had art activities in our schedule. We call them “stations” in Tejasvita parlance. On one day of the week, we set up two “stations” with two different art activities, giving children the opportunity to dabble with paint/crayons and a variety of media to explore. This includes both common and unique materials, and daily life objects like leaves, twigs, toothbrushes, ear-buds, pencil shavings and the like, which children might have seen around them.

I considered this particular day’s station activity very important, thanks to a training session we teachers had the previous week with an Art Therapist called Alagu.   I had experienced, to an extent, the wonders that art can do to children through our work at Tejasvita. But the way we conceived and delivered the process underwent a paradigm shift after Alagu’s session.

IMG_5253As children gathered around me for material, I was trying to recall all that or at-least the key points that Alagu had outlined in her session.  And I felt it was not an easy task, considering the wealth of information that she had given us. In keeping with the protocol as laid out by Alagu, we set the context for the “stations” that day, by telling the children about the material we had brought, what we intended doing with it and how.  “Foreshadowing” was the word she had used for this small briefing that we gave. That day we had taken bubble wrap as a printing medium with two different colours of paint. We then gave each child a small piece of bubble wrap to first touch and feel.  And for the next ten minutes or so, we could hear so much of laughter, cheer and excitement along with the popping sound of the bubble wrap.  We teachers also played around with it, popping it, and soaked ourselves in the overall excitement of the class. We also felt very humbled when we realised how some of the things we adults take for granted, are so precious and cherish-able to children; the amount of joy a small piece of bubble wrap brought to them that day was invaluable.

2020-02-02_12-58-43Just after about ten minutes of so much noise and excitement, I looked around to see children quietly explore the activity of painting on the bubble wrap, by themselves – with so much calm, focus and intent. As I was looking around and savouring the peace, Alagu’s voice came back to me. ” There are no mistakes in process art”, she had said.  “It is an opportunity for children to explore and discover- explore the material and the techniques. It gives them a sense of autonomy and  also teaches them self-regulation, other than building on their imaginative art, which is a skill that helps children change their way of thinking, when needed. Teachers can also use the opportunity to build the children’s vocabulary by talking to them about lines, colours, value, light and other elements of art”.

2020-02-02_12-58-26“Miss, Paint”, a child’s voice brought me back to the present. There were three small faces in front of me.  As I was re-filling paint for one child, Harshik, “Miss, See”, said Priya, proudly displaying what she had done with the paint and bubble wrap.  She had created her own design with a combination of the colours given to her.  She always surprised us with the unique ways in which she used the material given to her.  As I was looking at her work and talking to her about it, I could see Dakshik standing there and closely looking at one of the demo pieces I had hung on the wall. Looking at the focus on his face, I could say that he was striving to make his work look as closely as the demo hung in front of him.  Conformance seemed to give him lot of joy.  And then there was Shreyas who came for the fifth sheet of plain paper in the previous ten minutes.  All that he wanted was plain paper and lots of paint.  He loved to splash paint randomly on paper trying different strokes and combinations. That was the only time Shreyas, an otherwise fidgety and nervous child, seemed to be calm and at peace. As I looked at the three faces, I realised for the nth time, how different and unique each child is.

We wound up for the day feeling happy that our “stations” as a process, had something to offer, for every child in our class. And that is why, maybe, art is such a powerful form of therapy. If through this simple window of opportunity, for children to explore and experiment without inhibition, they are able to build on their confidence, self-esteem and other social-emotional challenges, we are definitely doing our bit to contribute that many happy and joyful adults to the society.  It was just another day, but it was a day when I felt, once again, that we at Tejasvita, are indeed doing something very meaningful and deep, though it may sometimes look mundane and simplistic at the outset.

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