Using Art to Find the Words
Silence doesn’t always mean an unwillingness to communicate. Silence can also mean the inability to discuss what weighs us down.
The classroom is extra quiet as students fidget back and forth looking at each other. Bright eyes fill with excitement and curiosity as they scan the page filled with intricate illustrations on their desks. The page opened before the group that day? It’s from Art with Heart’s Draw It Out therapeutic activity book. The group is a mix of students with varying backgrounds and family environments. In their books, students can identify some of their needs: stability, stronger language skills, and integration into the school’s community. But to Melissa Knudson, a Highline School District elementary school counselor, the group is more than just that. Melissa sees unique little individuals bursting at the seams to connect, learn, and trust.
Melissa constantly encounters the “what ifs” of working with children as a counselor. What if communication isn’t easy? What if a child doesn’t feel confident voicing their feelings or, even harder, what if language is a barrier? Melissa’s greatest asset is her toolkit filled with diverse opportunities to help children express themselves. One of those tools is Draw It Out, and using it begins with Melissa asking a simple question: “Why don’t you draw that for me?”
Melissa uses Draw It Out and other Art with Heart materials in varied and extraordinary ways. In group sessions on empathy, she uses them as aids for emotional processing, and in sessions with English language learners, she uses them as tools of communication. Melissa uses Draw It Out to help her better understand her students, their feelings, and their lives outside of school. Beyond that, using Draw It Out alleviates pressures that sometimes alienate students from participating in other activities. Melissa says that “Draw It Out allows students to process and create things that are not language dependent.”
Matías was one student in particular who stuck out in Melissa’s memory as she discussed the impact of Draw It Out in her work. Matías was very quiet in class and didn’t communicate much with his teachers or with Melissa. Matías had been in the US for a number of years, but since he never stayed in one place for long, he’d missed out on opportunities to build sustainable relationships with other kids. When he first began working with Melissa, she encountered a “what if.” What if Matías didn’t have the language comprehension to truly voice his emotional state? Melissa started with a handful of colors and a book with rounded corners meant to be hugged tight, one where writing wasn’t necessary. Melissa used a page from Draw It Out called Ocean of Emotion. Ocean of Emotion set the tone for exploring emotions, talking about body language, and describing where emotions are felt in the body.
The idea of mapping his family led to a feeling of security: he could relate to the idea of having family all over the place but still being connected by the heart.
The page allowed for dialogue in a new way. Matías also connected with other Draw It Out pages including the Totem Poles. The idea of mapping his family led to a feeling of security: he related to the idea of having family all over the place but still being connected by the heart. Melissa and Matías’s relationship progressed gradually, and the transformation was undeniable. Every day, Matías opened up more and more, and it wasn’t just during his sessions with Melissa. Now, thanks to the healing power of art, Matías is an empowered little soul wanting and willing to open up to other teachers and make meaningful connections with his peers.
Silence doesn’t always mean an unwillingness to communicate. Silence can also mean the inability to discuss what weighs us down. Using art as an extension of language provides a crutch to lift us up. Art provides a place to start to build confidence and trust, a place for the heart to take root and flourish.