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Creativity and Kids

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Art to heart: how creativity helps kids find themselves

In 2005, the International Criminal Court accepted images of the alleged crimes committed in Darfur as supporting evidence. But unlike forensic photographs or sketches you would normally associate with criminal procedures, these images were the colourful, graphic and emotionally-rendered drawings created by Sudanese children between the ages of 8 and 17. The pictures do more than bring to life the atrocities committed in Darfur, they also allow us to glimpse the war through the eyes of those most tragically affected by it. Moreover, the children’s pictures indicate the depth of emotional turmoil they experienced and illustrate how children may access a process of healing through creativity.

Art as therapy

Although children acquire language at a rapid rate, for most, expressing emotions through language is a task they will only truly master well into maturity. The areas of the human brain associated with “executive functions” such as planning, working memory, and impulse control are among the last areas of the brain to mature; in fact, they may not be fully developed until halfway through the third decade of life. It is only then that we may begin to fully interpret, articulate and regulate emotions. This explains why children may find it difficult to explain how they are feeling with words, which is particularly true for those who have experienced trauma, or who are experiencing emotional or developmental challenges.

Other benefits

Art is one way for the children to fully realise and communicate their feelings. It can be used as a safe and non-destructive emotional outlet, but it also has benefits for cognitive development. Aside from being a calming, intellectually stimulating activity, practicing art helps develops fine motor skills, problem solving abilities and physical dexterity which, in turn, gives them a sense of mastery and control, contributing to improved self-esteem.

A study undertaken by the American National Endowment for the Arts (1996), found that education in the arts “has a measurable impact on at-risk youth in deterring delinquent behaviour and truancy problems while also increasing overall academic performance”. Part of the reason for this is that art has the ability to teach young people tolerance and appreciation for cultural and social differences.

Perhaps the most important aspect of art is that it allows children to experience the thrilling potential of their own imaginations. Art opens the door for the experimental and imaginative possibilities of the mind, giving children a safe and constructive medium in which to unlock their inherent creativity.

Picasso famously said that every child is an artist; the only problem is how to stay artists as they grow up. By giving children the chance to exercise their artistic abilities they can develop into creative, balanced, ambitious, caring adults, and we’ll reap the rewards of a society built by their generation.

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