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Social-Emotional Learning Through Art

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is the process through which people (of all ages) develop the fundamental skills for effective living. These are skillsets that we all need to manage ourselves, navigate our relationships and uncover meaningful work in effective and ethical ways. There are five core domains of SEL: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, positive relationship skills, and responsible decision making.

Making art in a community setting inherently offers people opportunities for skill development in all of these areas. Children especially, when invited into classroom and community spaces that are physically, emotionally and intellectually safe, are free to learn through and “try on” skills in these domains.

Elements of heART was designed with this in mind. The program scaffolds visual literacy skills and supports social-emotional awareness through an introduction to an accessible and “universal artist tool kit.” Students discover that everyone is an artist at heart through practice and play. They learn that the work of an artist goes beyond making great art to include a practice of making great choices. Young artists experience that they already possess the power of a growth mindset, which is their “most important tool” for becoming who they want to be in any endeavor.

As students experiment with each element, opportunities to develop self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, positive relationship skills and responsible decision making emerge and compound through group games, story, community circle discussions and development of their creative tool kit.

Developing this program confronted me with the uncomfortable truth that there were (and still are) areas in my own social-emotional development that needed attention. In fact, I had seen that the same was true for many of the parents I was supporting through Behavioral Therapy programs years before.

Through teaching art to children, I discovered what my own creative practice was doing for me: it was helping me develop areas of my self and life that needed my attention.

Designing this program was a playground for building my own artist tool kit while sharing it with others... while discovering along the way that the real work of being an artist has less to do with making great art and everything to do with becoming an authentic, multi-faceted person who shows up everyday to learn and contribute.

After seven years of teaching and developing this program, I can say with certainty that Elements of heART gives youth the foundation for establishing their own relationship to this dynamic journey of discovery.

Here in lies hope for our future; giving the keys to our youth so that they may unlock their own creative genius as they navigate the mess they are inheriting.

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