251 – Art to Heart: Using art groups to heal and create relationships between early childhood educators and children who have experienced trauma

Presentation - ECV2022-251

Art to Heart: Using art groups to heal and create relationships between early childhood educators and children who have experienced trauma

Shiri Hergass, Art2Heart Academy, Sydney (shiri.hergass@gmail.com)

Background: Following a request from a preschool in southern NSW, to support children with “big behaviours,” including hitting, swearing, and wrecking furniture, a collaboration developed to facilitate art groups within the centre, using the Seasonal Model (Hergass, 2019, 2021), working with both children and educators simultaneously and in tandem.

Aim: To build confidence and capacity for educators to connect and relate to children who have experienced trauma using art groups. The art group helps the children who may be desolate, angry, or reactive build trust and offers an alternative means of communication, enabling a deeper relationship.

Method: Qualitative action research using Yin’s (2003) case study design was implemented. The case study compromised a suite of 10 sessions. The southern NSW preschool had 33% of the families identify as Aboriginal, therefore decolonising methodologies (Smith, 1999, 2005) were applied through ongoing collaboration and consultation with the educators.

Results: The art group used an open modality, allowing each child to explore and express themselves in their own time and at their own pace. Following each group, a separate reflection with educators took place enabling educators to develop responsive practices to support highly traumatised children. The adapted model repositioned the focus from the individual children to the educator/child relationship as a strong relationship with an engaged, empathetic adult as the most important resource for childhood development. Children used the art groups to express themselves, in turn, creating a closer connection with their educators. Educators reported an increased sense of empathy toward the children, contextualising children’s behaviours and thus having a greater tolerance and appropriate response to “big behaviours”.

Conclusions: Meaningful relationships can act as essential intermediaries through which children can safely express their trauma non-verbally through art. Art groups run inside the classroom, alongside reflections provides educators with a space through which they can discover the positive impacts for themselves and the children in their care.

Implications for children and families: Children are provided with a safe space to freely express their emotions in a creative outlet. The act of art making is potentially transformative as it offers a shared focus providing a platform for meaningful relationships to flourish. Furthermore, art groups enable children to visually and non-verbally tell their story when communicating with words may be too difficult or they lack the vocabulary to do so. Additionally, art making enables children and educators to create a commonality, prompting a sense of connection and comfort.

Implications for practitioners: The Seasonal Model was developed with the understanding that the role of educators is both demanding and comprehensive and has a twofold purpose. The immediate task is to “settle” disruptive behaviours by supporting children to freely express through the art making process. The long-term goal is to provide educators with a practical model that can be implemented within the classroom to enhance teaching practices and overall educator well-being. Additionally, it provides a process that will enable a greater sense of confidence in educators within the classroom to address “big behaviours”.

Key words: children’s voices, professionals’ voices, Indigenous voices, innovations, well-being, communication, education, vulnerable communities, qualitative methods, theory, art

This presentation relates to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals:

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