Kate Ziff is a soft spoken individual whose leadership and work with children in our community as a school counselor and artist has led to a Project LAUNCH sponsored program called Summer ArtBreak. The program is geared toward children age 3-8 and is an outgrowth of a therapeutic ArtBreak studio in the Athens City Schools District, housed at The Plains Elementary. This is the fourth year for the school program which was developed in collaboration with school psychologists, Lori Pierce and Sue Johanson with support from Jeremy Yehl, the Special Service Director, and Dr. Margaret King of Ohio University. There have been over 400 group sessions with more than 150 children served in the school program.

On a recent visit to the school, the love for children can be felt as soon as you walk in the door, with brightly colored walls reflecting artwork created by children of all ages, low ceilings and warm carpeted hallways curving into a main focus of the building's structure, the library. This room is inviting and large, with plenty of room for shelves housing books and tables and chairs occupied with children and adults focused on group projects. A place of learning is conveyed to the observer and the space is also used for an art gallery of 3-dimensional objects, a recent show displayed Valentine Day Boxes made by teachers


It seemed that every room that the eye could see was geared for the child, including the ArtBreak room. Bin after bin contained a variety of tools and materials for producing works of art. The child who spends many sessions making increasingly sophisticated models of a chair may become a designer; the one who with drawings and notes creates a detailed plan for making a cardboard playhouse and then carries it out with help of others learns how one's ideas can take form; another one who loves to finger paint and use watercolors on wet paper is learning how to relax and take delight in color and texture.

ArtBreak's foundation is built on two frameworks: choice-based studio art and the expressive therapies continuum. It offers children autonomy and freedom of choice within a process-oriented environment which frees them from “have to's” and invites them to explore what they want to accomplish and express. The expressive therapies continuum, an art therapy framework, outlines areas of therapeutic and educational goals that can be addressed with art making. The studios are stocked with materials that span this continuum: fluid media such as finger paint to support relaxation and expression of feelings; more resistive media like color pencils and markers to address effective goals; and resistive media such as collage and construction materials to develop problem-solving skills and support creative thinking.

This year will mark the third Project LAUNCH-supported Summer ArtBreak. Each summer the program has offered six one hour ArtBreak sessions in two community public libraries, with 8-10 children in each group. McArthur, The Plains, Pomeroy and Logan have all been served. This summer ArtBreak is planning to return to the public libraries in The Plains and Pomeroy.

Families are an important part of Summer ArtBreak. Some parents, grandparents and other caregivers choose to stay for the sessions and in the process support children in the choice based environment. One can observe children circulating around a mother, absorbed in making collages who also makes herself available to help with tasks, like cutting cardboard that is difficult for tiny hands; or a dad, seeking to supportive rather than directive, and can barely contain his own excitement in collaborating with his son to make a train and other toys from re-purposed materials. This program offers an enriching and safe learning environment that offers families a chance to participate in a wholesome family activity.

A substantial body of documentation and research exists showing that ArtBreak is a valuable method for supporting children: in an ArtBreak group children develop pro-social behavior, practice creative problem-solving, relax and express feelings and become more engaged in school. It has also been recognized that ArtBreak addresses many of the math standards in the Common Core Content Standards Initiative, such as making sense of problems and persevering in solving them using appropriate tools strategically, and attending to precision.

ArtBreak is one of many programs that have been able to serve our region's Appalachian children with support from Project LAUNCH, a 5-year grant project funded by SAMHSA, and sponsored by Integrating Children for Appalachian Children.