Peg Dunn-Snow on children’s art therapy

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PegDunnSnow_Pic1 Dr. Peg Dunn-Snow is a children’s art therapist in Florida. She is the owner of Children’s Corner: Art Therapy for Children, and is the past president of the American Art Therapy Association. Please join me in learning more about Peg and art therapy for children.

***Note: Readers will have a chance to win a selection of art materials that Peg offers to some of her child clients at the end of this interview.***

JEAN:  Will you tell us a bit about your background and why you were drawn to children’s art therapy?

PEG:  I first became interested in art therapy while working as a special education teacher, I incorporated a strong art program in my curriculum and regardless of their learning disabilities, my students could always compete with the school population, winning blue ribbons and certificates for their art projects. Art leveled the playing field for my students, allowing them to experience a sense of achievement and success.

I hold a Bachelor’ degree in Elementary Education, a Masters in Art Therapy and another in Special Education and a PhD in art education with a specialization in art therapy. I am also a licensed and board certified art therapist and mental health counselor. I maintain a private practice, Children’s Corner: Art Therapy for Children in Fort Lauderdale and teach the course Art Therapy Throughout the Life Span as an adjunct faculty member in the distance-learning graduate art therapy program at Saint Mary of the Woods College in Terre Haute, Indiana. I am the former director of the Barry University art therapy and clinical psychology graduate program and have a background in exceptional student education, school guidance and hospital/ homebound instruction in the public school system. I have served as conference chair, secretary, and president of the Florida Art Therapy Association, and as the national conference chair for the American Art Therapy Association. Currently I am the immediate past-president of the American Art Therapy Association.


JEAN: How does art therapy work with children? and why is art an appropriate way for children to communicate their thoughts and feelings?

PEG: Art is an appropriate way for children to communicate for many reasons that include the following:

Art is a language and promotes verbal language

Art is a critical- thinking activity that evaluates strengths and growth

Art can express visual memories

Art can hold a permanent record of thoughts and feelings

Art is not a linear language The past, present, & future can all be held in one image.

Art is universal and a normal activity of childhood

Art allows children to distance themselves from their thoughts and feelings

Art gives children the ability to place their thoughts and feelings outside of themselves

Art give children a way to “handle” their thoughts and feelings by containing them within the boundaries of a canvas or piece of drawing paper, miniaturizing them to a manageable size

Art allows children to set goals and plan for their future

Art allows children to relate to their environment and relationships while identifying their support system and safe places.

Through self-portraits art allows children to explore the issues of identity and roles and allows children to learn about their heritage and culture

Art-making provides practice in making choices

Art allows children to express their thoughts and feelings “when words are not enough”


JEAN: Thank you! Do you have any tips for parents who want to connect with their children through talking about their art?

PEG: When talking about their art:

1.      Have the children describe the art in their own way and words.

2.      Ask the children to tell more about specific parts of the art…describing actual forms, objects, and people.

3.      Ask the children to describe the picture in the “first person”.

4.      Ask the children about their use of colors … remember colors can be used realistically or idiosyncratically and can be used in different ways at different times. Many times young children do not use colors realistically.

5.      Help the children own what has been created or said about the art…gently ask how the art fits with any part of their lives.

6.      Have the children describe the process of doing the art… what were their feelings about doing the art before, during, and after the art-making lesson or playtime.

7.      Look at and comment on the patterns and/or themes in the children’s art

I would also recommend the following books for parents:

  • Creative art for the Developing Child by Clare Cherry (Simon & Schuster)
  • Windows to Our Children by Violet Oaklander (The Center for Gestalt Development)
  • The Creativity Handbook: A Visual Arts Guide for Parents and Teachers by Carolyn Boriss-Krimsky (Charles C. Thomas)

JEAN:  Anything else you’d like to add?

PEG:  Children’s artwork is an extension of who they are and is linked to their self-concept no matter what the art image represents. As an extension of the child, the artwork should be treated with the same concerns that you have for the child.  Also, remember, young children draw what they know and not necessarily what they see.

Encourage children to please themselves with their art-making

JEAN:  Thank you, Peg! I appreciate you sharing your expertise with us. I like what you say about children’s artwork being an extension of who they are and how it is linked to their concept of self.


Readers who leave a comment by Thursday, March 24th at 12 midnight EST will be entered into a random drawing for a selection of art materials that Peg offers to some of her child clients.

The random number generator picked #69, so congrats go to Karrie for winning the art materials.

I love practicing art myself and found it very therapeutic. It was helpful to see all the reasons to use it with my children as well.

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  1. Joy says

    I agree with the idea of art leveling the playing field. As a special education teacher, we need to find ways for all kids to feel successful and art is great for that.

  2. says

    I will encourage my boys to continue with their art – a great way to engage with them and help find out what they are thinking and feeling.

  3. Sara says

    Thanks for the tips to talk to your child about art. I am never quite sure how to do that with my daughter.

  4. says

    I have a very challenging student this year who is going through a lot this year both medically and emotionally and seems best able to express himself through art. This information will really help me, help him.

