The Restorative Gift of Arts and Crafts

I’ve become interested in this question; what is happening when we engage in arts practice or craft making?

Teachers access craft making in the same way we access the alphabet. It is an essential component of education. There is often an accompanied bliss when children participate in arts and crafts. Many practitioners will share the same view, the art takes over, the process dominates, the outcome dissolves. I spoke with local Arts Therapist and educator Beth Buxton about her professional take on this.

“I think what is particularly powerful about engaging with creative media is that it brings us back to the present moment. It takes the mind out of the past or future, both of which can be the cause of a lot of stress”.

Beth has experience working with all age groups, yet what serves children also serves adults when they immerse themselves in creative tasks, 

“On a kinaesthetic level we are soothing and regulating the nervous system. Our hands have so many nerve endings so when we knead, paint, rub etc, we are triggering a calming response and feel safer. This is why we feel better when we make something! Its sometimes less about what we make, and more about just doing it. Although for some clients and age groups making something you feel proud of is important too”.

When I am on the beach with my children, I find myself arranging sticks and shells on the sand, creating mandalas or writing words. I love all ephemeral art, artistic moments that happen in the present and aren’t designed to last. Bringing treasures from outdoors inside and making fairy gardens, puppet shows and patterns on paper is one of my favourite activities to do with young people. 

I asked Beth what her ‘desert island’ craft would be, 

“Desert island craft… Definitely something with sand and water haha! Making watercolour wet-on-wet moons, or making a sand mandala out of shells, leaves, sticks, whatever I can find! I’m big on making art with what I can find around me and love to make quick expressions, that way I’m not precious about the outcome and also not contributing to extra waste. If I were to sit down to do something more sustained, I love painting gouache flowers and gardens, slightly 60s inspired with lots of colour. But if you’re thinking an actual craft then before I had kids printmaking was my thing. Now I love printmaking with kids, and my regular outlet is more movement based – yoga, breakfast dance parties with the kids, and mini-movement practices throughout my day.” 

I asked Beth about tips for supporting art practice with different age groups, 

“With younger kids I find I do a lot of sensory and play based stuff as this gives us a safe way to explore their inner world. We can then work with stories and symbols which feels like a safer and more understandable process than actual people or situations. Sensory play also helps them to regulate and manage emotions, which has to happen before anything else. Through learning to safely tolerate strong emotions we also help children to build their resilience for future situations.”

I have been lucky enough to observe Beth as a practitioner and she is exceptional at doing this. I found her calm, kind and understanding as well as responsive. I asked Beth about what is appropriate for older age groups, 

“As children grow their understanding and artistic expressions become more concrete, so working towards actual outcomes can be deeply nurturing and appropriate e.g. painting on a particular theme, a group mural/art, or weekly journaling prompts. It’s the same with movement and yoga – the older teens enjoy pushing their boundaries with more challenging poses which is of course developmentally appropriate”. 

And there is more good news from Beth

…”When we do things that help us feel joyful, on a neurological level we are actually helping the brain rewire itself towards greater confidence and security. It can even help rebuild parent-child attachment after trauma, which is one of the reasons it’s so powerful and restorative for parents and children (or educators and children) to make art together.”

Beth Buxton hosts a home-ed group in Raglan from the Scout hall on Mondays; she works as an Arts Therapist and is a mother-of-three, wife to Simon and all-round brilliant person. You can find out more about her work at: 

www.wildflowerscreativearts.com

By Katie Lowes