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Art Activities for Children and Young People in Need
Diana Coholic
Helping Children to Develop Mindfulness, Spiritual Awareness and Self-esteem
Art-based activities can develop resilience and self-esteem, enabling children in need to cope better with ongoing stress and loss. Arts Activities for Children and Young People in Need offers interventions and exercises drawn from practice and research, for practitioners to use as a basis for their own arts-based groups or one-to-one sessions. Holistic arts activities facilitate a spiritually sensitive approach. Mindfulness-based exercises underpin the approach, and include guided meditations in which a group imagines that they are clouds, or draw feelings and emotions while listening to music, to encourage awareness of the senses. The activities help the group to relax and become more self-aware, encourage an exploration of feelings, values and understanding and are beneficial for children not ready to embrace traditional therapies or counselling. This book is accessible and suitable for helping, health and education practitioners and students from a variety of disciplines, such as social work, psychology and counselling.
Review:
Encouragingly, the use of arts activities to promote health is becoming more mainstream. With an aging population, an increase in chronic conditions and epidemic levels of diagnosed anxiety and depression, the NHS simply can’t afford to do what it’s doing now for increasing numbers of people. There’s a very real ‘self-care’ agenda which, in addition to making money go further, also has the potential to empower people to take better care of their own health. Many people ‘know’ that singing, writing, painting, cooking, gardening or any other absorbing, expressive activity is beneficial for them and participate accordingly. Others may need GPs, social workers or mental health professionals to encourage participation in safe and sensitive environments, such as those described in Diana Coholic’s useful and thoughtful book.

There has been a long-recognized feel-good factor to engaging in the arts but the mechanism by which, for example, regular personal writing can demonstrably improve conditions such as asthma, arthritis and chronic pain (measured by decreased use of medication) and lead to less ‘frequent attending’ at GPs, is still mysterious. There are many theories as to what happens in ‘the black box’ but Diana Coholic identifies three possible mediators in her subtitle – arts activities can be useful in ‘Helping Children to Develop Mindfulness, Spiritual Awareness and Self-Esteem’.

This book focuses on how arts activities can help children who, for whatever reason, are ‘in need’ and so likely to be under the child protection service. She provides valuable discussion of how to engage young people who may have difficulties concentrating. She offers suggestions for encouraging them to engage, acknowledge and ultimately manage their complex emotions through various kinds of games, activities and discussions. One of the ways in which the arts can be a useful intervention is that they allow participants to keep painful issues at a manageable distance. For example, when a child is discussing her collage, his dream or a poem, he or she can disclose as much or as little personal information as they wish.  

In her introduction, Diana Coholic suggests that combining mindfulness and the arts is relatively new. I would argue that mindfulness is an essential aspect of creative writing, especially poetry or personal writing. Simple visualizations, breathing exercises or short meditations can be useful in adult creative writing groups, especially in health settings, helping to create an atmosphere of focus and providing a transition between the hustle and bustle of the outside world and the writing session. Diana Coholic recommends making such exercises shorter and more basic for children to ‘help build a foundation of skills that include listening, paying attention, focusing and being grounded in the moment before more complex and abstract tasks and methods can be facilitated’. She describes a lovely concrete metaphor for this - putting beads and bobbles, representing our thoughts and feelings, into a jar half full of water, swirling it around, and then watching calm descend. Concrete metaphors, ‘realia’ (including natural objects brought in) and rituals can all help ‘ground’ arts sessions. Diana Coholic describes how she relates having healthy snacks as part of a session to children writing ‘Recipes for Success’ (ingredients include love, friends and so on) - this is nourishment on multiple levels.

Spirituality has long been marginalized in the helping and health professions, yet spiritual issues are often those that people, including children, most want to explore in writing, especially when they may have experienced bereavement, abuse or other losses. This book gives examples of facilitating discussions around the meaning of life without imposing particular agendas. There are also examples of working with children’s dreams - another important and neglected dimension of all our lives.

Whilst this book doesn’t focus specifically on writing, it is easy to see how the various non-writing activities can be extended into creative writing, not just for children but adults too. Often when working with people ‘in need’, the most valuable aspects of the sessions are the discussions prompted by the activities. Crucial to developing ‘mindfulness, spiritual awareness and self-esteem’ is the way in which these discussions are facilitated and held so that feelings can be safely explored. This book’s careful consideration of the ‘how’ as well as the ‘what’ of arts sessions will make it a valuable addition to the library of any practitioner.  

Victoria Field
Arts Activities cover
Additional Information:
Cost:
£19.99, paperback
Published:
Sun 14 Mar 2010
Publisher:
Jessica Kingsley Publishers
Issue Number:
ISBN 9781849050012
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