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Exploring Order and Chaos through Art during COVID-19

The sandcastle stood strong, we thought: solid walls packed with wet sand, a sturdy foundation with a tunnel dug deep below the surface. Dribble turrets and seashell walls. On all fours, I looked up and noticed the tell-tale signs of a change in the tide. The shore’s dark, wet line was only a foot away, and every so often, water would lap at my toes as I built the castle with my daughter. “Quick,” I said, “let’s start a moat. The tide is coming in.” She looked up, but a pile of rocks and sticks were too tempting. So, I dug the moat, and she decorated the castle. The next wave broke our concentration. Big and salty, it rushed to shore to greet us… and our castle. The moat flooded, the walls crumbled away, rocks tumbled back to sea. We desperately tried to pat the sand back together, to strengthen the walls, but it kept sliding and sliding down. We fell back into each others’ arms, marveling at the unpredictable power of water.

Living with COVID-19 feels to me like that desperate attempt to keep the sandcastle walls up against the ocean’s waves. I am fighting against unpredictability and disequilibrium. How do I keep things from falling apart? I try and try to manage my emotions, to make order from chaos. This means reflecting on the ways we move between being and becoming, between process and state. I am both at once, I am actively integrating information in this changing environment.

Learning to navigate the chaos rather than shutting it down can provide rich rewards. Learning to accommodate the accompanying disquiet is the desired goal. Schwartz, 2008.

How can we accommodate the overwhelming disquiet of a pandemic with our children? There are no easy solutions. But, I am certain of one thing: we need art, mindfulness and play. These modalities allow us to be curious and feel safe within the structured chaos of creativity. They allow us to experiment with our own capacities to navigate the unknown.

Be Curious

Kitchen Experiments. Josie, age 6

This week, my friend shared, “I walked into the kitchen and found Josie, ‘experimenting.’ She was mixing up a cocktail of lemon juice, squeezed plums, and milk… but that didn’t taste quite right so she added some raspberry jelly. Unfortunately, she couldn’t get juice out of the apple. Perhaps the ‘stay home’ order will result in a chemist?”

Let’s explore tastes and textures in the kitchen. Experimenting is one way to manage the unknown. We might talk about how scientists are also curious, and that is how we will produce anti-virals and vaccinations for the coronavirus. Reflect on the use of materials and sensory responses to the kitchen experiments with questions at the end of the blog.

Be Open

Fun Stuffed Animal Boy. Sekou, age 6

We can slow down the mind and open our bodies through breath and meditation. When we breathe in community, online or with our stuffed animals, we feel a collective, shared opening of space and peace. I wonder what Sloth, Giraffe or Pikachu are thinking and feeling as they take deep, slow breaths? I wonder if it is hard for them to sit still, like it is for me? Maybe they have to practice a lot too, especially after using their superpowers to beat the coronavirus! Here are some different breaths you can try.

Be in Flow

Left, Child Nature Collage. Right, Nature Mandalas by Klari Gaspar.

Creating in nature during COVID-19 isolation is a powerful way to stay connected with each other and our ecosystem. We can create a mandala with natural objects found in the garden, on a “physical distancing” walk, or from the shoebox collection in the closet. Use objects’ shape, color, and size to create patterns. Mandalas allow us to be in a flow state, in the moment. (Please, only use objects on the ground, rather than picking them off a plant or tree.)

Artist and art counselor Klari Gaspar talks about the healing power of nature mandalas:

“Working with natural elements brings us closer to our own natural state of being and encourages us to look at the leaves and petals in a slow and observant way. By doing it silently and slowly, we can reach a very relaxed state of mind.”

“The symbol of the circle is very ancient and powerful. People always connected it with strong spiritual meanings in every culture and religion. According to Jung, the mandala is the archetype of wholeness, the symbol that is harmonising the self.”

“As the circle has a center, creating a mandala helps us connect with our center, as well as placing ourselves in our world, in the chaos and order that surround us. It is a very calming activity especially when we are letting ourselves flow with it and we stay with the present moment, without focusing on the final result.”

Join Klari Gaspar for a free online mandala workshop 3/31. Sign up here.

Especially for Teens: Be with Yourself

Journalling for ourselves (not as an assignment or activity someone else has asked you to do) is a powerful way to process the world and connect within, to explore order and chaos. We can use different materials (such as drawing and painting supplies and found objects) to create a sketchbook, diary, scrapbook, smashbook, or something else entirely. Here are a few ways to journal:

  • Download the “I Am Enough” Journal (image on the right, below). It is full of prompts to spark creativity and explore your inner thoughts.

  • Download the “Wreck It Journal” (image on left, below). This journal questions whether creation and destruction are all that different. If you want, create your own journal and dream up ways to wreck it. You can write on paper or in a collaborative doc with a friend. Staple your pages together to make your own “Wreck This Journal” and start destroying!

  • Create an art journal (image on bottom). This is an open space for you to create and explore.Here are some tips for getting started.

Reflection Questions

  • How do you feel when things change in your life?

  • How is life different since COVID-19? How has it stayed the same?

  • Imagine, draw, move to show the meaning of these words to you: change, fear, safety, and love.

  • What do you feel in your body when using different materials: in art, in play? (tightness, excitement, relaxation, other)

  • What do you think about? (memories, judgment, worries, peace)

  • How does changing materials or activities impact your thoughts, feelings, movement?


Sharon Chappell, PhD, is the Executive and Artistic Director of Well Beings Studio. She is a teacher educator, breast cancer survivor, parent and artist. 

If you would like to contribute to this blog (family activities for emotional well-being, your thoughts on the arts and healing, your artwork), please contact us:

Mental health is important. If you need support, contact The US Health and Human Services Department will help you talk about your concerns, and connect you with resources, such as a therapist or hotline. You can also visit your local 211 website (in Orange County, CA ours is If you are in crisis, please dial 911.

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