The art of communication

Dancing for healing and rites of passage, painting for contemplation and insight, drama for communication and enactment, music for relaxation and connection, or poetry for expression.

Expressive arts are one of mankind’s most important healing resources, and they play a significant role in health traditions and children’s education.

For students with language difficulties, the nonverbal nature of expressive arts are a more suitable approach compared to others.

The expressive arts act as a bridge of communication, helping children positively convey their thoughts and emotions while also helping them to assimilate knowledge.

Despite this, expressive arts therapy in Hong Kong is still in its infancy.

Rainbow Ho, the program director of the city’s only master of expressive arts therapy program, offered by the University of Hong Kong, recommends that more resources be devoted to further developing expressive arts-related research and job opportunities to benefit more children in need.

Recent research in Hong Kong shows that children, especially those with special education needs, had higher social competency scores after taking part in expressive arts-based workshops, suggesting that they felt more confident around other children and were more willing to interact with others.

This research is part of the three-year Jockey Club Expressive Arts Program for Children, which was supported by the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust and took place from July 2017 to last month.

The 809 children – all aged between six and 12 and from 40 schools and community centers – who took part in the 27-week Make It Better workshop program were more expressive, interactive and had better problem-solving abilities and autonomy.

This is because they were able to use expressive arts to share their thoughts and give others greater insight into their feelings.

Organized by the Sovereign Art Foundation in collaboration with the Centre on Behavioral Health at HKU, the workshops revolved around four main themes: self-awareness, interpersonal skills, community and the environment.

Through a series of individual and group art activities, children learned how to use language to express affection, manage their emotions, respect nature and care for their community.

During these workshops, they were encouraged to actively explore, express themselves and enjoy the creative process.

“The different expressive arts modalities, such as visual arts, body movement, drama and music, embrace each student’s unique form of nonverbal expression and allow them to communicate their emotions in a meaningful way,” said Mimi Tung, the foundation’s head of program design and lead art therapist.

“The four major modules nurture a child’s holistic development, contributing positively to their overall well-being.”

Ho, who also spearheaded the research team at the center, believes that the project’s results fully affirm the effectiveness of arts as an intervention method.

“The activities are easy to follow, highly engaging and fun, which makes it especially suitable for children in an educational setting,” she said.

The program also included Train-the-Trainer workshops for educators to equip them with the skills needed to incorporate the arts into educational settings.

The research showed that educators who completed the Train-the-Trainer workshops reported significant increases in general self-efficacy, teacher self-efficacy and perceived relationships with students.

Most of those who took part indicated that they had gained a deeper understanding of the expressive arts approach and how it could benefit their students, especially those who lack the verbal skills to express themselves effectively.

In addition, the foundation has organized more than 60 community activities, including seminars, school and community art fun days and exhibitions to raise public awareness of the use of expressive arts.

“Through this program, we’ve witnessed the enormous benefits that expressive arts can have on the vital relationships between children and their caregivers and teachers,” said Tiffany Pinkstone, managing director of the foundation.

“We hope to help promote wider understanding around the importance of art as a tool for communication and the importance of a holistic education for our children.”

(This article was published at The Standard on February 23, 2021: Education: The art of communication )

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