August 7, 2007

Art Therapy Feature- Does the environment make a difference for kids? (WFMW)

So it’s about the environment that we create for our children that will make a huge difference in their creative lives. The physical environment starts off with media available to them, media appropriate for their age group, I might add (I will post about the media range in future weeks/months…come subscribe to the RSS feed now and check back often).

Modeling the behavior is also part of the physical environment…do you create? Do you give yourself time to get messy and play with crayons, markers, clay, paint, colored water, needle and thread? Children’s brains work in such a way that they are very tactile…they learn by touching, seeing, doing. Their developing brains need constant stimulation to grow pathways that will enable them to achieve new abilities now and later in life. In the Alzheimer’s world it’s called “Use it or loose it!” well, with art, creativity and kids you are encouraging them to develop it, so they can use it and hopefully keep using it. If you are one of the many wonderful artists from Etsy then you are half way there!

Now, to establish their mental environment: It’s important to establish space to create. Space and boundaries can be established with lines drawn on the driveway with sidewalk chalk or with painter’s tape on the kitchen table. Use of a placemat or tray is also helpful to establish boundaries. Paper itself is a boundary of sorts but clay or textile work may need more effort to set up and put away. Yes, these are also physical ways of manipulating their environments but what you are also doing is un-cluttering their visual space. Once they have space to focus to task they are more apt to benefit from the time spent doing the activity.

What if you have siblings and a toddler keeps touching older brother or sister’s image? A common response is, “oh, Suzy just wants to do what you are doing”. That will only lead to the older child feeling under valued. When a child wants to create make sure you set up space for both or all children in the home. Art is like a magnet and if one leads, others will follow. Applaud the leadership of the older child to initiate the activity and ask the older child from the beginning to help set up space for both/all.

Reinforce boundaries, “this is your paper and that is Johny’s”. Be careful not to add your artistic touch to an image or creation without asking first too. They may allow it but they may also feel like they have no other choice as most kids want to please the parent. Respect, on all levels of creativity, will yield a happy, creative, well developed sense of autonomy and encourage positive sibling interaction.

It is common to hear that the older child wants to work with markers but the younger child is unable to refrain from drawing on their body and mom or dad would prefer crayons be used. Know this going into the process, and brainstorm what artists use and maybe get some higher-end crayons for the children. The older child will love that they are “artist” quality media and the younger child will be using developmentally appropriate media. Also have a crayon sharpener available to the older child for a chiseled tip, this too is a tool that they will value as special to their age and will allow for more precise line placement.

The spiritual environment is the space you give to their fragile and ever developing sense of self and self worth. Different age groups have different needs with this, sometimes it’s strictly through peer interaction but often times it’s the refueling they get from mom and dad that helps foster their sense of wholeness verses feelings of inadequacy. When your child draws or creates…do you hear yourself saying, “Oh honey, it’s wonderful, what is it?” This simple statement can be so earth shatteringly painful to their egos. All of a sudden what was simple expression and play has turned into function and value and performance…trying to please mom or dad, they respond with “It’s you”…or some other idea that pops into their head.

The time a child creates…the seconds of creation is when you will find out what the image expresses…not minutes after it’s completed. Spend time with your child while they create. Foster a dialogue with them about their use of color and stroke, how they choose to fill up space or choose to leave areas empty. Encourage them to project thoughts into the scribble or image…”if your picture could talk what would it say to you? What is it thinking? What does the painting wish they could do? What is the yellow color feeling?” Rather than asking them “what is it” remark about the shapes and juxtaposition of objects, balance of the image or asymmetry. Yes, I do use those terms with my kids since they were about 2 or 3 and drawing up a storm…it expands their vocabulary and provides words of value to what they create, rather than judging and providing expectations of performance.

Embrace the image whether it is pretty or not to your eye, the moment of expression is beautiful and that is ART! Support their process of creating through support of the environment whether the end result is a cherished keepsake or not.

Maybe you are just not crafty...or maybe no one encouraged your creativity when you were younger...look to kits to help guide you and your kids through exploration of new materials. Threadibilities Craft Kits(TM) are available at

I am a Master's Level Art Therapist. I will be writing articles about Art Therapy from time to time here at my blog. Find them quick by searching my blog for Art Therapy. Thanks for reading this lengthy post and come back soon.

For more works for me Wednesday ideas go to Rocks in my dryer
For more Works for me Wednesday ideas here at HHQ search WFMW


  1. This is really a great post and so important. It ties into onegirliegirl's recent Etsymom blog too. Thanks for writing it. I also like how you treated the pictures. They illustrate the concepts well, yet could be anyone's children and keep the reader on the subject.

  2. Wonderful post! I totally agree!*HUGS*

  3. Hey jodi! Love your Blog! Would you like to trade links? I am at Drop me a comment if you would like to. I am trying to grow my page and keep up with other etsy crafters.


  4. This is a wonderful article. Thank you so much for sharing your expertise! I'm just now starting to deal with the 6 month old getting into the 2 year old's creative space -- good to have some ideas for how to deal with that. And I love the suggestions you give for ways to talk about the art while it is happening. Wonderful!

  5. Terrific post and recommendations - can be applied to children not only in crafting but lots of other "learning" areas in their lives - i.e. just about everything! They are such little sponges! :)

  6. That was so helpful! I'll have to create a better environment for my 3 yr old. He has his own little craft table in my office. BUt, I never thought to create a section to create in that wasn't overwhelming. Thanks!