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About ELVA

Rationale & Concept

In recent years there has been a growing awareness in the general community of the importance of the emotional life of children. We now understand how some childhood trauma can lead to life long difficulties, and in many cases, the development of mental illness in adult life. There is also a greater appreciation of the neuro-plasticity of the brain, in particular the developing brain of children, and how enhancing their emotional literacy in their early years may protect them from some of life’s difficulties. 

Emotional literacy may be defined as the capacity of a person to understand their emotional experiences. Children who possess emotional literacy are emotionally aware, alive and connected with themselves. They are better equipped to develop capacities to engage with and manage emotional difficulties they encounter. As a consequence they are more resilient in the face of emotional challenges.
 ELVA aims to use visual arts as the medium to enhance the capacity for children to be emotionally aware, and emotionally connected with themselves, others and with experiences and situations. It recognises the importance of creating time, space and place for the children to reflect on themselves, their interactions with their social setting and express this within a safe and supportive environment.

ELVA is an experience based approach and is therefore fundamentally different from most other emotional literacy programs that are based on skill training or behaviour modification. ELVA is a classroom based model to enhance the emotional literacy of primary school children through art. Originally funded through a private philanthropic trust, it began in 2010 involving a multi-disciplinary working party consisting of teachers and child psychotherapists, psychiatrists, analysts and psychologists..

ELVA is an experience based approach and is therefore fundamentally different from most other emotional literacy programs that are based on skill training or behaviour modification.

This classroom based approach, which includes teacher professional learning, implementation and ongoing support, has gone through a trial and pilot 1 and 2 phase, followed by evaluation and refinement, and is now available for all primary schools.

There are already several classroom based programs that aim at promoting the wellbeing of primary school children. This approach has the potential to complement such programs by ‘value adding’ to both existing art curriculum and wellbeing programs.

  • Enhancing childrens emotional literacy
  • Children become emotionally aware, alive and connected with themselves
  • Expressed within a safe and supportive environment
  • Available for all primary schools




"ELVA is a classroom based model to


enhance the emotional literacy of primary school


children through art."



ELVA Framework

ELVA is informed by current psychodynamic understanding of the emotional growth of children and the neuroscience of the developing brain.  Intertwined within these theories is an art therapy perspective on the process of art making and the exploration of our inner world of emotions and imagination.


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    Psychodynamic approach

    Assumes emotional literacy is a capacity that develops through experience rather than a skill that is learned.
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    Dynamic factors

    Pays close attention to the dynamic factors that determine the creation of a safe supportive environment where emotional experiences are valued and emotional experiences encouraged.
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    Interest & attitude

    It highlights the importance of a teacher’s interest and attitude in the emotional world of their students and how this attitude impacts on their emotional experiences and expression.
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    Interaction & environment

    It also highlights the interaction between the classroom environment and the broader climate of the school and its local community
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    Emotional literacy involves well-developed neural circuits connecting parts of the brain that are involved in perception, thinking and feeling.
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    Perception & thinking

    Creative activities that involve perception, thinking and feeling also utilise these same circuits.
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    Emotional development

    Increase in contained emotional experiences that utilise these circuits will strengthen development.
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    Stress & trauma

    Stress/trauma and uncontained emotional experiences shut down these circuits.
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    Development of the brain and mind

    The capacity of a child to be resilient against adversity is dependent on their capacity to make sense and process these challenging experiences.
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    Brain development in adolescence

    Although the brain and mind continues to develop throughout life, the process of shaping it is most significant in childhood and adolescence.
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    Experience affects the mind

    The mind and brain is shaped by experience and use.
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    Emotional engagement

    Developmental tasks, trajectories and stages influence awareness of and engagement with the emotional life of oneself, other people, and our communication skills and styles.

This unique approach, which integrates psychodynamic, neuroscientific and developmental perspectives is appropriate for all children from prep to year six. It is designed to strengthen mental health, create safe and contained learning environments and engage teachers’ capacity to engage with their students.

  • I have so enjoyed this opportunity it has not only enhanced my teaching... I'm able to think, see and be deeper and be more rounded.

    Feedback received
  • Its been so inspiring. Truly a positive life-changing experience.

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  • Thank you for the inspiration + support! I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to be a part of the pilot.

    Feedback received
  • Deepest gratitude + thanks for the opportunity to be inspired + trained by 'amazing' teachers.

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  • It was a wonderful opportunity to meet with some wonderful people to work together to address a growing concern and that is the emotional wellbeing of our younger generation. Thankyou!

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  • It was refreshing to be a part of training for emotional literacy because I feel it is just as an important part of children's lives as other areas of the curriculum ... perhaps more!

    Feedback received
  • The lesson plans were very helpful and gave us a 'safe' starting point.

    Feedback received