Grounding and calming kids affected by COVID-19

“Art is the tool that we use to help clients work toward their social and emotional development goals.”
Becky King showing art in her office
Gio's Garden therapist Becky King Offers children opportunities to express themselves through art.

“In the same way that a physical therapist might use an exercise ball as a tool to work with a client to heal, strengthen and improve their quality of life,” says Gio’s Garden therapist Becky King, “art is the tool that we use to help clients work toward their social and emotional development goals.”

Teachers and organizations like Gio’s Garden in Middleton have had to step up in recent months while facing barriers to providing care and instruction. Gio’s Garden, a nonprofit organization, offers respite care for children with special needs who are on waitlists or are otherwise unable to access adequate resources. News 3 Now evening anchor Charlotte Deleste, whose son Giovanni has autism and a rare form of epilepsy, founded Gio’s Garden.

Art therapy — which often feels much more like play — may consist of bubble painting, paper crafting or concocting slime. “Making art can be calming through repetitive motions and grounding through the materials used,” King says.

In the same way that adults may find knitting or gardening calming, a child can be put at ease with each brush stroke or pinch of clay while spurring artistic creativity.

Sarah Krajewski, a teacher at Cambridge Elementary School, also recognizes the importance of autonomy in the process of deciding your personality, likes, dislikes and other individual decisions as a kid — whether you have disabilities or not. By filling construction paper and canvases with their personal creations, children can better understand themselves and their role within the world around them.

“What color should I use here? How big should this sculpture be? What emotion do I want the viewer to feel?” Krajewski says. “Everything we do as artists is the result of a question being answered with a decision.”

When not flaunting her tiara, wings and wand as her art room alter ego, the Glitter Fairy, Krajewski wrote “Exactly YOU! The Shape of Your Feelings,” a short children’s book published last month that addresses self-esteem, anxiety and depression.

Sarah Krajewski in her glitter fairy outfit

Sarah Krajewski dons the attire of The Glitter Fairy as she’s known to her students at Cambridge Elementary School.

COVID-19 has exacerbated many inequalities — along the lines of race, wealth and other socioeconomic factors — and those with disabilities often face barriers in terms of accessibility and socialization in nonpandemic times. In addition to Gio’s Garden, organizations like ARTS for ALL Wisconsin are working to put on arts programming for folks of all abilities, where virtual song and music classes, drum circles and guided journaling sessions have been filling the void of otherwise in-person sessions for toddlers, children and adults.

“Children with physical, emotional or developmental differences are chronically isolated [and often] have relatively little freedom to control and change their lives,” says Christina Martin-Wright, ARTS for ALL’s executive director. “The arts offer powerful opportunities to let that authentic creativity flow and encourage the expression of that autonomy in a healthy way. … Just the act of creating something with your own hand, or instrument or body asserts your sense of self.”

This is partially why Martin-Wright, who recently joined the leadership council on Any Given Child Madison, is so eager for ARTS for ALL to get back at it following months of nationwide, shared-but-not-shared isolation.

Krajewski also understands the repercussions of what happens within her Instagrammable, brightly adorned classroom.

“As an art educator, I interact with every child in my school, which allows me to observe how kids relate to each other,” she says. “In addition to teaching students about art, my role as an educator is also to help kids figure out the best way to be good humans. This starts with practicing how to interact with their classmates and the people around them in a positive, respectful and kind manner.”

Cambridge is offering both virtual and in-person classes this year, but beyond the public health concerns, educators feel a pressure to respond to the emotional needs of their Picassos-in-the-making.

“I’m most concerned with the ability to support our students’ mental health. … So many of us [adults] are trying to figure out how to deal with our big emotions, which is even harder to do as a young person who can’t as easily identify the way they feel,” says Krajewski.

So the messes will continue to be made — just maybe sometimes from one’s kitchen rather than the classroom, and with everyday materials rather than fancy, art store counterparts.

Gio’s Garden is carefully chugging along, and ARTS for ALL is doing everything it can to reach its patrons where they are. Krajewski has a recently published book, King is touching lives with her counseling abilities and Martin-Wright continues to look forward to her favorite part of each class: the very beginning.

“The energy that is created in these initial moments is a joy to experience. … The atmosphere changes right before me as I feel a sense of belonging and acceptance, all wrapped up in the excitement of impending creation,” she says. “It never gets old!”

Read more about “The Healing Arts” here.

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