In recent years, the need to address students’ social and emotional needs have grown.  Now is the perfect time to focus on beneficial and creative  activities for your students. Art is excellent for mental health, and art therapy is a perfect choice to combat today’s stress. It allows students to stay creative and helps them deal with the day-to-day world. Promoting the therapeutic aspects of art can help your students navigate these difficult times. As such, here are 6 Types of Art Therapy Exercises for the Classroom and some examples that can help students stay focused on the important parts of the busy world around them.


Collages are excellent hands-on projects that can get your students involved and think
ing. By creating art from other media, including pictures and crafts, your students can connect to the world around them. Cutting and ripping out images and words can help release tension. Plus, students are better able to express their current thoughts about the stress of 2022.


Collages can fit any design or lesson plan.

Focusing on collages that allow expression and research can best help students adapt to the ever-changing academic world they face. For example:

  • A collage of goals: This exercise can help students research and identify potential careers and long-term life goals. It can also highlight what students want to achieve in their daily lives.
  • A stress collage: These should be made from current events clippings. This can help students identify the current stressors that are weighing on their minds.
  • A collage of gratefulness: This exercise can highlight the positive aspects of your students’ lives. By collaging their feelings, students can identify what and who are the happy and safe parts of their lives.
  • A poem collage: In this exercise, encourage students to use words and passages from other poems to create a new poem. This can help unlock hidden potential and creativity. And, it will help your students gain insight into how other people deal with their thoughts. 


Collages are as versatile as they are easy; they don’t require much artistic skill. Even just by pasting images on a poster, a student can identify and make sense of terms they couldn’t normally put into words. 





Architectural-based art therapy focuses on representing ideas in a new medium. From maps and house designs to creating imaginary buildings, using architecture for art therapy is about freedom.


When using the following exercises, focus on using architecturally-related terms and styles. For example, encourage your students to use rulers and compasses to create straight lines. As well, have them properly label the items on their art products as if they were labeling building features.


Four impactful architectural therapeutic exercises include:

  • Create a brain map: Have your students draw their thoughts and emotions in a map format. The goal is for them to understand where their feelings come from.
  • Design a safe art installation: Students can draw their ideal space and fill it with their favorite objects. This creates a safe mental area that they can return to for happy thoughts.
  • Design a dream home: Like a safe space, designing a dream home allows your students to create a happy place. Encourage them to make their dream homes as wild and fun as possible.
  • Create a people map: This exercise is designed to highlight the number and quality of students and their relationships. Instruct your students to map their relationships based on their importance and closeness. 


Architecture and art therapy already go hand-in-hand, especially in reducing stress and creating safe places. Combining both concepts into easy-to-construct exercises can help your students visualize abstract concepts. Plus, it can help showcase the attention to detail needed for architecture and similar disciplines. 



Crafting exercises allow students to try a variety of hands-on projects. These exercises can also help spark lifetime abilities, including sewing and art skills.


The possibilities of therapeutic crafts are endless, but the purpose of it all is to allow for expression and discovery through direct action. A collage may illustrate stress, and a brain map will help showcase emotions. However, crafting exercises result in a tangible item as a result of your students’ hard work.


Common crafting exercises include:

    • Make a stuffed animal: Using different materials and items, students can create stuffed animals that have meaning. In addition to sewing and costuming skills, making stuffed animals allows students to find items that bring them comfort.
    • Create paper snowflakes: This simple exercise is great for children of all ages. This is a great way for students to create unique pieces of art. And, your lesson can highlight each of your students’ unique qualities and gratitudes. Build on your snowflakes with these fun Friendly Friday ideas too!
    • Create confidence masks: Instruct your students to create masks that highlight their emotions and interests. Be sure to provide plenty of various materials. The goal is to empower students through their own qualities by encouraging them to own their personalities. 
    • Make an art journal: Ask your students to create bound journals of artwork over a period of time. Their art should reflect their feelings, as the journal should highlight their emotional journeys. At the end of the journal, your students can look back and review how their emotions manifested through art.
    • Create a dreamcatcher: Teach your students how to create a dreamcatcher and the native cultures behind the art. Aside from artistic expression, students should feel calmed and relaxed by creating their own sleep aid.
    • Design and make a puppet: Puppets can help students with speech issues communicate their feelings. Plus, speaking through a puppet can stimulate reading and speaking. 
    • Create a personalized emblem: Children can often find strength in superheroes. By having them design their own super emblem, students can symbolize their own emotions and personality in a way that makes sense to them. The goal of a personalized symbol is to grant strength through personal identification.

There is no end to crafts that can be used for art therapy. Exercises should be focused on improving or identifying aspects of each student. However, be sure that each project involves a lot of fun and creativity, as well. Some students might just want to create for the sake of creation—and that’s fine too.


Drawing-based art therapy encompasses several exercises. Fortunately, your students don’t have to be expert artists to discover the benefit of therapeutic drawing. Plus, studies have shown that drawings as simple as doodles
activate the reward-centers of the brain. For that simple reason, be sure to incorporate regular drawing sessions.


