By  Phil La Borie

I have a friend who conducts art classes for children. One of her recent assignments for her younger students was to identify the various shapes we encounter daily; familiar shapes such as circles, squares, rectangles, triangles, etc.

When the children had learned how to name the various shapes and could draw them reasonably accurately, they were given the opportunity to turn these shapes into monsters and place them in an environment they liked.

My friend had cut out the shapes in various sizes that smaller hands could easily handle and then passed them out to her class.

The children then assembled the shapes to make the monster of their choice and glued the shapes onto a piece of construction paper. Some also drew eyes, teeth, ears, etc., on their monster. Others added different colored shapes to represent additional features of their monster.

Most of the monsters created were friendly and placed in familiar and comfortable surroundings. Some, however, were more ominous and were placed in some rather unusual settings. One was even in a volcano!

As she went around the room, my friend noticed that one student was busily constructing a rather ominous and threatening monster. The monster also had a name that was unfamiliar to her. When she asked the student who the monster represented, he simply said,

“My Dad.”

Talk about revealing! That simple statement said volumes about that child’s home life. What kind of monster was this man? What took place? I don’t know, but I’m willing to bet that it wasn’t very positive.

In my experience in art education, I’ve often noticed that kids will draw, paint or create three-dimensional objects at the drop of a hat. The end products are usually very positive creations. Some are better than others artistically, but who’s to judge? The fact is that they all can give us a window into the creator’s state of mind.

And, in this age of heightened political, economic, and racial tension, why wouldn’t children feel some tension themselves? Especially when adults don’t always filter their opinions or thoughts in front of them.

It’s no secret that children are like sponges; they simply soak up whatever emotions, feelings, and expressions they see and hear. Something to remember the next time a heated discussion or an argument breaks out in your circle of friends or at home. Little pitchers have big ears.

But the good news is that when children create art, it can bring out emotions that they may not even know they’re feeling, much less want to talk about.

To help her class find some focus and get a sense of themselves and the place they’re in, my friend sometimes starts off the classroom session with some simple meditation. The class takes their place quietly in a corner of the room, sits down, and closes their eyes. Then they concentrate on their breathing. Deep breaths in through the nose, deep breaths out through the mouth. A simple way to relax and focus.

I was initially somewhat skeptical that five to seven-year-olds could accomplish this, but you’d be surprised how easy it is for them. I once witnessed an elementary schooler who had a reputation for being a trouble maker stop in the middle of causing a disruption, draw her legs up underneath her, close her eyes and concentrate on her breathing.

When she was done, I asked her what she was doing.

“Meditating,” she replied, “Helps me calm down.”

When the class is relaxed and focused, my friend asks them to do what she calls a “mind drawing” – creating an image in the air with their finger. The idea is to paint a picture for someone very special to them. Something that will make that person happy.

The entire process is intended to make youngsters conscious of the importance of making other people happy, rather than simply focusing on themselves.

You might want to try making monster shapes and see what that brings out with your children or classroom.

And it seems that instilling the idea of making other folks happy couldn’t hurt.

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.