Creating spaces of self-expression through Social Emotional Learning
-By Anthea Lobo and Angelina Susan Philip
“Born free. As free as the wind blows. As free as the grass grows. Born free to follow your heart…”- Matt Monro
Unfortunately, this is not our reality. Children enter educational institutions already bogged down by the weight of control and constraints. Frequent comparisons are made, children are pitted against each other so much so that their uniqueness is not recognized. Traditional assessment measures leave them with low self-esteem, anxiousness, stress, and a range of other emotions, which stifle their capabilities. What can be done to unburden them? Are there ways to help learners cope and gain a holistic educational experience?
Research has shown that Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is key in supporting students to reach their full potential to succeed in the realms of school, work, and life. While SEL may be a commonly used term, what does it really signify? Broadly, SEL is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply their knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions. (CASEL) Therefore, making it integral to self-efficacy, setting communicative goals and other facets of daily life.
Social-Emotional Learning can be implemented through various forms – in this article we explore how to achieve this CREATIVELY!
But what is CREATIVITY?
At its core, creativity can be the freest and most authentic form of self-expression. There is nothing more satisfying and fulfilling than to be able to express oneself openly and without judgment. The ability to be creative is to create something from personal feelings and experiences, possess the freedom to commit oneself completely to the activity, which in turn allows for self-reflection and nurtures one’s emotional health. Creativity does not have a definition, as what’s important in any creative act is the process of self-expression.
By integrating creativity in the implementation of SEL and life skills among children, SEL skills are taught through the process of creative self-exploration and inquiry. As a result, children are able to foster awareness, compassion, and self-expression for themselves and with the world around them.
SEL empowers children to find their voices, nurture their curiosity—to listen carefully, to ask questions, share and integrate their everyday experiences to reflect and become their best versions. Students exposed to SEL paired with creative exploration (Art techniques) at a young age are known to showcase more positive academic and social-emotional behavior including empathy, sharing, and mood control as compared to those who do not. (Menzer, 2015)
While there is evidence to show the need to integrate SEL and Art, there is a lack of educational establishments who emphasise the same. Moreover, the advent of Covid-19 further exacerbated existing disparities of those who did have access to any kind of school resources. The learning levels of 286 million children across India were significantly impacted due to school closures. (Unicef, 2021) Unfortunately, the effects of this were disproportionately faced by students belonging to marginalised communities. Needless to say, the amount of support and avenues for creative expression that these students were able to come by decreased; thereby, leading to students facing lasting and alarming effects on their mental health.
In an effort to create a safe space for creative expression, Pratham Education Foundation and Saturday Art Class came together and showcased 18 creative workshops. Social-Emotional Learning and Art were integrated and implemented for youth (aged 15-20) and children (aged 6-14) on the occasion of Diwali 2021 across various states of India.
These workshops were aimed at creating awareness, creative expression, and advocacy among youth coaches and children through the introduction of a Diwali-themed lesson plan, further delving into SEL-focused competencies such as developing personal awareness, social awareness and making responsible decisions.
The workshops began with children and youth coaches engaging in insightful, safe, and meaningful discussions regarding their personal understanding of the festival of Diwali, their likes and dislikes about the festival along with reflecting on various environmentally negative consequences the festival of Diwali created across the country and within their own communities.
Creative expression and problem-solving were introduced as children and youth coaches were further invited to brainstorm on eco-friendly alternatives to celebrating Diwali using Art. Thereby, engaging in a fun and creative art activity that included creating color paper lanterns and paper diya greeting cards. Children and youth were given the liberty to design their creations in ways that would help them address concerns they reflected on within their communities and in turn helped build their leadership and decision-making skills as well.
“During the Diwali Workshop that was conducted on YouTube, I learnt a lot about Diwali and we discussed a whole lot about the festival- the various sweets we eat, we spoke about lighting diyas instead and not bursting crackers, the existence of child labour in creating fire crackers and the effects of bursting crackers that causes pollution on land and in the air. During the workshop, ma’am provided us with many ideas about lighting diyas and also led an activity where we ourselves created our own 3D paper diya greeting cards. It was a very friendly and fun workshop and we learnt a lot!”
– Heamashree, Saraswati Vidya Mandir, 8th Grade
We find that by creating simple opportunities such as these where students are provided a platform to voluntarily choose to engage and creatively express themselves, builds a culture of learning outside the monotonous and formal settings in India’s education system. Community members are also given an opportunity to partake in such creative activities giving space to creating awareness about the importance of creativity, increase in community participation and in a way brings to the forefront incredible talents that students possess. These creative spaces are not only fun, reflective, but also help students build confidence in themselves. It is truly the need of the hour for more liberating experiences of this kind where students are provided opportunities to express themselves and flourish; especially in the new-normal world they are soon hoping to resume into.
About the Co-Authors
Anthea Lobo, Saturday Art Class
Anthea serves as Program Associate at Saturday Art Class and oversees partnerships, outreach and communications for the organization. With a keen interest and personal practice in the space of visual arts, along with Saturday Art Class, Anthea works towards creating spaces of expression and dialogue through personal pieces of art and illustration.
Angelina Susan Philip, Pratham Education Foundation
Angelina Susan Philip is currently working with the Digital Innovations team at Pratham. She is passionate about creating learning environments that intentionally strive for equity, justice, peace and belonging. She is interested in the Early Childhood Education space, particularly children’s conceptual development. She enjoys music, writing and travelling to other worlds through books in her free time.