Helping Kids Communicate through Art and Nature
By Kim Martinez, M.S., ITDS
Art and creativity can help toddlers and young children express themselves in ways they are not yet capable of through language. Therapists, specifically Art therapists and Play therapists, use art and art supplies to help children express themselves and work through concerns without having to put them into words they may not have yet.
Encouraging your child to create, explore and experience art and art supplies can help your child gain self-confidence, self-awareness and lower stress levels. Particularly when using nature and natural items, as this has been proven to calm and reduce stress and fatigue. The Child Mind Institute encourages parents to reduce screen time and increase Green Time as a way to boost mental health in children. https://childmind.org/article/why-kids-need-to-spend-time-in-nature/
According to Georgetown Behavioral Health Institute (GBHI), “The right mix (of expressive arts like music, art and dance) can improve overall well-being and contribute to lowering anxiety and stress, improving self-awareness and self-esteem, strengthening relationships, regulating behaviors and advancing social skills.” GBHI also states, “This is particularly evident in children with special needs, such as those with Autism, speech impairments, PTSD, developmental disabilities, ADD/ADHD or other mental and behavioral health conditions”.
Below are two fun activities to try with your little ones to explore nature using art and creativity:
1. Painting with Nature
Start by going on a nature hunt with your child.
Give them a large baggie to store their exciting nature finds
Older children can be given a list of things to search for to practice their reading skills
Rocks, leaves, sticks and pinecones make for great art supplies
After your nature hunt, set out child safe paints and paint brushes as well as paper and drawing supplies that are age appropriate
Your child can paint directly on the nature finds for their project or they can paint on them and then press them onto the paper to make prints with the nature items. This is called Nature Printmaking.
Many families have discovered the fun of painting rocks and hiding them in their community while searching for other’s painted rocks. This is a great way to teach a sense of community and connectedness to others. There are even local Facebook groups who share where they have hidden rocks so families can go on nature walks with their children to find them.
Cathy Malchiodi, ph.d writes for Psychology Today about “Child Art Therapy: How it works.” She shared that, “For children who may not be able to articulate thoughts, sensations, emotions or perceptions, it (art expression) is one way to convey what may be difficult to express with words”.
Our second art project encourages children to express themselves through drawing and journaling about their experiences with nature. This allows them to start the process of exploring feelings and feeling words.
2. Nature Journals
Start the art project by creating a simple book with construction paper cover, inside pages and a back page. A hole punch and ribbon is a great way to connect the covers and pages but staples work just as well.
You can have your child help put the book together or you can create it for them, depending on their skill level and age.
Go on a nature walk with you child and help them collect flat items in nature that they will be able to then glue into their nature journal.
Bring the journal along with a small supply of age- appropriate drawing supplies.
Find a comfortable place to sit and enjoy the sounds and sights of nature.
Have your child draw what they see or glue the items they found into their journal
Older children who can write already can journal about what they see, smell, hear and feel about their natural surroundings.
Younger children can dictate to you what they want you to write for them.
Drawings can be added throughout the journal.
Spending time with your child, enjoying nature and being creative helps parents strengthen relationships with their children. It creates a supportive environment, encourages trust and helps children develop social skills.
Kim Martinez, M.S., ITDS and her company, True North Counseling Services, help children and their families navigate childhood and beyond. Kim works with children ages 3-17, in her private practice, in the heart of Carrollwood in Tampa. She started her career as a public school art teacher and went back to school to become a mental health counselor after starting a family. Kim has worked with families struggling with homelessness at Metropolitan Ministries, parents needing extra support through Pasco Safe at Home and as an Infant Toddler Developmental Specialist with Early Steps over the past few years, all while building her private practice part time. With such a high need for counselors who work with children in Hillsborough and Pasco County, Kim transitioned to full time private practice in 2018. Parents seek out services from True North Counseling for their children who are struggling with anxiety, behavioral and/or school concerns, ADHD, LGBTQ related stress, issues arising from parent’s divorce and Highly Sensitive Children. Kim utilizes play, creativity, games and even hula-hoops in a playroom setting so that children and teens of all ages feel relaxed and safe while in counseling. Kim is actively involved in the counseling community having started two case consultation groups for counselors locally and writing blog articles for her own website and other play therapist’s websites. Kim is also focusing on helping bring quality trainings for other counselors to the Tampa Bay area.
Cohen, Danielle, “Why Kids need to spend time in Nature” Child Mind Institute, Childmind.org
Malchiodi, Cathy Ph.d, LPCC, LPAT, ATR-BC, REAT , January 31, 2016, “Child Art Therapy: How it Works”, Psychology Today, Psychologytoday.com
Unknown Author, August 2, 2016 “Benefits of Expressive Art Therapy for Children” Georgetown Behavioral Health Institute, Georgetownbehavioral.com
*All photos are purchased and downloaded from Adobe Stock. Stock.adobe.com. Standard licensing applies.