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What Does Online Art Therapy Look Like?

The art-o-biography book is the central project in Art Therapist and Family Advocate Manager Donica Snyder’s Art Therapy class, which is offered through Florence Crittenton Services for credit toward a Denver Public Schools diploma. Teen moms create a…

November 16, 2020
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The art-o-biography book is the central project in Art Therapist and Family Advocate Manager Donica Snyder’s Art Therapy class, which is offered through Florence Crittenton Services for credit toward a Denver Public Schools diploma. Teen moms create a timeline of their life through art, showing moments like the birth of their child, their family, and sometimes traumatic events they have experienced. During the process, they work through their emotions with Donica. At the end of the class, each girl has a meaningful book that shows her progress and understanding of art and herself. But how does this project translate to the remote learning setting? It would be difficult to provide each girl with the amount of materials needed at home to create the art-o-biography book. Donica did not want to ask her young moms to work through potentially difficult emotions and traumatic events without her there in person to provide the necessary support.

Teen mom Marlene worked on her book with Donica last year

Donica asked herself, “What do they need right now, and how do they successfully get their education? How can I be as ethical as I can to give them the therapy that I give from here in the classroom?” She landed on meditation. “A lot of people could use meditation during this crisis, but the girls are not going to sit and meditate,” says Donica. “Zentangling® is a way to doodle that mimics meditation. You get all the benefits, and you also get a really cool design at the end. Plus, in order to teach Zentangling®, you have to teach the formal elements; you have to know about line, shape, value, form, pattern, and composition.” This was an art project that would not only fulfill the educational part of the Art Therapy class, but the therapeutic element as well, and would require only a pencil and piece of paper.

Donica created a new curriculum for her class. She delivered packages with various types of pencils, pens, erasers, pencil sharpeners, and a workbook to the home of each mom who was enrolled in her class during Quarter One. She built worksheets that walked them through techniques like learning the difference between the pencils she gave them, and taught them how to draw a line and a shape. “It gives them the confidence that a pattern is really not that complicated; you don’t have to overthink it,” she explains. That confidence in creating art, which many of her students lack at the beginning of class, helps each teen mom eventually create a Zentagle®—a shape split into sections with a repeated pattern in each section. “When they’re making this, they sit and they breathe, and they’re concentrated in the present moment,” describes Donica. “They’re getting all these benefits, and watching the design come to life.” For the final Zentangle® project of the class, Donica will buy three wooden letters for each girl that can represent any three initials they choose. Each girl will Zentangle® her letters and then be able to hang them on the wall in their home.

Donica has learned a few things about her new curriculum in the remote learning setting. “Teachers are really doing everything they can,” she says, and that often means adjusting teaching style as they go to fit the needs of students. “The first couple of pencil worksheets I got were all wrong, and I thought the directions I gave were fine,” she remembers. Donica realized that the girls may learn the technique better if she showed them, and so she recorded herself going through the worksheet. The girls completed the pencil worksheet assignment perfectly. “I realized that I need to film me doing everything, so they can follow along with me,” says Donica. This flexibility, attention to student needs, and willingness to change teaching style is what keeps our teen moms engaged and learning.

A teen mom in Donica’s class fills out the pencil worksheet that Donica created

The stress of online learning is real for FloCrit’s young moms as they juggle schoolwork with parenting, jobs, and distracting study environments. “They’re taking four or five other remote classes,” says Donica. “My class can be the one that keeps you connected and coming online.” Donica hopes that each young mom walks away from her class with the knowledge of how to bring their stress level down. For her, “That’s my whole job. We’re going to take a break and breathe.”

Classes and programs like classroom-based Art Therapy are essential to the social-emotional growth and ultimate success of our teen mothers. Help us continue to provide programs like this by making a donation.