Children, the pandemic and art
In Kendra Earls’ talks with parents about Covid-19 the word “stress” repeatedly came up.
They were concerned that the mandates on masks and social bubbles, and the disruption to routine were having a negative impact on children.
Ms Earls prescribed art. Adults looking for relief during the pandemic had benefited from her classes at Masterworks as had the people with Alzheimer’s and dementia that she had worked with for several years.
“Art affects you emotionally, it affects you mentally; it helps develop every aspect of your life,” she said. “You’re not just learning about art or learning techniques or learning how to draw or paint, you're also learning how to develop your imagination. At the same time it's relaxing, it's de-stressing, it’s getting into yourself and developing your confidence in where your imagination can go and how you can create and do all this other stuff.”
With access to arts classes limited by the lockdowns and quarantines brought on by Covid-19, the impact on children has been tremendous.
“The pandemic, as we all know, has been stressful. Everything has been uncertain, there's no stability. I think sometimes as adults we get so caught up in what we're going through but their little worlds have just been rough,” said Ms Earls, Masterworks’ education officer.
“Having to wear masks is challenging and the constant anxiety – whether it's coming from teachers, whether it's other kids or parents or society – it all builds up. That's a lot of pressure. Sometimes I think we miss the fact that they're highly affected by it; sometimes we don’t see it.”
She had seen the impact of art on the brain through her experience teaching people suffering from memory loss and had also “done a lot of research in that area”.
“Our neocortex and [its gateway], our thalamus part of the brain, are responsible for our creativity. Irregardless of the pandemic, if it's not activated we become dull. We can't go outside the box and figure out what we want to create. People who succeed have a really strong cortex and thalamus and they are able to really engage; they're the visionaries who create.”
She stressed that it was “all aspects of the arts”, not just the visual arts, that help keep the brain engaged.
“We have babies who don't understand human connection in the way that humanity always has. They're at the age where all of the programming happens in their brain. So what I'm trying to do here at Masterworks is offer a programme that approaches art in a very holistic way.
“I've spoken to two PTA meetings on the island within the last four weeks, talking about just the importance of imagination and how, if they have an imagination, kids can develop vision. And that's a vision for something better. As we transition to this new time it is important to develop their imagination.”
It’s a message she hopes the parents also grab onto for themselves.
“It's vital for us to do the same because it's a loop, all of this going on. Sometimes we [are depressed and anxious]. We can get caught up and we're not thinking clearly, we're not using our creativity. But for a lot of us who create what it is we want [it gives us] that mental ability to adapt to change.
“At the PTA meetings I gave the parents things that their kids can do, things they could do with their kids to help them engage in more creative activities as kind of a distraction to all of this going on.”
While Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art offers an organised introduction to art through its many programmes, Kendra Earls says there is a lot parents can do to stimulate their children at home.
Get materials on the table and organise time for your child to sit and paint or draw. Ask them to come up with “the wildest, the most imaginative creature or imaginative picture”.
Create a story
Start a story that you have made up yourself, have your child add to it and then you add some more until together, you have developed an entire tale from your imagination.
Create a picture or a series of pictures to illustrate your story. Ms Earls said this was something that had inspired her own daughter: “We would pick a theme from that story and draw a picture of what it looks like. Or maybe it’s one scene or maybe it's a character we thought up.”
Go for a walk, take a pad and draw. The picture does not have to look exactly like whatever it is they are trying to replicate. Trees can be purple, skies can be pink. Said Ms Earls: “Maybe there's a weird looking bug around it. You can take anything and recreate it into something totally different. Something that’s not normal but that is right out of your imagination.”
Draw what makes them happy
“This is very important,” Ms Earls said. “It gets them thinking about the good things, kind of like how we as adults have gratitude journals. This is a way for them to do that in another way – drawing something that makes them happy.” Once the picture is complete you and your child can have a conversation about it.
“It is important to realise that there's no wrong or right it just is. Acknowledge what they create, get involved in a conversation, talk about it but always praise what they have created. It doesn't matter what it looks like.”
The problem for many people is that they become bogged down in routine, which prevents the brain from firing as it should.
“What I have experienced after working eight years with all types of dementia patients, in my experience in speaking with families, we all do the same thing: we go to work, we do whatever we do, we come home for a little bit. We do the same thing over and over again except maybe, on a weekend when we might do something different. But it's not enough to get our cortex and the thalamus stimulated.
“What happens when we do not incorporate creativity into our lives is that we lose it, plain and simple. We become dull. When those parts of the brain aren’t activated, we become docile. It creates dull thinking.
“What art does, it allows you to shift. So a change like the pandemic happens and, when your brain is working, if you're creating, you can think outside the box: okay, you know what, I can't go out. What else can I do besides that to make myself happy? A lot of very creative people actually found new ways of living because of the pandemic. There are so many new businesses out there because there are so many creative people: I need to quit my job, I need to start something different. And that change is all positive. So creativity is vital.”
That mindset is what led her to Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art roughly three years ago.
“I came in with the intent to create a holistic approach to art. Our whole education strategy is based on that premise of social wellbeing and so we have different programmes to work with adults – we're expanding that now. We have live camps going on now too, we have after school; we have Saturday programmes. So we're doing a lot of things in order to make sure that people are able to engage in some way here in the arts and be creative.
“We also have been also engaging with critical thinking strategies in the arts as well. We also have [opportunities for] schools to come here for what we call ‘a day at the museum’ where they're able to analyse the artwork, [offer] critical thinking about the artwork that they're seeing and come up with ideas and try to imitate some of the art styles that they see.”