To be clear: an occupational therapist (which I am) is not an art therapist. With that said, OTs use various methods to achieve functional outcomes and art is certainly one of those approaches. This post gives you an introduction to art therapy, including what an art therapy degree means, how art therapy helps kids and examples of art therapy ideas & activities for kids.
What is an Art Therapist?
There are three levels of credentials for art therapist: Register Art Therapist (e.g. has a masters degree and has undergone rigorous training including hours), Board Certified (e.g. same as above plus you take & pass board exams), and Certified Advisor (e.g. same as above plus boards plus an additional credential to supervise). I know that is a lot of information but good information to know as you seek out an art therapist.
Related Read: Occupational Therapy 101 for Parents
What is Art Therapy?
Are you looking for a definition of art therapy? Well, according to Psychology Today, “Art therapy involves the use of creative techniques such as drawing, painting, collage, coloring, or sculpting to help people express themselves artistically and examine the psychological and emotional undertones in their art.”
Furthermore, “With the guidance of a credentialed art therapist, clients can “decode” the nonverbal messages, symbols, and metaphors often found in these art forms, which should lead to a better understanding of their feelings and behavior so they can move on to resolve deeper issues.”
Art therapist function much like traditional therapists. In other words, you can find an art therapist working in private practice, a hospital, senior centers, jails, and holistic wellness centers.
Who Benefits from Art Therapy?
Art therapy can help people of all ages, including couples and other relationships. In other words, any person with a desire and/or a need to explore emotions, mitigate stress, help with anxiety & depression, or even assist in dealing with illness or disability.
The goal of art therapy is not to produce a glorious painting, sculpture, or other pieces of artwork. For that reason, I have been drawn to art therapy. You see, it is not about the end goal. Instead, art therapy is about the process. So, you don't have to be a rock star artist in order for this form of therapy to work for you.
Psychology Today writes that art therapy is “about finding associations between the creative choices made and a client's inner life. The artwork can be used as a springboard for reawakening memories and telling stories that may reveal messages and beliefs from the unconscious mind.”
In conclusion, art therapy promotes emotional awareness, personal expression, visual-perceptual skills, fine motor skills, and spirituality. I, personally, love art in all forms. I wish I could say that I do art projects with my kids or the kids with whom I work all the time, but that’s not my reality. I do, however, embrace the opportunities when I can either squeeze it in, promote it, or create open mental and time-space for true art!
Art Therapy Activities & Ideas
Here are SIX PICKS of relatively simple art activities that your kids will undoubtedly enjoy:
#1 – Construction Paper Collage
I did this one with my kid when he was three years old, so it’s easy and versatile. You can either do the prep work or have kids do it themselves. The older ones may like the prep. All you need are various colors of construction paper, scissors, and glue. I recommend cutting the paper (or even ripping it!) into small pieces.
Related Read: Torn Paper Collage
The pieces can be regular, like little 1/2 inch squares, or irregular. Put all the pieces onto a paper plate and have either a bottle of glue or another small plate/bowl with glue in it.
Put the glue on the opposite side of the paper pieces to encourage bilateral hand integration or crossing midline!
Give some ideas or model creating a picture with these little pieces of paper… think sunset over the ocean or little girl with a dog or birthday balloons. Frame the masterpiece or just hang on the fridge for some big kid-pride.
#2 – Design a T-Shirt
Again, this can be enjoyed by people of all ages!! All you need is a white undershirt and fabric markers. Use puff paint if you want to go totally 80’s! The trickiest part of this project is getting the shirt to stay flat and still while drawing on it. I recommend cardboard.
You can use an Amazon box—lay the shirt over the top and tape the sides over the edges of the box with masking or Scotch tape. You could also flatten the box or cut out a square and fold the shirt around that. Scribble, write, draw, or design your heart out.
#3 – Fashion Model
My 10-year-old daughter is getting into this one, but she has somehow convinced her 8-year-old and 5-year-old brothers to join it, so don’t rule anyone out. Fashion Model can be done with clothes and accessories that are already in your collective family closets and drawers.
My kids sometimes use inspiration from pop culture (have you seen Descendants??) or just play-themes that they’re into (i.e. spy). Scarves, belts, and someone else’s clothes make this super fun.
#4 – Plating Pretty
My husband is passionate about cooking and plating his food to look professional and pretty. All three of our kids are learning to love and appreciate food for nourishment, social power, and aesthetics.
Plating Pretty could be as simple as laying out tomatoes and cucumber slices on a bed of lettuce or as complex as frosting and decorating a cake. Picasso on a plate? Sure thing. Don’t forget to take a picture of your kid’s artwork to share with a friend or relative.
Related Read: https://carrotsareorange.com/montessori-art/
#5 – Clay Play
Playdough is a staple in most homes with young kids. If you’re like me, you have to grit your teeth when your kid opens a fresh container, removes the squishy cylinder of vibrant dough, and squishes it into a pile that ends up looking like a poop emoji.
BUT, this is art, folks.
Kids can make a beautiful rainbow with colored coils of separate colors or a glob of a color that you can’t even name. It’s equally gratifying to them, so hold off on making the “no mixing” rule. For a step up, try air hardening clay or try going into a real art studio to work some magic.
#6 – Dance Routine
I grew up dancing, and I remember making routines with a couple of my BFF’s or my sisters when I was younger. I keep encouraging my kids to do this, and they haven’t YET, but I’m convinced that they will fall in love when they do.
My kids love music, and the radio is almost always blaring in the background. (My kids have all left the room, but I sit here typing while “What’s My Name?” is blasting in the background).
A dance routine is not just freestyling. It applies certain moves to certain parts of the song, and it’s most impressive when more than one dancer can do the same move at the same time.
Try doing this WITH your kids. You will laugh hard… and probably get your heart rate up.
Related Read: Occupational Therapy Fine Motor Activities for Kids
Art, to me, is about expressing thoughts an emotions in an abstract way. It’s safe, it’s fun, and it’s meaningful. There are so many mediums to choose from.
Try them all!