Art and Storytelling is a creative expression program for children aged 8 to 12. Designed to be conducted in schools, the Art and Storytelling program combines different forms of expression, personal creativity activities and moments for sharing with other children in the class.
Drawing and storytelling are favoured in the Art and Storytelling workshops since they give children a way to understand, transform and communicate their experiences, related thoughts and emotions. Creating a play space in the workshops permits children to express things that are too difficult to say or taboo (forbidden).
The Art and Storytelling workshops were originally conceived for language immersion classes given to new arrivals coming into contact for the first time with the public education system in Québec. Now, they are also held in regular school classes, which serve a fair proportion of young immigrants.
The Art and Storytelling program is designed for elementary school children, particularly in grades three to six (8 to 12 years old). At this age, children make increasingly complex drawings as they are in better command of the tools, materials and techniques of drawing. Their narrative skills become more sophisticated. At about 10 or 12 years of age, children usually exhibit greater control of expressive elaboration, reflecting a concern for transmitting more than mere information.
Immigrant and refugee children may experience the disparities between their different worlds (home and school, society of origin and host society, etc.). Drawing and storytelling equip them with tools to represent the disparities symbolically and bridge the gaps between these worlds.
Developing their drawing and storytelling skills empowers children to convey both information and emotions. This can increase the empathy among the children and foster solidarity in the class.
The material for the Art and Storytelling workshops is normally available in a classroom.
The stories can be told in one or more sessions, depending on their length. The 12-workshop program usually requires from 4 to 6 stories. When working with children from diverse cultural backgrounds, it is important to select myths, tales and legends from nondominant cultures. The stories are used to represent the tension and richness of a minority experience, although the traditions to which they refer are not necessarily those of the children participating in the workshops.
The stories are selected to evoke many themes: exclusion, migration, mutual aid, acceptance of differences, social justice and sharing, rites of passage (from one age to another), acceptance of limits and constraints, voluntary simplicity. The stories are adapted to allow the children to co-create them.
The young people are asked to draw a part of the story that caught their attention or any other situation that they considered important.
- A single sheet of white paper (11×17) per child, which can be used on both sides.
- One box of oil pastels for each group of 2 to 4 children. If possible, include colours to represent different skin colours.
- Other media can also be used (felt pens, paint, etc.). However, every medium has its particular properties. For example, oil-pastel colours are lively and attractive, but it isn’t easy to represent details with them.
This creative expression program consists of a series of 12 weekly workshops 60 minutes in length (one period). Two professionals in art therapy and/or in psychology, collaborating with the teacher, conduct them.
- Opening ritual
- Story period
- Free-drawing period
- Closing ritual
Each workshop starts with an opening ritual, promoting cohesiveness, which facilitates collective efforts. The opening ritual provides a transition space, easing the passage from the everyday space to the workshop space, between the academic space and the play space. There are a number of possible rituals. An intervention team member selects the most appropriate one.
Stories — myths, tales, legends or real-life stories — provide symbols and a safe, reassuring basic structure, sufficiently flexible to adjust to children’s needs. Stories help children represent their experience and emotions.
The story period can proceed in three ways:
- Stories are told interactively using co-creation (the children propose story elements and make sounds and gestures). To encourage them to develop their imagination, no visual aid is provided.
- In small groups, the children can recount personal stories about their voyage or visualize various stages in the journey of their chosen character. To fuel the process, the team members conduct a visualization activity that also stimulates the children’s imagination.
- The children tell stories about their family and/or their culture of origin. This component strengthens the dialogue between the children and their parents and helps bridge the gap between home and school by introducing the family symbolically.
The children are invited to do free drawing (related or unrelated to the stories) in small groups, while the adult moves from one to the other, asking open-ended questions. This is a subtle way of accessing the children’s inner world, leaving them free to decide what they wish to share.
The closing ritual helps close the sharing space. In those few minutes, it is important to give young people the opportunity to describe their experience during the workshop. A word or phrase is often enough. Then the opening ritual can be repeated to close the session.
The creative expression programs have been revamped since they were first implemented to adapt to the needs of different clienteles.
