Let’s look at an example from my Reading Orienteering Club program in Corpus Christi this fall. The children arrive at 4:00 PM. They have been in school all day, but they arrive eager to see what awaits them because as soon as they walk in the door, they find a brand-new hands-on paper project waiting for them. I start with very simple projects at first: a paper alphabet snake, a paper panda puppet, and a tissue paper ant named Alfred (“Alfred Ant” for the letter A!). Each of these hands-on paper projects become puppets in the weekly puppet show. Each of these puppets is covered in captured words. A captured word is a word the child does not know, cannot read, or cannot spell. We capture the word and use 4 steps [see my blog post from 2-14-18 on the 4 steps] in learning the word so that we add this new word to our reading and comprehension vocabulary. Using a simple paper puppet, the children start the late afternoon program excited. Then, they are excited to go from workstation to workstation to find new words to capture so they can finish their puppet and take it home. Each puppet is assigned a certain number of new words that it must capture before it can join the puppet show and go home. In this way, five minutes tracing a puppet pattern becomes not a waste of time, instead, a paper hands-on puppet becomes an intrinsic motivator and a teaching technique for helping children to learn new words [for more see my blog post from 3-17-18].
You may be asking, could you not accomplish the same thing with a worksheet or a simple cut-and-paste activity? No, Creative Art Therapy involves making a project, a puppet the child can then go on and use in a puppet play or take-home to practice with. Worksheets simply do not have the same impact as a creative art project. Be careful, because Creative Art Therapy is much more than just simply making a craft project. Children love to make craft projects, but Creative Art Therapy projects are teaching tools.
Creative Art Therapy hands-on projects encourage children to go out and learn new words, work on vowel sounds that may be difficult for them, and read challenging stories and puppet plays. We have a rule at my reading programs that projects do not go home until they are finished. A finished project must include the 20 or 30 capture words included in that session. It’s about finishing what is being taught for that session. In this way, Creative Art Therapy projects become a basic part of teaching. Our goal is to teach children to read at their age level.
Creative Art Therapy projects also teach completion skills—finishing what you start. We use Creative Art Therapy projects to accomplish that goal. Why?
First, research tells us that combining learning and counseling together in one program is a much more effective way to teach students to read (Kvarme et al., 2010). When you combine teaching and counseling together in the same program, you have a much stronger teaching approach (Baskin et al., 2010; Brigman & Webb, 2007; Huang et. al, 2005). Creative Art Therapy projects also have a healing factor. They help students overcome the sense of failure that comes from not being able to read like other students in the classroom (Jensen et al., 2007; Trout, Lienemann, Reid, & Epstein, 2007).
Creative Art Therapy projects work hand-in-hand with intrinsic motivation, offer something new and challenging, and help students rebuild self-efficacy or the belief that they can learn to read (Bandura, 1977). The more involved students become in the process of learning to read, the more students will improve in reading (Froiland and Worrell, 2016; Reeve & Lee, 2014).
My next post, coming later today, shows how Creative Art Therapy motivates children to read while combining learning with counseling.