There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots; the other, wings. Hodding Carter.
Expressive arts are those activities which give children the freedom to let go: say what they want to say, be who they want to be, and do what they want to do–without the fear of what someone else may think. They allow a child to take control of something–an instrument, a ball of clay, a piece of paper–and do with it what he wants: express it in a way which says something about him, and makes him feel good about himself.
As an example, Clayton is a student in your class who academically is having problems in almost every subject. He has little interest in doing schoolwork. One day this changes. Your class is planning a party and Clayton asks if he can bring his record collection. You ask him if he would like to be the disc jockey, because you can arrange for a microphone. His eyes get bigger, as he asks you whether you can get the kind he holds in his hand and walks around with.
The day of the party Clayton comes in with a stack of albums, more than you thought he could carry. You discover that behind a microphone Clayton has an excellent radio-announcer voice and personality. He is a hit. The children are making requests, telling him he’s great, and he’s the centre of attention.
There is a world of opportunity in the expressive arts for you to help students learn about themselves, feel better about themselves, discover talents they never knew they had, and even cope with problems. However, as Judith Rubins, author of Art Therapy (1984), warns, a line must be drawn between art in therapy and art activities which have some therapeutic value. Teachers can give children many helpful and therapeutic art experiences, but they must not be too keen on unfurling their deeper psychological problems. You may bring up emotions from children which you do not know what to do with. Probing and interpretation in art are better left to those trained in art therapy.
Following are some suggestions on how you can nurture children’s expressions in the visual arts, music, and play. If you’d like some additional reading on the value of arts in education try reading No Easy Answers, by Sally Smith (1981). She directs the Kingsbury Lab School in Washington, D.C., a school for learning disabled students, which uses arts as the core of its curriculum.