One approach is to have students draw in unique situations or locations. For example:

  • Draw outside: Have your students draw a scene in nature that speaks to them. Encourage them to safely wander until they discover something important to them. The goal of this exercise is to get students out into nature.
  • Draw in front of a mirror: Encourage your students to draw what they see. Then, have them interpret what they have drawn. Look for areas of discussion, including differences between their reflected self and their true self.
  • Safe place drawing: Have your students draw a series of pictures in the places that make them feel safe. Compare them to drawings made in other locations. This exercise is designed to increase creativity and natural positivity while creating art.


Additionally, drawing therapy can achieve specific goals. To motivate introspection within your students, show them the following exercises:

  • Spirit animal drawing: Encourage your students to draw an animal that best represents them. Allow them to be creative. At the end, ask them why they chose that animal and what each detail represents. This will help showcase how they think about themselves. 
  • Dream drawing: Ask your students to write down a dream they had, and draw what they remember. These can help your students uncover essential aspects of their thoughts. It can also help spark inspiration and creativity.
  • Doodling: Doodling can help your students process thoughts and answer their own questions. By keeping their hands busy and active, their minds can go deeper with the help of therapeutic doodling. As well, it can reduce anxiety and stress.


Like other creative endeavors, drawing therapy can take almost any form. Be sure to highlight the importance of trying. Some students might feel trepidation due to a lack of drawing skills. The importance comes from what they create on the paper, though, not how professional it looks.



Painting is a great option for any student. Anyone can apply paint to paper, even without any skill. And, with a bit of reflective thought, your students can help illustrate their inner thoughts.


These exercises should focus on creativity and individuality. Don’t be afraid of a bit of mess. Let your students go a little crazy and work out their emotions on the canvas. Excellent painting exercises include:

  • Watercolor painting to express bodily state: Instruct your students to draw an outline of their body on a canvas. Next, use watercolors to depict how the different areas of their body feel. This can help identify and understand various emotions and physical feelings. This heightened understanding can reduce stress and improve body image. 
  • Mood painting: Like expression painting, this will help your students identify their emotions. By visually detailing the color, shape, and location of their emotions, they can better understand both how and why they feel as they do. 
  • Paint to music: This exercise is all about stress relief. Music is already a strong creative tool. By focusing on emotions, your students can enter powerful emotional states that they can then document through painting. This allows them to relax and have fun at the same time.
  • Paint a loss: Grief is a vital feeling that we must all experience. Thus, when words fail, art can allow for expression. Helping your students cope with loss can be achieved through loss painting. Allow your students to remember and come to terms with their losses. This exercise is a great way to showcase a healthy and positive expression of grief. 


Painting, like other forms of art, can help express emotions that are otherwise locked away. Be sure to celebrate the positive and negative moods that arise from your students’ paintings. All feelings are valid. So, by painting them onto a canvas, students can better study and realize what their emotions mean to them.



Not all therapeutic art will require paints and glitter. In many cases,
reflective writing will allow students to understand their feelings. By writing about how we genuinely feel about a specific subject or situation, we can gain power over that which causes us stress.


Reflective exercises can range across nearly all art forms. With writing, however, the students are left to focus on their thoughts and words. This helps to showcase the true meaning behind their feelings. Plus, it teaches them mindful, cognitive-based thinking skills that will help them for the rest of their lives.



Here are a few example exercises that you can introduce to your students:

  • The unsent postcard: Print out this template and ask your students to write a letter that they won’t be sending. This could be to someone they are in conflict with, or someone that has hurt them. The goal is to have the students express their emotions when they usually couldn’t, such as in a face-to-face meeting. It also allows them to process negative emotions.
  • Balloon messages: Similar to the unsent postcard, this exercise is designed to allow students to shed negative and stressful feelings “to the wind.” Have them write down a message to be tied to a balloon. Then, release the balloons and have them simultaneously “release” their negative emotions.
  • Daily journaling: Like other art journals, encourage your students to write every day. Have them detail the powerful feelings they experienced that day. Then, ask them to think about why they felt those emotions. This exercise will help showcase how your students internalize emotions, as well as illustrate which ones they are usually experiencing.
  • Messages on leaves: Like balloon messages, this exercise is designed to allow students a release of their feelings. By writing notes on leaves, students can describe what they are grateful for, and they can list what they wish was different. These leaves can either be preserved or scattered to the wind, based on the wishes of each student.  


Self-reflection is an important skill that can help your students deal with many of the common stressors of the day. From body image issues to fearing the changing unknowns of the world, reflective exercises can help students stay on even ground.


Guest Author: Rachel Perez is an Outreach Associate with North Star Inbound. An honor graduate of New York University, she contributes home improvement, landscaping and renovation pieces. When not writing, she enjoys gardening with her mom and spending time in the Florida sunshine.