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Guest Blog: Art as a Tool for Creative and Mental Growth and Development

Art as a tool for creative and mental growth and development
Christine Rollins, MA, MSW, Art Therapist & Social Worker at ProTherapyPlus-Carrollwood Grove

As the school year begins, children return to many core subjects like math and science. But does your child engage in the arts during or outside of school?

Art-making is a natural, innate activity that we all are born with. Art and play are the natural language of children. The process of art-making can be an essential part of child development. There is a strong link between the use of arts and cognitive development such as: thinking and problem solving; improving language development and motor skills; and developing visual-spatial skills. Studies have shown that engaging in art can be an essential part of a child’s creative and mental growth. While we may think of creativity as specific to drawing a picture or writing a story – it also plays a large role in problem solving, resilience, and developing effective coping skills.

Engaging in art can be helpful in the early treatment of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The use of art can be an interesting crossroads for children with ASD because it is an activity in which their strengths (such as visual learners and sensory interests) and deficits (such as imagination and need for sensory control) merge. Among the above benefits of using the arts—it can also provide an opportunity to improve imagination and symbolic thinking, help manage and integrate sensory issues, improve motor skills, and increase self-esteem. Additionally, working on art together with another can help with social development and allow you to address social skills.

If you would like to engage with your child at home using the arts, here are some great ways to get started:

• Art making does not need to be costly. Take a walk outside with your child and find “treasures” in nature. Children use these materials most productively and imaginatively when they themselves help select and sort them. Make collages with the collections by gluing to paper, cardboard, or wood. Make leaf rubbings using paper and the side of a peeled crayon over different shape and size leaf.

• Use recycled everyday items in your home. These materials can include brown paper bags, different size boxes, cleaned empty food containers, writing and drawing tools, and little things such as buttons, shells, beans, beads, socks, popsicle sticks. These items can be used to create things such as rattles, puppets, small “houses” for little toys, and robots.
• Use sculpting materials, such as playdoh and model magic. Many recipes to make these can be found online.
          – Gluten free playdoh recipe:parents.com/fun/activities/indoor/gluten-free-play-dough-recipe/
         –  Model magic recipe: kidcreatestudio.com/homemade-model-magic/
• Drawing with bath paints or shaving cream on a tub or wall can be fun and easy to clean up.

• The emphasis on the process of creating the art is often more important than the final product created. The emphasis should not be on right or wrong, or a predetermined way the final product should look. Sometimes there may not even be a final product, and that is okay. It is in the creative process that children learn, explore, and create.

There are also Art Therapists, who are master’s level mental health professionals, that are trained in the use of arts and the creative process to improve and enhance the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of individuals of all ages.

To read more about Art Therapy and its benefits with children with autism, please read this article published by the Autism Society. http://www.art-therapy.us/images/art-therapy.pdf



Betts, D.J. (2005). “The art of art therapy: Drawing individuals out in creative ways. Advocate: Magazine of the Autism Society of America, 26-27.
Emery, M. (2004). Art Therapy as an intervention for autism. Art Therapy Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, p143-147.

Martin, N. (2009). Art as an Early Intervention Tool for Children with Autism. New York: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

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