I have been thinking about the benefits of being a maker in connection to my own mental health the past couple of months. I have been very open about my depression and anxiety and am always looking for ways to help reduce both of those aspects in my life. I have found a calming attribute to making. When I'm in the "making zone", everything else in my life vanishes. No anxiety, no depression, just making. I just assumed this was a "me" thing, but I have started to pay more attention to the small comments students have been making while in the Makerspace. Here is a just a small sample of what I have overheard,
"I love just escaping and being here."
"I love having a place that just allows me to be creative without grades."
"Making something, anything, just lets me chill."
"I'm not artsy, but I like just keeping busy with my hands and stuff. It's relaxing."
"It sounds crazy, but the chaos of the Fabrication Room actually calms me down."
I look at these words and I see the code that students, many people, use when discussing anxiety but do not use that exact word. The Knights Forge has always been designed to be a place that students can use to build stuff for class or for fun. Learning while making something that matters to you. I had not planned on it becoming a safe space for those students who need a minute or two. I wanted to look a little deeper and I found some great research out there.
While most of the research focuses on the calming impact of the arts, making, as far as I am concerned, falls under the arts wing because it is about being creative and making something. An article from 2015 on CNN, discussed research that found that being involved in the arts was similar to meditation. Our nervous system can only do so much at once, so when we engage is something that takes concentration (knitting, woodworking, sculpting, etc) out attention is drawn to the actions and everything else in the world just fades away. It is called "the flow". Sounds like another name for "the zone" to me.
Other studies have found the same positive impact of creativity on mental health. Being involved in Music Therapy decreased depression and anxiety for all participants. For anyone that plays music, I am sure this does not surprise them one bit. Music has had a calming impact on people for a very long time. The science backs it up across the board.
Lastly, making things is actually a natural anti-depressant. Your brain releases dopamine when you are happy. Sitting and making stuff that you like and creating something that makes you happy increases your dopamine levels. This shot of dopamine helps you feel awesome when you finally finish a project or enjoy the process.
When we talking about making in schools, I think it is important to point out the positive impact that creativity has on student mental health. Students need to create. The world around them is chaos and they need outlets to let them express what the world means to them and to relieve the stress they are facing. Depression and anxiety is rising in our students and we do have the tools to combat it. I'm proud of the work we are doing at University Liggett School that allows for student voice, choice, and creativity.
Please share this with your staff if they are hesitant about embracing making, PBL, and other forms of creativity in the classroom.
Project Based Learning really changed everything about my classroom. It is one of the best approaches to instruction that I have ever used in the classroom. If you want to learn more about Project Based Learning and implementing it in your school or classroom, feel free to reach out to me or you can check out my book, Beyond the Poster Board.