We all need a little encouragement and a proper outlet to express ourselves and release our emotions creatively. This is even more important in the classroom where students are experiencing a wide variety of stressors and strain on their mental capacity. Incorporating art therapy techniques into your lesson plans can help reduce anxiety, and allow students to process and visualize what they are feeling to better understand it and share/feel more connected with their peers.
Here are 25 of our most creative and expressive art therapy activities for you to try with your students in your next class.
1. Self Esteem Mirror
This idea involves your students in the entire process. Appearance and body image are a huge concern for children and teenagers, so a self-esteem mirror can help students be reminded of their positive attributes and what's really important when they look into the mirror. Have your students pick what words and images to decorate the class mirror with.
Learn more: Mosswood Connections
2. Paint and Color Therapy
This art project is one of those messy creative therapies that require lots of paint and a little clean-up. Get some planting pots and place them face down on a cardboard base. Let your students squeeze paint onto the pots and watch the colors blend and drip. This artistic experience can feel expressive and students can convey their emotions with colors.
Learn more: Sunshine Whispers
3. Rice Art
Time for some sensory play with this art therapy exercise using colored rice to form a visual representation of whatever your brain can imagine. Get a container and fill it with colored rice, then ask your students to move and shape the rice into comforting objects or expressive images they see in their minds.
Learn more: Mama Smiles
4. Finger Painting Clay Project
Now let's work on our fine motor skills with the artistic medium of artistic clay. You can use modeling clay for this creative experience because it spreads easily. Make sure your students have at least 3 to 4 colors and a flat surface to create their clay representation. Show them how to use their fingers to push, spread, and mix the clay to form designs.
Learn more: Best Toys for Toddlers
5. Sweet Smelling Paints
Pick a natural scent your students will find relaxing (lavender, rose, orange) and mix it with washable paint. Give your students brushes or they can dig right in with their fingers and create aromatic works of art.
Learn more: The Preschool Toolbox
6. Body Tracing Affirmations
This collaborative and empowering approach to therapy is useful for a wide range of student insecurities. You can ask a volunteer to lay down for the tracing or be the body yourself. Ask each student to write positive words on the body about themselves and hang them in class.
Learn more: The Chaos and the Clutter
7. Colorful Salt Painting
Incorporating different mediums into a project is a great use of creative expression you students can manipulate and experiment with. Provide some designs or give your students full artistic freedom to draw something with glue then pour salt on it. Then they can drip paint onto the salt to bring their picture to life!
Learn more: Fun with Mama
8. Music Therapy
Music can be used in a variety of ways for an art therapy session. One way to get your kids thinking creatively is to have them make instruments out of objects found in the classroom. Make a basic beat with your hands and feet and have them join in by hitting their desks, closing books, moving chairs, or whatever they can think of!
Learn more: Very Well Family
9. Postcard From Future You
This helpful exercise allows you to peer into your future and see hope and possibilities beyond today. Writing from the perspective of the future is a great way to discover your core values and what you want to achieve so you can begin the process of reaching your goals.
Learn more: Creativity in Therapy
10. Heart Mapping
This mood art therapy idea takes the basic aspects of breaking down your emotions into visual representations you can process. When children can express themselves through these color blocks they can see the negative space but also all the positive mixed in and work on nurturing that.
Learn more: Pinterest
11. Dreams and Fears Tree
Another creative process we can use to express our inner thoughts and emotions is a Dreams and Fears tree. This art therapy activity can act as a visual and motivational collage showing you what you want and what is holding you back. Great for students to fill in and use as encouragement, so hang them up in your classroom!
Learn more: Big Life Journal
12. Dream Journal
Now, this can be writing only, or your students can feel free to express their dreams through art and coloring as well. Ask them to leave their dream journal by their bed so they can record good and bad dreams as soon as they wake up and keep them for reflection.
Learn more: Inner Child Fun
13. Positive Affirmation Bottle
Grab your art materials and a clear bottle for this creative therapy to help students focus on gratitude and happy moments. This artistic tool for mental health awareness can use pom poms, glitter, toys, or whatever art supplies your kids will feel inspired by. The point is when they are feeling down for them to look into the bottle, count the objects floating inside, and say one thing they are grateful for each.
Learn more: Kristian Marcelli
14. What Can I Control?
We can control things that are in our hands, such as our actions and reactions to the things that happen in our lives. Give your students a sheet of paper and ask them to trace their hands on it. Then advise them to write things inside their hand they can control.
Learn more: Counselor Keri
15. DIY Emoji Origami Craft
Kids love emojis, and now they can express their feelings while also improving their motor and social skills. Get some yellow origami paper and help them fold their faces into different expressions they can use as prompts to share how they are feeling.
Learn more: Maison ZiZou
16. Paper Plate Self-Portraits
Figuring out who you are and how you feel is all part of the expressive and creative process we call mental health. Help your students make their emotions a physical object they can see and hold with self-portraits. Give them plates and drawing materials and tell them to color what they see and feel when they look in the mirror.
Learn more: DIY Projects
17. Wish Box
A wish box is a safe space for students to write down things they want or wish were better/different. Decorate an empty tissue box and encourage your students to write and add to the wish box whenever they are feeling stressed or really wish for something.
Learn more: Confident Counselors
18. Worry Worms
This paper art therapy idea allows students to share their fears and worries in a creative and safe way. Cut out some worm shapes from a sheet of paper and ask your students to write down things they worry about in school or at home. You can make this activity anonymous by having them put their worms in a box.
Learn more: Utah Play Therapy
19. The Shield of Strength
We all need to be reminded that we are not alone sometimes. We have things, people, and abilities that help us through our lives. On cardboard or a large colored paper, draw a shield outline with 4 sections for family, friends, skills, and others. Ask your students to come up and fill in the sections with what brings them strength.
Learn more: Hope 4 Hurting Kids
20. Hands Past and Present
There are lots of variations for this paint therapy idea depending on your students' age and mental health. The main idea is to trace two hands, paint, write, and fill the first hand with things from your past you have let go of or overcame, then fill in your second hand with things you have and happy experiences in the present.
Learn more: Michelle Morgan Art
21. Mixed Emotions Paper Chain
A paper chain is a physical object we can use as a creative activity when making it, and as a constant reminder if we hang it somewhere we can see daily. Grab your paper supplies and ask your students to write situations and emotions on each slip of paper that make them feel mixed emotions.
Learn more: Alice and Lois
22. Daily Joy Journal
23. Group Emotions Mandala
This beautiful form of collective and creative expression can be an art installation in your classroom your students can enjoy all year! Draw the circular outline and encourage all forms of artistic technique using pictures, natural materials, nostalgic objects, or whatever ideas your students are inspired by.
Learn more: Art Therapy Reflections
24. Circle Weaving
This art therapy uses yarn and beads to express gratitude in a hands-on and sensory way. The process of weaving these circles is individual and students can choose their own colors of yarn and beads for making their circles. For each bead in the circle, they will think of something they are grateful for each time they hold or look at it.
Learn more: Instructables
25. Classroom Art Gallery
Every student wants to feel like a professional artist and show off their work sometimes. Celebrate art appreciation by turning your classroom into a gallery for a week. Each student can make a piece they feel describes who they are at this moment in their lives. Give them total freedom for the form of art they use (canvas, weaving, folding, dance, words).
Learn more: Art Therapy