Saturday Art Class Teaches Kids Social-Emotional Learning Through Art

Threadless Artist Mathiole has rightly said, ‘Art speaks where words are unable to explain’. Saturday Art Class works on the same principle: providing kids with a platform to express themselves through art’s universal language. Working primarily with children from low-income groups, the non-profit organisation was founded by Manasi Mehan and Chhavi Khandelwal with a common goal of solving a prevalent issue in the education system of most government schools―the unavailability of resources to teach kids the significance of  social and emotional learning.

“At the age of 20, I joined the Teach For India fellowship in 2015 as a class teacher for Grade 2 in a local government school in Mumbai. Over the course of my interactions with students, I realised that they learned academic subjects, but very little on how they could combat the pressures they faced on an everyday basis in their communities; from violence to difficult financial situations at home, poor nutrition, and for some even, child labour. The lack of expression of these issues affected their performance academically. The school lacked resources to not only provide them with a safe space to voice their feelings but also build skills like awareness, compassion and empathy so that they could uplift the current state of themselves and their communities,” shared Manasi.

Chhavi Khandelwal and Manasi Mehan

“I realised that maybe Art could be the medium through which I could address the lack of expression in my classroom and was on the lookout for an art teacher. I came across Chhavi (an architect by profession) who wanted to teach kids value-based art for the same reason and jumped at the opportunity of being a volunteer on Saturdays as an art teacher. Soon, our students started looking forward to Saturdays and started calling it Saturday Art Class,” she added.

Saturday Art Class
Chhavi Khandelwal and Manasi Mehan

Ever since its inception in 2017, the NGO has come a long way. The team has worked with over 5700 students, 50 organisations and built a strong network of over 1300 volunteers. In a chat with ELLE, Manasi and Chhavi tell us all about how they are using the principles of art to bring a positive change to the lives of innocent minds and how much they’ve grown in their journey during the pandemic. 

ELLE: What does Saturday Art Class’ curriculum include?

Chhavi Khandelwal: Our curriculum focuses on building awareness, compassion, and creative intelligence (social-emotional learning) in children by taking inspiration from artists and their art practices through play and storytelling and drama. We use the process of creative exploration and expression to transfer skills that can help children empower themselves, their immediate surroundings, and their communities. We are also working on building accessibility to art. Through Saturday Art Class, we have partnered with several galleries to train our mentors (volunteers), who can then transfer those learnings within the classrooms. 


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Through these collaborations, we have built connections with artists themselves. Through Delhi Art Gallery, we got the chance to train our mentors with the work of renowned Indian artist Natvar Bhavsar, whose work was displayed at the gallery at the time. Our mentors then implemented his lesson plans in the classrooms and came up with beautiful iterations of Bhavsar’s work. Through his work, we taught our children the importance of Teamwork because we had two children work on the art project together.

A Big Little Artist’s version of Natvar Bhavsar

ELLE: How has art impacted the children’s lives and helped them build emotional well-being?

Manasi Mehan: Very often, children find it extremely difficult to express what is happening at home, what is going on in their minds, or something they have experienced. Art is a medium that has no boundaries, requires no background, and is also seen as one’s own language, but it is also universal because it can be understood by others and, that’s how we’ve seen art impact our students.

We connect and gain inspiration from Indian and International artists such as S.H. Raza, M.F Hussain, Piet Mondrian, Van Gogh, Yayoi Kusama, Madhvi Parekh, to name a few; where we learn about these artists, their backgrounds, their inspirations, and then enable children to create their own versions of art keeping in mind the artists they learn about. This helps our children understand more about different artists- where they come from, relate to them and their forms of art. At the same time, they find it much easier to express themselves knowing that there was once somebody who had gone through something similar to what they experience.


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ELLE: Every year, you hold an exhibition that displays the artworks done by the kids. How has the exhibition helped them? 

CK: We began hosting annual Saturday Art Class exhibitions, where students, parents, teachers, government officials, as well as our supporters, funders came together to see the work that our children had created throughout the entire year. The parents’ pride and joy when they see their child’s work on display cannot be put into words.

Essentially, we created a platform to celebrate art that our students created; giving them a sense of confidence, belief and showcasing their work to the world, just like an artist would exhibit their work at a gallery.

ELLE: During the lockdown last year, when schools shut down, it must have been tough for not only your organisation but also for the kids. What steps did you take to keep SARC running?

MM: The financial ramifications of the lockdown left our students and their families without basic food supplies. Our first approach was to make sure that our students were doing okay. Our students were having biscuits for days because of the lack of resources and food. Therefore, we introduced our Covid-19 Relief and Recovery Program back in March 2020. We provided a month’s worth of basic food supplies to our student communities, reaching out to 2,500 families and 12,394 individuals over six months. We raised funds through a volunteer-driven fundraising programme called the Saturday Art Class Champions Project.

Because we wanted our impact to go beyond Relief, we worked on Recovery through designing, developing and conducting a well-being based Recovery Curriculum to help communities that were facing hardships caused by the constant negativity and loss of jobs, lack of income, domestic abuse and violence, lack of daily essentials during the pandemic. As part of Recovery, we introduced Virtual Classrooms to implement the Social Emotional Learning and Art integrated Recovery Curriculum to address these needs.

ELLE: Now that SArC has started its virtual sessions, how’s it going for the kids and volunteers? 

CK: Our Recovery Curriculum was focused on asking the right questions and helping children express themselves through art, and that is when our virtual classes began. We partnered with NGOs across the country to enable their children to receive our intervention at a time when social-emotional learning was greatly needed for every child, irrespective of their backgrounds.


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We created a curriculum specifically for this time, called In My Mind and partnered with Learning Delight to convert it into a digital series. Through this application, we are estimating a total of 50,000 children in India that would have accessed our resources and learned life lessons from them.

ELLE: What are your future plans with SArC?

MM: By the end of this month we are planning to release our In My Mind workbook on our website to allow parents, children and educators from around the globe access to a free social-emotional learning curriculum which will help them combat the emotional stresses of the pandemic. We also hope that when schools open, we would be able to work directly with 2400 children across 50 classrooms in Mumbai, going back to our previous model which trained educators and volunteers.


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