  5. Lara says

    Great Interview! I really appreciate the suggestions of specific questions to ask about the art. Thanks!

  6. Kristine says

    My children love art. Thanks so much for specific questions to initiate conversation around their work.

  7. Judy says

    Excellent information…thank you opening up that window for arts advocacy and art therapy!

  8. Nicole says

    Wow! Thank you. I always wonder how to talk to my daughter about her art without leading or judgement but wanting to express real interest. I am curious to check out the books she mentions.

  9. says

    Great interview and I loved her closing thoughts about how a child’s artwork is an extension of their “self” What excellent advice for all parents and teachers to keep in mind!!
    Awesome as always Jean! : )
    pink and green mama,

  10. Erika says

    Coming from an artistic family and having a background in child development, I really identified with what Peg said in this great interview! My daughter has developed a love for art and I still look for ways to encourage her.

  11. says

    I love this. I was always interested in art therapy when I was an early childhood teacher and owned many books on the subject. Unfortunately I do not have them any more as I let someone barrow them who never returned them. I would love to find those books again. Glad for the book recommendations.

  12. Sandra M says

    Thank you for this interview! It is so valuable to have some advices from the person who is directly involved in this field. I was looking for some books on this subject, but always been turned off by the quantity of the titles and I never knew which one is really worth and good. I will definitely check ones recommended in this post. Thank you once again!

  13. Kelly says

    I am going to try to do more art with my almost 3 year old. He is speech delayed so maybe telling me about it will help him out.

  14. sydnee says

    Thank you for the details of how art therapy works. I found this super interesting. I will continue to encourage art and creative play with my kiddos.

  15. Molly says

    Loved reading this interview. It’s a great reminder of the importance of letting children just “do”, not having to plan some complicated art project, but letting kids just create as they desire with a few materials. Thanks for all the great points!

  16. Lisa F. says

    Looking forward to checking out the books, and trying the conversation starters with my son. We’ve all been having a difficult time adjusting to public kindergarten and his art at school & at home have been really interesting.

  17. Maureen says

    I always love your interviews (and give-a-ways!). Thanks, Maureen (jnomaxx at hotmail dot com)

  18. says

    I’ve never thought about the concept of art being a way to distance yourself from your thoughts… I’ve heard that when anxious about something before bed- write it down and go to sleep. It’s actually helped me to not worry, because in a strange way the paper will “hold” it for me and it will be there waiting for me when I wake up. What a wonderful idea for anxious children-to leave their worries on a page via paint,pens, etc. :)

  19. says

    What a great interview full of inspiration! I’m a mom of a special needs child, so art has a special place in our home.

  20. Jen says

    Thank you for this post. I work with some children who have behavioral problems. I have found open ended art to be very useful in helping them with their social skills and behavioral problems. Thank You!

  21. robin says

    awesome interview!! i love to see how children express their emotions thru drawing. such a glimpse of understanding you can get!

  22. PSJMom says

    Thank you for the wonderful tips at the end. It sure will help me talk to my son about his art. I’m not the best artist, but he sure is! Wonderful work being done in Florida.

  23. Carol says

    I really appreciate the tips how to talk to kids about art. I love that offers so many ways to discuss it without making any kind of statement on quality.
    Sigh, I wish I could make all those in charge of education budgets read this.

  24. shelly o says

    This is the field my best friend is going to school for….so it’s fun to read more about it.

  25. says

    i loved reading this interview with peg – thank you so much for publishing it! as a fellow art therapist, i am so grateful and appreciative for her sharing more about the work she does with children with all of your readers. art is such a beautiful and organic form of expression for children, ripe with possibilities for re-authoring the past or rehearsing the future… all while being grounded in these present, sensory moments of making art, driven by the innately human instinct to create!

  26. Heather N says

    I am thinking about going back to school for either art therapy or music therapy. What a timely article! Thanks for the giveaway.

  27. Kate says

    love childrens art! has anyone watched the documentary “my child could paint that” ?

  28. Natalie says

    I’ve recently been thinking a lot about expanding my education in art to include a masters in art therapy. Thanks for the knowledge shared here.

  29. says

    I can’t agree more that art is a great way for kids to deal with their feelings. It has sure helped around our house in a huge way. Thanks to both of you!

  30. Emily O. says

    Thanks for the interview! I’m a music therapist in hospice and we have a art therapist who is wonderful with our clients & at our bereavement camps.

  31. says

    This interview was so very interesting and informative! I was able to take a course about art therapy while I was studying creative arts in therapy. It was a great experience. Art is such a natural form of expression.

  32. Stephanie Ferrell says

    Art is a wonderful way to get children to express their feelings. I see this everyday when I teach. Thanks so much.

  33. Agnes says

    Thank you for the book recommendations. I especially liked reading how art provides opportunities for children to express themselves in ways that words cannot. It was also interesting to learn that art can express past, present, and future. Thank you so much!

