Every person is an artist at heart. When we broaden our definition of art to encompass creating an expression of beauty or a moment of connection and meaning, we can see that this is the essence of what it means to be human...and every human is an artist.
Back in 2015, fresh out of grad school, I began teaching art classes to young kids (K-3rd). Prior to that I had worked as a Behavioral Therapist for years and had always found that incorporating art into my clients' programs was a powerful way to help them connect with themselves and with me as they learned to master various skills.
It was freeing to get to focus exclusively on teaching art because rather than a focus on my clients' skill deficits, the focus shifted to their abilities and a playful coaxing out of their curiosity and creativity.
Since I was used to weaving art into behavioral programs, it wasn't long before I found natural openings to incorporate social and emotional learning opportunities into the art classes I was teaching.
Those early days were fun, full of learning, occasionally stressful and overflowing with cuteness.
It started out with one class and a bunch of ideas. After a year, it grew into 3 classes. Then 6 classes, then summer camps. Every semester, I taught new projects and continued to build my bank of ideas.
After a few years, it was becoming clear that the kids loved my approach.
(I'd loved them from day one.)
In 2018, I self-published a compilation of illustrations and templates I'd created over the years into a workbook that I began using with the kids. It was full of coloring sheets and project prompts that incorporated creativity and character. The pilot was a hit and teaching with the workbook held new learning for both me and the kids.
Having the workbooks increased what we were able to do in our class time. It gave the gift of choice to the kids and allowed me to focus my planning energies on creating a series of "messy projects and creation stations" for students to rotate into. It also gave me an opportunity to experiment with sharing more books and community building games in our classes.
It was 2019 when I realized that the 3 inch binder of lesson plans I had compiled was a comprehensive, integrated art and SEL program. Admittedly, 2020 held a pause on life as we knew it, but it also held valuable incubation that extended into 2021 with a pivot into piloting new virtual programs in Language Arts and Mindfulness.
This year, it's finally time to publish the educators edition of Elements of heART. This is not a small project. So, for the next couple of months I'lll be sharing bits and pieces of my signature program, Elements of heART as I build the big hands edition of the program.
We started with a story about how the program came to be. To close, here is an overview of what the program is and how it has made a difference in the lives of thousands of kids with a celebratory knowing that it will make an even bigger impact in the hands of teachers:
The Elements of heART program teaches visual literacy and social-emotional skills for elementary age students through a playful, integrated framework of creativity and character lessons, or “artist adventures,” that are based in three core ideas:
1) Everyone is an artist at heart.
2) Great artists don’t just make great art, they also practice making great choices.
3) All artists need a tool kit and anyone can develop one. Plus, you already have the most important tool: your mindset!
Students get to rotate through a variety of “messy projects” that explore arts concepts through the lens of mindfulness, experimentation and developing a growth mindset. Nestled within short stories, easy games, and community-building conversations, students gain a deeper connection to themselves and their peers while developing the skills to continue building their interdisciplinary tool box.