It’s More than Just Painting ~ What’s Actually Happening When Children Learn to Paint

January was Art Month at El Refugio.

It is our summer break here in Costa Rica and children as well as adults flocked to the art table each afternoon to learn from our visiting art teacher how to paint with water colors. We also had special morning sessions for those showing an interest for a more intense project. It was a huge success!

So when we talk about painting and children, a few questions may come to mind:

Why invest time in teaching a child to paint?

What is the value of it?

What difference will painting really make in a child’s life?

Well, when a child is learning to paint, much more is happening than meets the eye. Especially for children at risk who do not have these opportunities in their homes, schools or communities.

There are actually a lot of reasons why art is a big focus for us at El Refugio.

It’s Essential for Brain Development 

Creative activities, like painting, help the brain develop.

Listen to this:

Physiologically, the human brain consists of 2 parts, the left and the right hemisphere.  The left brain is used in logical thinking and analytical processes.  This is typically what is trained in school work that consists of math, reading and science.

The right brain is used in emotional perception, intuition and creativity.  It is the right brain that is mainly used when a person is involved in creative endeavors such as making art.  It is this part of the brain that typical school environment neglects to train.

It is shown that when gifted kids solve problems in their areas of giftedness, there is increased electrical activity in both hemispheres.  It appears that for the brain to be efficient, the two hemispheres of the brains must work together.  By stimulating and exercising the right hemisphere of the brain, the arts strengthen the connection between the hemispheres.

Kids should be exposed to the arts as their cognitive skills mature so that their right brain will be as developed as the left, and both hemispheres work in tandem, thus achieving the full potential of the mind.

Through painting children learn to think creatively, with an open mind

They learn to express themselves more deeply,with or without words.

They develop critical-thinking skills and must make decisions about what works and what doesn’t on their own.

By learning to paint, children gain a skill which they can be proud of. It gives them a foundation to look at the world with confidence,  knowing they can accomplish a goal.

For children with physical, emotional or learning challenges, they can experience success in the arts.

The response they get from others in regard to their work can boost their self-confidence. Because there is no right way in the arts, children who paint can be proud to be unique and to express their artistic style.

Children need to work with other children and adults while they’re learning to paint. This interaction will boost their confidence, and also give them social skills to help them in other aspects of life.

Painting provides a sanctuary for children. When they’re stressed, they can turn to painting to lose themselves in the brush strokes.

The act of creating provides a soothing place for them to turn to, and the feeling of accomplishment from completing a project can help replace negative feelings about other things.

It can act as a type of therapy, helping bring out their feelings through painting.

Children who are involved in painting gain a lifelong appreciation of art. By teaching children this skill, you’re also opening them up to an entire world of artistic expression.

For this little toddler, his very first scribbles represent a huge milestone in his physical development.

This mom painted for the very first time in her life. Through the weeks we saw her confidence soar and joy increase as she came with her children to paint each day.

This is our bulletin board. I wish you could see the children’s faces when they enter and see that their piece of work is proudly displayed!

Expressing themselves through painting allows children to take part in an activity that is fun and fulfilling.

It will help develop a stronger brain, give them critical-thinking skills, make them more creative, and provide a daily refuge they can turn to for stress relief.

And that’s why painting with children is more than “just painting.”

It’s worth the mess, the clean up, the time and energy. It’s worth it all. Because the benefits are so huge.

To truly appreciate the beauty and joy captured in these photos you have to understand where these children are coming from.

They live in small, cramped houses. Often single parent homes, or being raised by an older sibling. Abuse and incest is at 67% in Costa Rica and in these poor neighborhoods we would estimate it’s more at 95%. They see pain and suffering every single day.

They live in a town where women and children are being sold for sex and drugs are available on every street corner. They attend poorly funded schools with little or no resources.

For these children painting truly is more than just painting. For these kids painting becomes a refuge. A safe place they can go to in the midst of a chaotic and dangerous environment. A healing balm for their weary hearts. A rest from constantly living in survival mode, always ready for fight or flight.

Don’t you see? Their brains can’t develop to their full capacity in this state of being. To grow as human beings they need space to play, create and just be kids.

I’ll say it again. It’s more than just painting! It’s providing children with an essential piece of development that they are missing.

A big thank you to our special art teacher, Julia. You gave a huge gift to the children of this community. You gave more than just your time and talents, you gave a piece of your heart as well. We are so grateful.

Happy Painting!

With Much love from Costa Rica,

Scott and Leslie


3 Responses to It’s More than Just Painting ~ What’s Actually Happening When Children Learn to Paint

  1. […] that painful reality with the beautiful smiling faces in the post below, and I guarantee your heart will break. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  2. Rolanda Jeffrey says:

    My children both love to draw and I am glad to see this article. We take so much for granted. I remember what it was like to live in this kind of pain and all you say is so true. The arts are like a balm. I hope one day I can send my daughter to you to help even in the arts. Thanks for sharing what you do. It reminds me to pray for you.

  3. Eva Spengler says:

    thanks, Leslie and Scott!!

    what a thrill for me to be reading about art with the kids,
    and and to see the work and you are doing!!!

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