This past week, we had the privilege of visiting Matthews Elementary to conduct an arts workshop for local fifth graders. Although everyone involved did have a lot of fun, each volunteer ended up learning so much more than any of us had expected. Through interacting with the kids, we realized just how much of an impact art can have on not only a child’s ability to express him or herself, but also how much of an impact it can have on a child’s overall wellbeing.

Coming in, the children were anxious to see what they would be doing. They were all excited to be out of their formal classroom setting, and eager to find out what their next activity would be. As Dr. Galbraith explained the history behind face jugs, some of the kids began to get excited while others were much more tentative and judgmental of the project, based off of the pictures that were shown. However, as soon as they were handed their own clay to make their jugs, the atmosphere and their outlooks changed immediately.

The children began as incredibly lively, but as soon as their fingers started molding the clay, the room grew to be much quieter. They were concentrating and working diligently to make their jugs. It was so intriguing to watch as a plain jug transformed into a face that had originally been trapped inside of their imagination. Slowly but surely, their ideas came to fruition. There were so many different elements between the jugs, and each element was representative of their cultural norms. The kids were able to express themselves and pieces of what made them who they are through art, specifically pottery.

While it was incredibly insightful to see them able to express themselves in a different way than they would if they were in a “normal” classroom setting, what really was striking about the workshop was how the wellbeing of so many children changed. None of the kids coming in were outright angry, however some of the children weren’t the happiest campers. But through this activity and the students being in an uplifting, positive environment without the pressure of doing well in a specified subject, the kids were able to walk out of the cafeteria in an even better mood and headspace than when they came to the workshop.

Overall, the workshop was very enjoyable for everyone involved. Getting to see firsthand how children communicate their thoughts and themselves through their art is so rewarding, and we are eager to return to Matthews Elementary School for future workshops.

Completed face jugs of fifth grade students. Photograph taken by Mackenzie Manns.