When I first began bringing art enrichment programs to Southern California students 20 years ago, I knew that all children should be able to have art in their lives. There were still programs in the schools, but I was beginning to see art, music, dance and theater programs diminish as curriculum priorities.
I have seen firsthand in our classrooms the benefits of engaging in the creative process. Critical thinking skills are sharpened, problem solving is strengthened, innovation and the imagination soar. But, honestly, I see that it brings something even more important to our children in today’s world. My lens as an educator has shifted and I gained new perspective this past fall as I was visiting and teaching throughout Southern California.
As I entered campus after campus, I was greeted as if I was a rock star. “Look, the art teacher is here!” Students actually gathered around me jumping up and down screaming, “When do we start art class?” or “When do you come to our classroom – are we next?” I had seen excitement in the past, but never at this level. It really made me pause. In October, in one of our last classes for our newest pilot program called MindfulArt, several fourth graders told me they were sad we were not coming back until the end of November. Sad. That was new to me.
Still, the connection between art making and personal happiness is far from a new idea. Back in 1996, “Psychology Today” published an article, “Capturing Creativity,” by Robert Epstein, who enthusiastically extolled the joys of artistic creativity. “Greater creativity breeds greater happiness,” Epstein noted. “The creative process is itself a source of joy for most people.”
In an article on “Greatist” in 2013 titled “The Scientific Reasons Why Creativity Makes Us Happier,” psychologist Shelley Carson, Ph.D., is quoted as saying, “Increases in positive mood broaden attention and allow us to see more possible solutions to creative problems.”
“Happiness” is a hard word to harness. So many studies surround this word, and it is something we all strive for, but students’ responses to our school visits have confirmed what many of us on our teaching team have been observing this past year: Our children need more joy. Our children need more fun. Our children need more experiences that aren’t graded, measured or judged, and just allow them to express themselves and their view of the world.
Simple things help us through these very complex and stressful times where our children face the heightened pressure of academics, the angst over constantly “achieving” and the phenomenal effort it takes to adapt to our every changing world. I understand what those cheering students who greeted me were saying. I, too, require more respite and fun creative time so that I feel more joy in my world.
Let’s listen to our children when they tell us that they want more happiness and more joy. I ask that you join me in being the “gateway” to their request.
If you are a parent, I urge you to take the time to create with your child, allowing a real sense of joy to flourish. Grab markers, glue, scissors and paper. Make cards, write a thank you note and decorate the envelope or make a gift for a neighbor.
If you are a teacher, expand a school project with added art supplies. It doesn’t have to be an extensive, serious painting project. Adding color, collage or different papers is all that it takes to let students’ creativity shine.
Lauren Perelmuter is the founder of Art to Grow On Children’s Art Center, Inc., which provides art programs to private and public elementary schools, preschools, city parks and recreation programs, camps, senior living facilities and individuals. Learn more at www.art2growon.com.