22 Art Therapy Activities To Help Kids Identify and Manage Their Feelings


Art therapy can be a valuable tool in the classroom. Through the creative process, these hands-on projects promote self-expression, enhance emotional well-being, and offer new ways of identifying, processing, and coping with big feelings. Ready to get started? Here’s a list of art therapy activities to try in your classroom.

Note: The term “art therapy” in the context of this article is not intended to imply that teachers should act as therapists. While there are many potential benefits to providing students with opportunities to use art as a creative outlet in school, it is important to acknowledge that this is not the professional practice of art therapy.

What is art therapy?

Art therapy is a therapeutic process that integrates psychotherapy and art. Through the use of creative techniques such as painting, drawing, coloring, collage, and sculpting, people can express themselves artistically. In the therapeutic setting, credentialed art therapists can then help clients examine the emotional and psychological undertones of their art to better understand and process their emotions and behaviors.

According to art therapy manager Tammy Shella, “The main idea of art therapy is to utilize art as another form of expression, especially for things that might be difficult to express verbally. The art therapist and patient may discuss the art: what is included, the ‘story’ it tells, and/or the emotions it represents which can help the patient gain personal insight or understanding.”

In the classroom setting, although teachers won’t be acting as therapists, it can help kids explore their emotions, improve self-esteem, relieve stress, and ease anxiety and depression. Here are some simple art therapy activities that will help your students identify and manage their feelings.

Art therapy activities self-portrait collage
The Art Dream

1. Create self-portrait collages

According to research, self-portraiture can encourage self-reflection and accepting the self. Have students create collages that represent different aspects of their personalities or lives using magazines, fabric scraps, and other materials.

Get tutorial: Self-Portrait Collage

art therapy activities
Hands On as We Grow
Friendship bracelets
Sarah Maker

3. Weave friendship bracelets

Teach students to make friendship bracelets as a way to think about and appreciate their relationships. An added benefit is that some art therapists believe that just the simple act of concentrating on making the intricate designs can relieve stress!

Get tutorial: How To Make Friendship Bracelets

Clay scultping for kids
Art for Kids Hub

4. Carve out some feelings

The use of clay art therapy has been associated with physical, psychological, and cognitive improvement. Give students clay to mold and shape. They can create figures or objects that represent their emotions or significant life events.

Get tutorial: How To Sculpt a Person

Art therapy activities: masks for kids
City Arts

5. Make masks

In art therapy, creating or decorating a mask often leads to exploring different aspects of our personality. Sometimes we can create a mask that reveals things that are hard to express. Encourage students to make masks that represent how they feel. They can also decorate the masks to reflect the intensity and nature of the emotion.

Get tutorial: Mask Making With Children

Magazine collage for kids
Teaching Tiny Tots

6. Create a magazine photo mashup

Dr. Cathy Malchiodi explains the process of magazine photo collage as “using images to create a visual narrative that enhances the dialogue between client and therapist.”

Have students cut out images from magazines that catch their eye. Then give them a piece of paper and glue and have them arrange the images in a collection. If they are willing, ask them to narrate their process as they go.

Get tutorial: Magazine Collage

Personal flags
Pacon
Art therapy activities for kids: mood mandalas
Mrs. Talbert’s Art Class
Dream catchers DIY for kids
Art Bar

9. Make dream catchers

Some therapists use dream catchers to help promote better sleep in kids who experience nightmares or become “preoccupied with thoughts, worries, fears, or bad memories that can get in the way of a good night’s sleep.” Making them is easy and fun and can help kids feel more safe and secure at bedtime.

Get tutorial: DIY Dream Catchers

Storyboard comic DIY for kids
Storyboard That

10. Tell a hero’s story

Storyboarding allows kids to participate in a design method where they can tell stories by drawing emotional expressions. Have your kids create a comic strip or storyboard that tells a story of a hero—an alter ego of themselves—overcoming challenges.

Get tutorial: Create a Storyboard

Art therapy activities: worry dolls
Kidsactivities.com
Memory boxes for the classroom
Art With Mrs. Nguyen

12. Fill a memory box

Memory boxes “readily protect and hold memories, secrets, narratives, and emotions. They provide a space for creating, storytelling, exploration and documentation.” Have students decorate boxes to hold special memories, treasures, and items that are meaningful to them from the school year.

Get tutorial: Memory Boxes

Gratitude banners DIY classroom for kids
Art Bar

13. Hang gratitude banners

Expressing gratitude can provide physical and mental benefits such as decreased anxiety and depression, and improved sleep, mood, and immunity. A great way to bring this into the classroom is to have students create a banner focused on gratitude.

Get tutorial: DIY Banner

Puzzle DIY for kids
Kinder Art
Art therapy activities: feeling wheel
2monkeysandme

15. Spin a feelings wheel

A feelings wheel can help kids “learn how to understand and process emotions, increase self-awareness, enhance emotional communication, and boost well-being.” Have kids make a wheel on paper divided into segments that they can spin; each segment has a different emotion or coping strategy.

Get tutorial: DIY Emotions Wheel

Family sculptures
Art for Kids Hub

16. Craft a family sculpture

As an art therapist, Dr. Cathy Malchiodi recommends art therapy activities that encourage kids to create a family sculpture out of clay. The size, shape, and arrangement of family members invites conversations about the important people and relationships in their lives.

Get tutorial: How To Sculpt a Person for Young Artists

Using music as a prompt for painting
The Artful Parent

17. Paint the music

Did you know you could use music as a prompt? Play different types of music and have students paint what they feel when they hear the music. Remember, art and music therapies are less about creating a masterpiece and more about the process of self-discovery and healing. It’s OK to get messy (in fact, that might be the goal)!

Get tutorial: Music Activity for Kids

Art therapy activities: silhouette stories
ToT MaMa

18. Trace silhouette stories

Students trace their silhouettes on large paper, then fill the silhouette with images and words that tell their story. This social worker’s “Inside/Outside” idea has kids “draw and/or write about themselves (their ‘insides’) and about how others perceive them (their ‘outsides’).”

Get tutorial: How To Make a Silhouette Painting

Guided imagery drawing
Insight Timer

19. Guided imagery drawings

Guided imagery has been used for centuries to activate the mind-body connection. This can “enhance an individual’s sense of well-being” as well as reduce stress and anxiety. Lead a guided imagery session, or use a meditation app like Insight Timer, and then have students draw the scenes or feelings that they imagined.

Get tutorial: Mind Drawing

Personal poster activity for kids
Crayola

20. Design personal posters

Research shows that having poster media in the classroom can make learning more meaningful. Take that a step further by having students design posters with inspirational quotes or messages that resonate with them, using art and lettering.

Get tutorial: All About Me Project Poster Craft

Art therapy activities: stress balls for kids
Mindfulmazing

21. Squeeze stress balls

Studies show that squeezing a stress ball can help manage “temporary stress and tension by providing a tactile distraction and promoting relaxation,” which can be useful in the classroom! It’s easy to make stress balls into art therapy activities by making them with balloons and flour or rice. Then, kids can decorate the balloons with faces or patterns.

Get tutorial: How To Make Homemade Stress Balls for Kids

Life map drawing for kids
Thoughtful Learning

22. Chart a life map

Life maps can provide a visual representation of our journey, goals, and needs. When we are feeling stuck in a moment, it can help us see the big picture. In the classroom, students can create life maps of their lives, including past events, current lives, and future dreams.

Get tutorial: Drawing a Life Map

What art therapy activities have you used in your classroom? Come share in our We Are Teachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.

Plus, check out Apps To Combat Anxiety and Stress.



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