  34. says

    Thanks for the insightful interview and giveaway! I loved watching art level the playing field with all children when I was a classroom teacher.
    I appreciate the book suggestions, I can’t wait to visit my library.

  35. Erin says

    Thank you for the book recommendations and the talking points for talking with childern about art.

  36. Seanda says

    I love your website! I have 4 boys, all of whom love art. My oldest has ADHD and expresses himself well through his art. The only thing is he always thinks his art stinks! I think this is a belief that was cultivated at school in an art class he had a couple of years ago. I think his art is beautiful and I love that he loves art! We have even had one of his pieces custom framed and hung over the computer desk. There are art pieces all over this house from all our kiddos! Thank you for your insights into art therapy. I will definitely be following up on you and your site.

  37. says

    Art is such an important part of education! I am an art teacher, and it really makes me sad that so many regard art as ‘extra.’

  38. Karrie says

    I love practicing art myself and found it very therapeutic. It was helpful to see all the reasons to use it with my children as well.

  39. Maria says

    Thank you for doing this interview. I knew art is important but its good to read about it.

  40. adriennew says

    This just reiterates how important art is for ALL children. I find Art Therapy so fascinating and would love to further my education in the field. Thanks for the great information.

  41. Kate says

    The reasons Peg Dunn gave for art being an “appropriate way for children to communicate” filled me with optimism and assurance.. I have my moments of uncertainty as an art teacher.. and those moments I stand on shaky ground, I will look over this list and be thankful for my small part in enriching a child’s life.. Thank You.

  42. Linda says

    I found your list of reasons that art is important to children to be very insightful and it gave me a better perspective from the child’s point of view. I enjoyed reading this interview very much. Thank you!

  43. says

    I understand myself better now. I have to make art everyday to cope emotionally. I was tutored in the techniques of art since I was 5. That little girl is still very much part of me.

  44. Caitlyn says

    I love what Dr. Peg said about art being an extension on the child and how it should be treated that way – so true! It is easy for me to try to look for certain objects, ideas, or people in my daugther’s art instead of focusing on the concept she is creating.

  45. kreeeestamama says

    Thanks for this info! My 3yo doesn’t show much interest in art these days beyond drawing with a ball point pen! lol Hoping to branch out into other mediums at some point. :)

  46. Katie says

    Thanks for the book suggestions. As an Adaptive Art Teacher, I think they will be very helpful!

  47. Katarina says

    wonderful, I do a lot of arts and crafts with my children and these would be handy!

  48. andrea wheeler says

    The only thing my kids can do at the same table for hours at a time without fighting. The art that emerges never ceases to amaze me. Thanks for the info

  49. jayme says

    I love that Art Therapy gives voice to children (and even adults) who may not be able to communicate their feelings in other ways. (Not to mention the therapeutic aspect of creating art in and of itself.) Great interview, and important work!

  50. says

    My husband is an art institute grad and our 2 year old son is already a big fan of many art projects. I’m have a great time creating and playing with him.
    Thanks for the ideas!

  51. says

    LOVE this ~ lots of powerful info from Peg.
    Self-expression, self-confidence, pride ~> that’s what it’s all about.
    Please enter me in the contest.
    and keep on with these awesome interviews…
    thanks! LAURIE

  52. suzanne sinachack says

    Thank you for sharing and finding such talented and inspirational people. What a wonderful approach to sharing the arts with the young! I find this very encouraging :0)

  53. Kristen says

    Awesome interview! I have 3 young children who are so inspired by art and unfortunately I did not grow up with much exposure to any kind of art. Reading your interview has given me many tips on how to talk to my kids about art and actually helped me have a totally new perspective on what art can do for children and adults. Thank you!!

  54. Laura says

    Thank you so much. I have a special needs child who has problems with art due to fine motor and tactile problems. You have given me many tips.

  55. says

    I appreciate the idea that the images children make are not necessarily linear, but can hold past, present, and future in just one image.
    I am so glad to know that there are professionals out there helping children in this way. I know how much art has given me in terms of how to express myself.
    I will definitely take these tips into my art classroom with me.

  56. Christine M. says

    This is a wonderful reminder of why art experiences are so important, especially for children. Thank you!

  57. says

    Great interview! I can’t wait to start art projects with my little one as she gets older. I will have to look up the Art Therapy corner next time we are in Florida.

  58. Meda says

    Jean~What a great interview! I love the pointers for talking with children about their art. Good for parents and caregivers!

  59. Jennifer Runyan says

    Thank you for this interesting interview. I love doing art with my kids and I have actually been toying with the idea of Art Therapy as a career. Thanks again!

  60. marie lang says

    I am a child art therapist, too and I loved stumbling upon this interview. Many blessings on you as you work with children and their healing through art.
    Marie Lang ATR-BC

  61. Frances Domingues says

    My daughter and I started doing art together everyday…. good way to hang out, talk and play!

  62. Tamrah T. says

    Art has been therapy for me…but never thought of it that way. I’m even more convinced of it’s importance in my childrens’ lives.