When Matteo was four and a half years old, he started to go through a series of physical and emotional changes that his mother Jennifer knew were not normal.
How Art Bags Help Children Cope Through Remote Support
When the world shut down during the first wave of COVID-19, Friends of Karen’s Sibling Support Program had to be adapted to deliver all sessions remotely —something done occasionally before. Prior to the pandemic, the Program’s licensed and certified art therapists and child life specialists would visit siblings, and sometimes the ill child, in their home. These sibling support specialists would tote with them bags of art supplies, books, materials for medical play and an occasional surprise gift or two. With the help of several grants, our sibling support specialists developed activities that would be effective for virtual sessions and created thoughtfully curated bags of art supplies to complement the new curriculum. As the initial two-week lockdown extended and the pandemic lingered, it became apparent that we needed to do more than adapt, we had the responsibility to the Friends of Karen families to make the program great. Over the past two years, we have been able to identify emerging needs and create “art bags” to address them.
Currently, there are specific art bags for elementary-aged children, teens, and the youngest who benefit from sensory stimulation and play, as well as for those children experiencing bereavement/end of life challenges. Additionally, we can include doctors’ kits, cuddle bears or favorite toys in the package based on a child’s unique needs. When a new child begins to receive services, a package is shipped to the family. Once the family receives the art bag, often within a few days, sessions may begin.
The art bag is a critical part of each child’s healing as art and play are natural modes of communication for children and they allow them to open up, understand and express far more than they would be capable of with words alone. These materials and supplies are also integral tools in the sibling support specialists’ work of providing illness education and emotional support.
Art bags have helped Friends of Karen to continue offering a space, albeit virtual, where the most vulnerable children can feel safe to ask questions, feel things deeply and connect with their loved ones. Below is a peek into some of the key items children receive for their sibling support sessions.