Facilitating awareness in children from a low socio–economic environment using the art–making process
Rousseau, Jennifer Maria
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Gestalt theory and Positive Psychology formed the underlying theoretical frameworks of this study. Both Gestalt theory and Positive Psychology adopt a positive outlook towards human nature with the possibility of individuals becoming self-supporting and fully functioning. Both theories also regard awareness to be paramount in establishing healthy self-regulation and optimal well-being. Both Gestalt theory and Positive Psychology provided the link between the concepts, and were also used to describe the main concepts in the study. A review of the literature shows that children living in underprivileged communities often face many environmental stressors that can impact on their well-being and optimal psychological, cognitive, emotional and physical functioning. When this occurs, children are often not able to meet very important needs. They may have to find alternative ways to „survive‟ and protect themselves from certain stressors and cope with their environment. Very often these coping strategies are dysfunctional and certain parts within the child can become cut off or pushed aside, severing healthy contact with the environment. The child may also experience a sense of numbing and lack of awareness of senses, emotions and thoughts. The child is therefore living out of awareness. The literature suggests that the process of artmaking can contribute to facilitating awareness, which can enhance selfunderstanding and possibly lead to a greater sense of well-being. The researcher attempted to explore the kinds of awareness that could be facilitated through the artmaking process. A qualitative research design with a phenomenological strategy of enquiry was used for this study. Seven children in middle childhood living in a low socio-economic community took part in the study. They were between the ages of eleven and twelve years and had suffered some form of environmental stress. They had been subjected to substance and alcohol abuse, violence, death and divorce. Focus groups and semi-structured interviews were used in order to understand what awareness may have been facilitated in children during the art-making process. The data collected were analysed thematically. The results revealed that the art-making process enabled the participants to experience certain kinds of awareness. The participants became aware of certain emotions and feelings like happiness, enjoyment, calmness, pride and mastery, as well as feelings of anger, sadness and denial. The participants were able to recognise and express positive emotions, but it appeared that the more complex emotions were recognised although not expressed. The most common emotion experienced by the participants was the sense of happiness and enjoyment they seemed to feel as they worked with the different art materials. It appeared that the playful nature of the art-making process kept them engaged and in contact with the process. The participants also became aware of a range of tactile experiences that each art medium offered; clay, paint, collage, hand printing and texture rubbings. These tactile experiences led them to an awareness of feelings and associations. The findings also indicated that the participants became aware of a sense of agency, as they appeared to have a sense of control and empowerment over the art mediums. This element of control over the art mediums seemed to afford the participants the ability to change what they did not like in their art work. This ability to change things appeared to feed back to, and enhance, their sense of empowerment. Through the findings of the study, as well as from the literature, this quality of empowerment, control and change is important for children in need living in a stressful environment, as it may foster a sense of agency that they may not find from their environment. Another significant finding seemed to be the participants‟ awareness of their context in terms of an unavailability of certain environmental resources to fulfil their needs, namely financial resources and nurturing. The participants‟ awareness centred around basic survival needs, for example lack of sufficient food, but also their awareness of relational needs and challenges, for example overcrowded households, alcohol-abusing parents and divorce.
- Humanities