Creative Hearts: A Unique Art and Enrichment Program for Children

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by Morey Storck – 

Youngsters enjoy expressing themselves.

Director and lead teacher Emily Gosweiler is the founder of Creative Hearts and the creator of its unique, uplifting approach to educating the whole child. As their mission statement emphasizes: “We use every moment of the day as a teaching tool to focus on empathy, compassion, kindness, self-confidence, and love. We accept and respect them, just as they are. Recognizing that they are each unique people, we adjust our approach to each child’s needs.”

“As a teacher,” Gosweiler pointed out, “I am acutely aware of how much influence I have. Words that I say become their inner voice. Even at a moment of struggle, if I share how great they are, and point to the good that’s already there, it starts to lift their own self-confidence. Everybody has their own incredible potential, their own genius. At the pre-school age, they are so receptive. Just a few words of encouragement can shift a child’s life for the better.”

Gosweiler grew up in Philadelphia with two brothers, both teachers. One teaches Physical and Health Education, and the younger teaches English in China. She began teaching art when still at the baby-sitting age of 12.

“I was one of those rare people who knew exactly what I wanted to do at that early age and never wavered for a moment,” she said. “We lived near a very good art center, and I took classes there whenever possible and also worked at their summer camps.”

After high school, she enrolled at SUNY Purchase receiving a BFA degree in Visual Arts including sculpture and painting. For the past 16 years she has been teaching art to adults and children in almost every capacity. And, during that time, she reaffirmed what she always believed to be her mission: “to help each child find the magic in themselves, always encouraging creativity and connection.”

While at college two very important things happened. Gosweiler met a woman who soon became a trusted advisor. They both agreed on the need for early-age enlightenment and self-awareness programs for children as well as Gosweiler’s focus in “elevating each child’s empathy, compassion, kindness, self-confidence, and love.” That led to her friend’s suggestion that she investigate a new opening for a teaching job in a Dobbs Ferry pre-school program. She got that job. And, secondly, Emily developed a real affinity for Westchester. Both events cemented her future.

Creative Hearts is a registered non-profit, 501©3 organization located inside the South Presbyterian Church in Dobbs Ferry. Other than providing space for the organization, there is no other connection. However, there was an existing community nursery school at that location before, primarily to provide parents a needed respite during the morning. The addition of Creative Hearts made a few more hours available. The main working space is currently situated on the stage of a multi-use recreational room behind the closed curtain. The Creative Arts Program is art-based, where the children are engaged in such projects as printmaking, sculpture, weaving, map-making and puppetry. They also make and stuff their own toy animals. “As they progress on each project they are encouraged to express their ideas to other children, and to me. This exchange between student and teacher is invaluable.”

Down below the stage is another room called The Monkey Pit. There, children and teachers engage in physical activities such as yoga, obstacle courses and dances with scarves, as well as unstructured free-play. “Very often we play imagination-based games. An example: I play the magical wizard and I have just transformed them into fish. The ground is no longer there. They are in water and, oh, there’s a big wave coming. They get to choose, individually, how they will react to each new situation and how they will interact with each other,” Gosweiler said.

“The most important thing I have learned is to hear them and connect. Kids try to express themselves, but their language is not always the same as the languages used among the group,” she said. “I belong to the Westchester Association for the Education of Young Children, and some of the stories we hear and the solutions employed have been very helpful, but I still believe that hearing the children, listening to them, and connecting to them is most valuable.”

Her enthusiasm never ceases. “Interacting with these kids is a joyous thing, and at the end of each day, I feel so rewarded. It’s enlivening, exciting, and uplifting.”

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