Never has there been a greater need for this method in working with youth. Life in a country struggling with COVID-19 is proving to be an emotional pressure-cooker for children and teens adapting to new ways of learning in and out of school, and a sea-change in their social lives. Our guest bloggers are Dr. Marsha Nelson, Co-Founder and Field Supervisor of Creative Journal Expressive Arts (CJEA) Certification Training and Sarah Chaya Kost, LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor) and candidate for CJEA certification. Dr. Nelson discusses her extensive research with CJEA methods in schools in south Texas. Sarah Chaya shares what she learned from working with her sister as part of a case study in the CJEA Training.
If You Can Hold a Crayon
By Marsha Nelson, PhD and Chaya Sarah Kost, LPC
Doodle drawings are the simplest of all the CJEA techniques and are accessible to anyone old enough to hold a writing utensil. It is used in CJEA to help clients become comfortable using their non-dominant hands, and to release pent up emotions. There is little planning that is required for such an activity, and there is no expectation of how a doodle drawing should turn out. In CJEA, art is viewed as being process oriented because we are focusing on emotional release. The doodling prompt is easy, simple and effective in eliciting an emotional release response in adults and children.
In August 2003, the Creative Journal project was implemented into the Mission CISD in Mission, Texas under the direction of Aurora Anaya-Dyer, Twenty First Century Grant Coordinator and her husband, Jackie Dyer, Superintendent of the Mission CISD.
Dr. Lucia Capacchione and I, Dr. Marsha Nelson, founded the Creative Journal project which brought Creative Journaling, using blank journals with drawing and writing prompts on every other page to the students of this south Texas border town.
Implementing the Creative Journals minimally 3 times per week for 15 minutes a day helped the participants to increase their social and emotional awareness. Test scores rose, fewer absenteeism and tardiness were just some of the Creative Journal program benefits. These blank journals were never corrected or read by anyone other than the participant. Group sharing was optional. Teachers journaled along with the students. The journals were kept in a locked cabinet between use.
In 2014, the Creative Journal project became Creative Journal 4 Schools (CJ4Schools) under Project Insight, a 501 (c ) (3), and moved to Edinburg CISD to work with students and teachers in Jefferson Elementary.
Creative Journaling is a process which can encourage a child to begin talking about their feelings and in turn learn about how others are feeling as well. Especially during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, children are hungry to express themselves.
Fast forward, 2020, a Creative Journal Expressive Arts Candidate for Certification, Chaya Sarah Kost, LPC of Chicago, IL began working with her 7-year-old sister using the Creative Journal method as her CJEA Certification Training program case study. She too found how powerful the simple scribbling on paper activity can be for a child.
Over the course of six months, I (Chaya Sarah Kost) had the opportunity of teaching my seven old sister the CJEA method. The first activity that I taught her was doodling on paper. I came into the session confident that it would be an easy session and that her inner critic would not rear its ugly head. Unfortunately, I was mistaken. Not only was the activity not easily understandable for her, but it also sparked her inner critic into action right away.
My sister had a hard time understanding the doodling activity at first because she was used to doing art in a structured way at school. I think that the simplicity of expressing herself freely with no limitations confused her, because it was so different from anything she had known. In addition, she had an internal conflict with her inner critic who kept telling her that “it had to be perfect” and that she “messed up.” How sad it is that a seven year old child is already viewing her artwork as imperfect because of the subliminal messages she has been taught by her previous art exposure. Thankfully, during that session I kept repeating that it was a judgment free zone and that she could not doodle incorrectly. She ended up loving her doodles and did not want it to end.
Throughout the six months that I worked with my sister, we often returned to the doodling activity when she wanted to relax, or I wanted to refocus her if she got distracted or upset. If she was upset, I would say, "think of your frustration and use the crayons to scribble it out on the paper, then let me know when you are finished." I taught her that as soon as she feels that she got the feeling out, she could stop doodling and we would either close for the session or resume the current activity. Sometimes it took my sister five minutes and other times it was only 30 seconds. Once she channeled the feeling onto the page, I automatically saw a shift in her demeanor. Each time she used the scribbling technique, it amazed me at how quickly she would regain composure. It became a “get happy quick technique” that she thoroughly enjoyed.
Working with my sister made me realize how product oriented the school systems are. In schools, oftentimes the art projects that gain classmates’ and the teacher’s praise are the ones that are the copycat model of the teacher’s, while the child who made his or her own creation is frowned upon. I am not here to blame or point fingers at schools, because I do understand that schools need to rank children and give them grades. On the other hand, we cannot turn a blind eye to the damaging subliminal messaging that a truly creative child receives if he or she does not produce a picture-perfect copy of the teacher's project. Everyone wants to be praised and succeed in school. However, not everyone is born to create copycat art.
As an LPC, I believe that the doodling technique could greatly benefit schools across the globe if implemented into their art curriculum's to help children experience freedom of expression and learn an effective emotional release technique. It seems that most schools view scribbling as childish, and art as needing to be product oriented. I bet that if the schools really knew the power of CJEA and how it can assist in their students’ emotional well-being they would run to get all their students markers, crayons and journals. Until then, we can do our part to make a difference in the lives of their students by sharing the techniques to school children, one precious soul at a time.
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