The Art and Storytelling program inspired the school program called Witcihiwewin Atisokan (Soothing and Supportive Stories). It has been operating in the Atikamekw community of Wemotaci since 2006. The workshops use traditional Aboriginal tales told in the Atikamekw language. In this project based on the principles of participatory research, the remote Aboriginal community took ownership of the program: the Aboriginal teachers conducted the workshops, assisted by community storytellers and supported by an advisory group composed of mental-health, art-therapy and anthropology professionals. The experience was very positive. The program includes a philosophical component for children and benefits from the involvement of the community elders, providing a safety net for children with particular emotional needs.
The children of Bas-Saint-Laurent
The Art and Storytelling program was originally designed for immigrant and refugee children in Greater Montréal. Yet, children from disadvantaged urban or rural environments also face severe adversity, though it may take different forms. Some children from disadvantaged backgrounds experience academic delays because of the gap between their family’s value system and the school’s. Intervention that promotes creative expression may have a positive effect on the children because it bridges the gap between the school culture and that of the home and it introduces cognitive, linguistic and emotional stimulation with the support of a significant adult.
In 2009, CEGEP de Rimouski and Erit jointly developed a training program (AEC Techniques d’animation d’ateliers par l’expression créatrice auprès d’enfants de 4 à 12 ans) for professionals in the field of childhood. The training program aims to enable professionals to set up safe spaces in which the children are free to express themselves creatively. The first cohort was formed in 2010-2011.
The Park-Extension Youth Organization (PEYO)
The Transcultural research and intervention team (Erit) partners with the Art and Storytelling project team working in the Park-Extension Youth Organization (PEYO). Over the years, the community organization took ownership of the project, adapting it to the realities of six- to 12-year-olds in Parc-Extension.
A qualitative analysis of the effects of the workshops in elementary school has shown that working with myths promotes the construction of meaning in children who have undergone the trauma and uprooting of immigration by enabling them to build their own adaptive strategies (Rousseau & Heusch, 2000). The data also tend to indicate that working with myths helped rebuild social relations (Rousseau, Bagilishya, Heusch, & Lacroix, 1999), making it easier to bridge the gap between the home and school, the inner and outer worlds, and the past and present (Rousseau, Lacroix, Bagilishya, & Heusch, 2003).
A quantitative assessment of the program (quasi experimental approach) (Rousseau, Drapeau, Lacroix, Bagilishya, & Heusch, 2005) has revealed that after participating in the Art and Storytelling program, children showed significantly reduced internalizing and externalizing symptoms and significantly increased self-esteem, particularly in boys.
- A DVD presenting the Art and Storytelling approach and concrete activities with children and teenagers is available upon request. Contact the Creative Expression Team to order a copy.
- Rousseau, C., Bagilishya, D., Heusch, N., Lacroix, L. (1999). Jouer en classe autour d’une histoire. Ateliers d’expression créatrice pour les enfants immigrants exposés à la violence sociale. Prisme, 28, 88-103. (hyperlien sur le titre vers documents du même nom)
- Rousseau, C., Drapeau, A., Lacroix, L., Bagilishya, D., Heusch, N. (2005). Evaluation of a classroom program of creative expression workshops for refugee and immigrant children. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 46(2), 180-185. (hyperlien sur le titre vers documents du même nom)
- Rousseau, C., Lacroix, L., Bagilishya, D., & Heusch, N. (2003). Working with myths: Creative expression workshops for immigrant and refugee children in a school setting. Art Therapy, 20(1), 3–10.
- Rousseau, C., Singh, A., et al. (2004). Creative expression workshops for immigrant and refugee children. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 43(2), 235-238.
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- Lakshman, R. (1999) Union is strength. «Night-time stories from the Panchatantra». Aurora Book Company, India. Some pigeons looking for food discover that by working together they can find a solution to their problem.
- Wisniewski, D. (1992). «Joueur de pluie». L’école des loisirs, Paris. In the land of the Maya, a young boy named Pik challenges Chac, the god of rain, to a game of Pok-A-Tok and wins. It rains again in the village.