Some children say that reading is the hardest thing they must learn in school; therefore, we need to find ways to make learning to read easier for children. I use a hands-on technique called Creative Art Therapy. Creative art therapy ties together the learning and counseling aspects of group-centered prevention. A supportive group creates an atmosphere of acceptance. A simple craft project becomes a hands-on way of teaching decoding and encoding skills, social group skills, a method for initiating interaction and participation, the initiator for intrinsic motivation for reluctant children, and the means to provide step-by-step directions which help to increase comprehension. With creative art projects that are tied into the learning process and skills being taught, children are encouraged to set aside their fear and reluctance and try again. Craft projects should never be used as mere craft projects for the sake of completing a craft. The hands-on craft projects should become a teaching tool.
In my programs, we never just stop and finish a craft project so that children may take their project home. If the craft project is not finished at the end of a session, the student’s name goes on the project and it goes on the “to be finished” table. Why? Because the hands-on craft project is teaching decoding, encoding, spelling, comprehension, or reading fluency. Because the hands-on craft project is teaching team work, completion skills, and self-efficacy (belief in one’s ability to finish a task), and creates a standard for completing what you start. When the students return, they finish their project during free time, not just by finishing the craft project, but by returning to the teaching task and completing the decoding, encoding, spelling or comprehension task from the original workstation assignment.
Creative Art Therapy techniques help to heal the psychological damage caused by failure and teach students to try again and succeed by giving students the skills needed to be successful. Positive words are not enough. The student must be taught the skills necessary to succeed.
At my Reading Orienteering Club after-school program, each workstation incorporates hands-on exploratory activities to strengthen the learning process (Linley & Proctor, 2013). Hands-on teaching techniques encourage creativity, determination, persistence, commitment, and even control over actions and behavior (Kvarme et al., 2010). Research shows that children learn better through hands-on structured activities (Jensen et al., 2007; Trout, Lienemann, Reid, & Epstein, 2007). Creative Art Therapy uses hands-on projects as teaching tools to intrinsically motivate children to work on a difficult task. Creative art therapy uses intrinsic (internal) motivation rather than prizes or awards. Working with others in a positive group-centered structure also helps to motivate struggling students. The key to success lies in how the group is structured and how individual teaching techniques are incorporated into that structure (Durlak, Weissberg, & Pachan, 2010). Group-centered workstations provide an excellent environment for hands-on learning.
Along with group-centered prevention, creative art therapy blends counseling and learning together. Our counseling strategies focused on cooperation, kindness, helping others, respect for others, controlling anger, focusing attention, and learning to speak in kind and polite ways while working with others in a group. These counseling strategies are all incorporated into the hands-on creative art therapy interventions. Hands-on learning becomes a key ingredient in the group-centered, after-school approach used.